Privilege Blog

High = Money, Final Installment

A Beach Rose commented, on one of my previous posts about money,

I do not have access to my “education fund” (not 21 yet), and I honestly could not even give you a ballpark sum. I have no idea what will be available to me when the time comes. The adults around here positively refuse to discuss numbers.

Disclosure. Disclosure and children.

What should any parent disclose? As a parent you are both uniquely yourself and wholly a priest to a ritual. Childrearing has a component of magic and incantation. The only guideline I ever heard that I respect and find to be free of political taint is: disclose to your children what they are ready to hear. How will you know? They will tell you. They will ask you a question. When they do, answer minimally. If they want more, they will ask for more. If they sense the limit of their ability to absorb the information, they will change the subject. “Mama, how are babies born?” “Honey, mommies and daddies love each other and so…”. “Mama, do you like psusparagus?”

Money is a juicy topic. Money is the embodiment of our every earthly desire, the paper icon of what we will never have, the locked space for our earliest experiences of satisfaction and denial. It’s also necessary, unless you can find a way to trade cheese for penicillin in some place where you can’t be found yourself.

High WASPs with a lot of money are embarrassed to talk about it. Embarassed most of all that they like having it. They know they shouldn’t show off, but they have a tongue-biting covetousness for their artifacts, the diamond cuff, the enameled pendant, the Civil War swords. All the High WASPs I know love to stay in beautiful hotels. To wear good shoes. To summer on the Cape or the Vineyard or in the Wine Country or on the archetypal lake, feeling the rough grass on their bare feet as they head back to the house to grill fish after a day in the sun.

High WASPs are also frequently afraid that their children will be taken advantage of by suitors. They worry that their children might blurt out details of the family wealth in inappropriate moments. They worry that their children will be teased.

This is true but not helpful. Because at the end of the day money is not an emotion. Money gets paid in taxes, and salaries, and mortgages. People live on money. In my opinion, parents owe their children whatever information the child is ready to hear. And they need to prepare those children to be ready to hear what they need to hear when they need to hear it. I do not know a universal prescription. Parenting takes enormous courage. It demands that we focus our attention on our own weaknesses and acknowledge them and move beyond them where we can. Yes, Beach Rose, the grown ups around you, in my opinion, should begin to use numbers when they talk to you. If you are ready.

9 Responses

  1. I agree. If you don’t talk numbers then how will they prepare to be responsible when they have no idea what the magnitude of their responsibility will be??

  2. Oh yes, I’ve certainly had the “suitors talk.” It’s hard though, to know at what point someone is a close enough friend to be given this information, and friends occasionally ask questions. Finding a response that is accurate but not more info than you’re comfortable sharing can be tricky.

  3. PS: I haven’t asked about “the numbers” in quite awhile and don’t see a need to bring it up again until I’m making a law school deposit. I did ask in the fall how the country’s economic situation had affected us, and they redirected the conversation towards how this affects those in the country without significant savings or a safety net. Typical of them :)

  4. “Embarrassed most of all that they like having it.”

    I know that I am making a gross generalization here, but is this what leads to wealthy, guilty liberals? I am not embarrassed that I like having money. I have worked really hard for what I have and I deserve what I have and I want to keep it. I certainly do not want the government to take it away from me!

    I am not trying to start a political argument here, but I am genuinely curious. I have never been embarrassed about liking and wanting to have money and I don’t begrudge others their money. More power to them! It is security to me — it means not having to eat beans instead of meat at the end of the month (among many other things).

  5. I am still trying to convince my family that money is not an emotion, but rather an object.

  6. and yet such an emotional object. I am very old school and can’t bear talking about it seriously with people, if they ask I joke about how I am desperately poor and what my parents do with their money (fund my car, my horses, my clothing, my years abroad and international holidays, my life…) is their affair. It all seems so deeply infra dig.

  7. Infra dig is a synonym for “not the done thing.” It’s a symptom of the embarassment. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. Is it a necessary thing? It turns out, not.

  8. But money is also just boring (to those who have it). It’s a fact of my life. I cannot be asked to explain it to everyone. I feel the same way about my religion and my family, they are not for explaining, they just are.

  9. Agreed. No need to explain. Only not to feel embarrassed if it’s something you *want* to talk about.

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