Laps of luxury

Who really benefits when we raise the floor for our kids?

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Heather here, ready to overthink things for your reading pleasure. We’re currently writing from our much-needed family vacation. Speaking of vacations, below was by far the most read post for my personal newsletter, Our Tiny Rebellions, last year. It explores the sticky intersection between lifestyle, values, and parenting, and is one of the reasons I knew The Joint Account would be so well received. I hope you enjoy :)

A friend of ours was at a crossroads in planning a tropical vacation for his family. He was deciding whether to book the nicest resort on the island or a less-luxe-but-still-nice family-friendly hotel. Money wasn’t an issue. He just didn’t want his son, the same age as our older daughter, to believe he would always travel in such luxury. In other words, he hesitated to normalize the experience before his son could really understand the hard work it took to have it.

All generations want to do as well as their parents did, if not better. As a derivative of that, many of us want to give as much to our children as we had, if not more. I am no exception. I am guilty of spoiling my kids, so let’s get that out of the way up front. I don’t belong atop a moral soapbox on this issue but find it crucial to examine nonetheless.

Our digital world is producing the most discerning generation of parents ever, which poses a question: 

Who benefits the most when we raise the floor for our children? Are we doing it for them or for us?

Story time. When I was a kid, my dad was the sales manager for radio stations around Philadelphia, and my Pop-Pop was cronies with the entire Flyers organization from working in the jewelry business and then for Pepsi. Because of their connections, I walked into every special event the city had to offer: I shook hands with musicians backstage. I sat in the suites for playoff games. I took my girlfriends to see the Backstreet Boys without even having tickets. While far from a nepobaby, I was privileged in access. Nothing in my adult life will ever come close, and even though I knew these experiences were special at the time, I had no way to contextualize how special they were.  

Taylor Swift has me thinking a lot about that time in my life. I would have been at that concert, sitting in my dad’s seats or let in under the ropes by Pop-Pop’s security friend to dance in the open aisles. A kid so fortunate without even realizing it. I didn’t try very hard to find tickets for the Eras Tour, because decent seats were outside the price range of what seemed “worth it” to me (which is, of course, subjective). But I noticed how many women brought daughters close in age to my own. I am sure these kids love Taylor, but I’m not sure they understood what a privilege it was to be there. 

Some of this feels like the typical stuff of growing up. When our kids reach a certain age, we task them with becoming more aware of their own privileges and fortunes, both large and small. We fumble around the ways to teach them gratitude, hoping our methods will stick.

But we are a visible generation, raising visible kids. We are more cognizant of what appears to have value, and therefore, subconscious status signaling seeps into our choices all the time. This includes choices for young kids who are none the wiser. Perhaps it’s because we like to demonstrate to the world we’re giving them our all. Snippets of abundance—so often material and/or shared online—reassure us we’re doing enough, even though enough is a bar that keeps on rising.

Think about all the professional family photoshoots. Themed birthday cakes that belong on the Food Network. Matching sweatsuit sets that read something ostentatious like Hamptons Tennis Club (my daughter has neither been to the Hamptons nor played tennis there, and yet). Candy bouquets and Squishmallows and custom spirit wear. These are just some of the spoils I’ve indulged my children in without much thought. If I had to examine why, I could only guess that I equate these performative acts with demonstrations of love. And until now, having an 8-year-old daughter, I did not think about how my projections of abundance would rub off on her.

 I am realizing that we teach them the lifestyle. The lessons come from us.

Despite the fact that we are literally writing a book about love and money, I still sometimes feel like we’re fumbling the ball around money and our kids. We tried incentivizing our daughter to assume more household responsibilities by offering her an allowance, but she doesn’t seem to care about earning money. She knows that money could buy her discretionary items like stickers and cheap jewelry at Claire’s, but we still buy everything she needs and most of what she wants. 

Like many of her peers, she exists in a state of perpetual abundance: infinite ways to stream content, sites to complete purchases at the click of a button, and apps for quick fixes when things go wrong. Even her little sister reminds us when something gets ruined, “That’s okay, Mommy can go on Amazon and order another.” It’s cute but kind of gross that this is what she knows. 

On one hand, it’s not fair to expect young children to identify specific examples of privilege on their own. I worry that in harping on prices and what we deem expensive, I’m teaching them more about classism than gratitude. Because right now, my girls are just as happy with their $10 outfits from Target as they are with their $60 sweatsuit from Nordstrom’s. The grocery store sheet cake tastes better than custom (as my daughter’s friends had no problem telling me). Taylor Swift at the movies is almost as exciting as Taylor Swift in concert. They don’t know they’re in designer sneakers until we, or the internet, tell them. We can’t attempt to teach gratitude within this construct when we choose to set the standard for them. 

My daughter learns better through manufactured scarcity than forced lessons of gratitude. 

Last summer, in the first two weeks of camp, she lost three pairs of goggles; all the good Speedo kind she prefers. One pair was fine. The second, we lectured her. The third required something else. I told her we wouldn’t buy any more of the ones she liked. They were too expensive to keep replacing them. She could go to the lost and found and search for them, and use an old brandless pair until she could keep better track of her belongings. Obviously, this didn’t go over well. But she didn’t lose any after that and even found a pair that were gone.

I don’t have the answers here—there is no right or wrong. I cannot judge anyone for the lifestyle they choose to give their children and when. The only person I can judge is myself, which I do the hardest. 

All that matters is that we understand these privileges and our children’s perceptions of them are borne from decisions. Every single one of them. We are weaving the fabric of who they are, each thread a choice that was made. We can’t pick those out of the sweater later on, so maybe now is the time to care what they’re made with.


We escaped the snow! Hazel (8), Ruby (4), Mom + Dad


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