How Income Changes What Parents Worry About

how income changes what parents worry about

You probably don’t think about it much as it’s not on most people’s radar, but have you ever wondered how income changes what parents worry about and, if so, what are the differences? Surely all parents worry about the same things, don’t they? Worries such as whether or not their child goes to sleep or stays asleep, whether or not they do well in school, grow up to be successful, and so on. All of those worries are pretty common, but it turns out that there are some worries that are definitively felt more depending on which economic group you’re part of. It actually changes what keeps you up at night.

Let’s take a look at the top worries of parents in several different economic groups. For the sake of argument, I’m going to use income generally as a measure, whether that income exists from investments or from paid work. Rather than stick with traditional economic divisions, I have created three more descriptive and honest ones. The first is seriously wealthy, the second is adequate, and the third is struggling.

Of course, these are generalizations, and I should add that they are based on my own observations. I should also make clear that not everybody shares identical worries within a certain sphere, but they do offer an insight. Last but not least, many people will have one foot in one group and one foot in another, but I digress. Let’s start with an “adequate” group of income earners before we go to either side of the scale.

How income changes what parents worry about:  If your income is adequate.

Though no one can describe what’s truly adequate, most people would agree that you can cover your expenses and have some left over. Your expenses include some type of vacation, which could range from camping to more expensive family trips abroad. If you fall into this category, perhaps you own a business or have a really good, “in demand” or professional job. Perhaps you both work to afford a more enjoyable lifestyle and more opportunities for your children, or maybe one of you stays home supported by the larger income earner. Irrespective of how you manage your affairs, your life is fairly comfortable, if busy. You probably own your own home. You have enough money to meet your immediate needs and a varying amount for extras.

What keeps you up at night?

One of the biggest worries of this group is actually school success, or success generally. Parents have often worked hard to get where they are, and many are worried that their children will not end up with the right schooling or level of achievement to get ahead. Parents in this group want to use their money to give their children every opportunity they can to enhance their abilities. They often seek to drive their children to achieve excellence, and there is often a definitive focus on either educational achievement or excellence in sports or other skills. They have a tendency to overschedule to cram in as many opportunities as possible.

Biggest parenting mistake.

The biggest parenting mistake in this group is the tendency to “drive” kids to success. And that can give parents the excuse they need to bail their kids out of problems because nothing should be allowed to get in the way of that eventual success. Achievement is so important to this group that parents will often throw caution to the wind to prevent their kids from having to face the consequences of their own actions if those actions get in the way of their children’s path to success. In addition, this single focus on achievement can often result in children who are driven to achieve things for their parents’ sake, sometimes at the cost of their own happiness and well-being.

This attitude also fosters “hovering,” and the irony is that hovering is most likely to stymie their child’s future success because it produces children and, eventually, adults who struggle to cope with life’s ups and downs. Sometimes parents will mow the path of life to make it as comfortable as it can be. Universities from coast to coast are complaining that many moms and dads from this group are having a hard time letting go of their not-so-little ones as they attempt to face the world on their own two feet. 

Unfortunately, hovering simply delays the inevitable. One day, children of parents who hover will discover that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That is a very painful process, made even more difficult by the fact that they must do it as adults, without the emotional support they had as children. If they’ve been indulged, it will be harder still.

How income changes what parents worry about: The solution.

Allow kids to fail. Failure is one of the best learning opportunities there is, and children must have the chance to experience it and learn how to get back up on their feet again. Grounding your personal helicopter is a must, and letting your kids stumble and try again is crucial. The ability to fall down and get back up comes down to resilience, so it’s important to understand what resilience is, how it develops, and how crucially important it is in creating successful, fully rounded, and emotionally stable adults that will be able to navigate the world with or without a healthy bank account. Emotional resilience is frankly critical to your child’s overall success, no matter what endeavour they choose. Take note of the fact that it develops gradually rather than suddenly at the age of 17 or 18, and what you can do now to ensure that your children develop it. Read my article on how to develop resilience

Watch your child’s sense of entitlement, as that can pop up as an issue when life looks too easy and their problems are solved for them. Avoid introducing too much, too soon, and avoid overloading your child with activities. Allow them to stop and smell the roses and to appreciate each opportunity by teaching your child gratitude. When you teach your children to appreciate what they already have before seeking more, they will be happier. It is the journey that is exciting, not the arrival.

How income changes what parents worry about:  If your income puts you in the seriously wealthy bracket.

If you’re in this group, a lot of people want to be you. They wonder how you could possibly have any parenting issues at all. After all, in most people’s eyes, they wonder what you have to worry about. But that wouldn’t be true or fair. You have your own worries.

What keeps you up at night?

One of the main worries of this group is that their children will be demotivated because they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. If mom or dad have built up a business empire or significant financial cushion, their biggest worry is that Junior will squander it and not build on the great start they’ve been given. Many are aware of the comments of the founder of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid, when asked about the future of his country. He replied, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son rides a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to ride a Land Rover… but my great-grandson is going to have to ride a camel again.” He was asked why this was so. And his reply was, “Hard times create strong men, strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men, weak men create difficult times…”

Biggest parenting mistake.

The biggest parenting mistake of this group is to underestimate the strong headwinds they face in their parenting. It is simply so much easier to spoil these kids, and parents have to work extra hard to avoid it. A life of ease is an issue in and of itself. It may sound great and be something we’d all like to experience, but it’s actually really hard to do a good job of parenting your kids when you are seriously comfortable, and maybe then some. Many people manage it, of course, but a lot don’t, and we can all see the results. 

If you’re in this group, then you will really have to pull out all the stops to make sure your kids don’t develop a sense of entitlement and don’t go through life thinking the world owes them a living. If parents give their kids whatever they want and they have anything they want at their fingertips, they lose the joy and excitement that others feel when they receive something wonderful. My daughter attended school and, for a brief period of time, played with a child from a very wealthy family. Her parents planned to take her to Paris for a few weeks. Since she’d travelled multiple times, it was no big deal, and she was simply “blah” about it. The whole idea of going to Europe held no enjoyment or excitement for her. The most wonderful opportunities in life were just routine.

How income changes what parents worry about: The solution.

If you want to prevent “wealth fatigue,” then you have to work extra hard at raising your kids. Parenting in this category is all about creating an adult that has the skills and character traits necessary to make the most of the opportunity they’ve been given and to be able to thrive in the world outside of the setting in which they’ve been born. That means teaching appreciation and empathy for others and emphasizing the idea of working for what you want by providing practical opportunities to enhance children’s skills. Being wealthy and having the privilege of being able to employ people to do household work for you puts you in a difficult position if you’re not careful in that it teaches that someone will come along and clean up after your kids. If you want to avoid this, occasionally put any help you have in charge of doling out some chores to your children and make them answer to those people. From that, they will learn to work alongside others and see the need to respect everyone, no matter their position. It’s important for children to focus on something larger than themselves, so don’t just think about your family; think about your household and your community and what you and your kids can do to help.

It’s really important to teach these kids empathy and expose them to the lives other people lead. Encourage them to help out in the community and put their skills to use. Make them contribute to the health of the family by doing things to help, and resist the urge to give them whatever they want. Read up on my articles about teaching resilience and gratitude.

I recognize that if parents have a lot of wealth, they want to hang out with other people who have wealth because anything else feels uncomfortable, but then again, keeping to one economic class is very limiting. Wealth by itself can create a lack of trust in other people from outside the wealth bubble, but it’s important for parents to know that when it comes to relationships, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. A healthy skepticism is fine, but trusting no one leads to a very limited life. Help your kids learn to trust other people but to listen to their own boundaries, and teach them that it is more important to give than to receive.

How income changes what parents worry about:  If you’re struggling.

If you’re part of this group, then you have a lot on your mind, and it isn’t just about parenting. It’s about survival in general. Of course you have the same wants and desires as everyone else, but right now they take a back seat to reality. This category includes parents who are struggling and barely making it, as well as those who clearly aren’t. We’ve gone through the pandemic, and now it looks like we’re headed for a recession, and life for this group is anything but easy.

What keeps you up at night?

The biggest issue for parents in this group is the fear and guilt that they can’t give their children the experiences and opportunities in life that those in other economic groups can. They wonder how this will impact them and whether their children will be able to transcend it later on. They want success for their children too, but parents in this group are just trying to keep the wheels on the wagon and keep everything moving in the right direction. They worry about the basics, and the day-to-day worries are enough to make them lose sleep, let alone the notification for extra money for a field trip that just arrived in their child’s school backpack. These multiple stressors combine to make things super tough for these parents.

Biggest Parenting Mistake.  

This group’s biggest parenting mistake often boils down to how they handle worry. Their life is full of it, and being financially stressed causes conflict even when making minor decisions. Parents are often exhausted, and some may be raising children alone while juggling multiple responsibilities. Time with their children can be constrained by working multiple jobs, and parents often feel guilty that they can’t provide either time or the extras for their children that others in more comfortable economic brackets can. These concerns can wear on parents, causing them to lose patience and inadvertently share their stress with their children. The trouble with parents sharing their stress with their children is that children need to feel safe, otherwise they will act up and make things worse.

How income changes what parents worry about: The Solution.

The key to making things better from a parenting standpoint is to get those worries under control. Reach out to the community, talk to people, and receive support from others who are going through similar difficulties. There’s emotional strength in numbers. Utilize any and all help you can get, both from the community and the government. It’s easy to say, “Take a break for some self-care,” but sometimes that’s virtually impossible, so look for little things that buoy your spirits. A hot drink, a hot shower or bath at the end of the night, a good book Listen to an audiobook (the library has them) or music while you do things that still have to be done after the kids are in bed, and don’t be hard on yourself. Resist the pressure to do more than you can do. Nobody can ask more.

Though you may have multiple sources of stress, try not to let your worries be obvious to the kids. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s very important. Even if your housing arrangements are constantly changing or insecure, children still need to feel secure, and security is at the root of preventing parenting issues. Try to look confident about the future as much as you can, even if you don’t particularly feel it. The more you can adapt to changing circumstances and go with the flow, the better your children will adapt. Hope is important, and your children will look to you to see how you handle things. The more you can shield your children from what they are going through, the better. Simple explanations for wants are always best handled with a “sorry, we can’t afford extras.” That gives children the message that, as a parent, you have no extra money to spare, but it doesn’t make them feel unsafe in a big, scary world because they still have you. Never underestimate the profound impact your love and support have.

If you’re in this group, ask for any and all help you can. People are often more willing to help than you think.

Do you know the secret to parenting?

Have you got siblings that are tearing each other apart and you’d like to know how to handle it?  Check out Annie the Nanny’s article on sibling fighting.

Have you got a child that refuses to help out?

Are you dealing with a child that just won’t stop interrupting

Here’s Annie the Nanny on CTV Calgary talking about how to ground your own personal hovering helicopter.

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