The socialist George Bernard Shaw said that wealth is as hard on the rich as poverty is on the poor. Certainly with regard to parenting, this is true.
The problems poor people have as parents are well known. They are often too oppressed, too without basic sustenance, too riddled with drug and alcohol problems, and too victimized by their own childhoods to be effective as parents. It is the poor who claim the attention of social services departments, and fill the family and criminal courts.
The ineptitude of rich parents is also well known. The practice of sending rich kids away to private schools has long been considered a form a neglect. Rich parents, of course, do not receive much attention from social workers or government agencies.
Still, rich parents, as a class, seem to have little more effectiveness than the struggling poor. The rich also have their reasons. They are too busy making money. They are too busy enjoying the toys of wealth. They are too riddled with guilt to follow through with disciplining their children.
A well-known phenomenon of today is the so-called Disney Dad. The Disney Dad spends little time with his children throughout the year. Only at certain times of the year does he try to make up for his lack of attention by lavishing his children with Disney vacations. This spoiling is almost as disastrous a parental tactic as the neglect.
It is up to the middle class to shoulder the burden of producing functioning members of society. Some rich parents do carefully raise their children to become successful adults, but they are few and far between.
An old saying is that a family goes from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in four generations. The recognition that wealthy families return to manual labor after some time may be more than a mere reflection on human vanity. It also stems from the inability of many rich people to successfully raise their children. Riddled with guilt, they satisfy their children’s wishes with designer clothes, vacations, cars, electronic gadgets and other toys. The children do not have to work for the things that people often took years to obtain.
But instant gratification often makes the lives of these children harder over the long run. Without discipline or the foresight of building a career, they will grow older struggling at menial jobs.
Another problematic result of this ineptitude is even more alarming. Recently I read an interview of the former L.A. Lakers star Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the L.A. Times. Jabbar spoke of his U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden, who pushed his hoopsters not merely to be superior athletes but also to become vigorous students, reliable family members and contributing citizens.
Along the same line, my late father was a teenager in the 1930’s. At that time, there was no such concept as a teenager. That did not develop until the 1940’s. Young adults were not to be glorified in themselves, but rather were raised as members of society. The ultimate good was to contribute to the whole. With such attitudes permeating society, the 1930’s teenagers went on to survive the Depression, win World War II and rebuild the nation after the war.
Young people today are too seldom raised as members of society. But this is one of the most important lessons a parent can teach a child. Without the emerging adult assuming responsibility for the common good, society becomes dysfunctional.
Occasionally we still receive mail with fine writing on the envelope. Almost inevitably, such mail comes from old people. Many are quick to make excuses by saying that we are now too busy typing on computers to learn proper handwriting. But the real culprit is, simply, a lack of training in that field.
Like penmanship, parenthood stands as an art soon to be lost.