Tuesday 11 March 2014


The Perils of Wealth

Since I am one who always plan ahead - whether it is the development of J's brain, nourishment of J's body, physical fine motor skills or gross motor skills, J never has to ask for anything, I have already gotten for him.

Before he could ask for a bicycle, I have already bought one for him, because I have set the goal that by the age of 4, he should learn how to cycle. (I was already behind my goal. He learned to cycle only at 4.5 years old, because we did not have the time to teach him.)

Before he could ask for LEGO, I have already bought him all the LEGO meant for 1 year old to 14 year old, which are neatly organised and ready for easy retrieval when I need them.

Before he could ask for it, I have already sent him for LEGO robotic class in Singapore, when we were back home for a visit, where he can learn preschool computer programming skills. (This is a course developed by one of the Singapore professional child educators. You can read more about it here www.my1st3d.sg)

At a tender age of three, J once said, "Mommy, can you please stop buying me toys. We have enough toys at home," and he has continued to say it eversince!

Once he suggested giving away some of his LEGO to a classmate from his kindergarten whose parents could not afford LEGO. I was touched by his gesture, but I also realised that he is too privileged.

All well and good, but sigh, it can take away the healthy development of J's self-motivation, determination and resolve and I am beginning to see that happening.

There is a Chinese saying, "富不过三代" meaning "wealth does not pass three generations."

According to the author of the book "David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants," Malcolm Gladwell, there is a similar saying in English, "Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." The author said that the Italians agree with, "Dalle stelle alle stalle" meaning "from stars to stables." And the Spanish too with "Quien no lo tiene, lo hance, y quien lo tiene, lo deshance" meaning "he who doesn't have it, does it, and he who has it, misues it."

According to Gladwell, most of us are aware of the relationship between money and parenting - more is not always better. Scarcity is a great motivator. Wealth contains the seeds of its own destruction.

It is of course hard to be a good parent if you have too little money. "If you have to work two jobs to make ends meet, it's hard to have the energy to read to your children before they go to bed." explained Gladwell.

But money makes parenting easier only up to a certain point - at an annual family income of 75,000 USD suggested by research, after which diminishing marginal returns sets in, according to Gladwell.

Privileged kids usually suffer from complacency and a lack of self-motivation and resolve.

A parent has to set limits. But it is much harder for wealthy parents, because they can't use the simple reason, "No, we can't afford it." They can only say, "No we won't," which requires a conversation.

Gladwell went on to explain that these parents can say, "Yes, I can buy that for you. But I choose not to. It's not consistent with our values," but that requires that they have a set of values and know how to make them plausible to their child, which is difficult especially if they have a Ferrari in the driveway, a private jet and a house in Beverly Hills the size of an airplane hangar.

Wealth makes the job of raising normal and well-adjusted children more difficult.

So what can we do?

See my next post to find out.




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