I grew up in a middle-class family. My father was a police officer for a major metropolitan area and my mother was a homemaker. Although I never wanted for anything, I always felt like we were “poor” because my mother always complained about the things we could not afford that she wanted – mostly luxury items like a Lincoln Town Car, a four bedroom house, jewelry from Tiffany’s, and other things that held no value to me as a child but can understand as an adult. My Mom wanted a higher social status than our economic status accorded.
Growing up, my Mom always tried to direct me to form friendships with the children of doctors, dentists, lawyers, and other white-collar professionals; she would schedule amazing play-dates when these kids would come over, complete with arts and crafts, ice-cream, and other things that made these play-dates memorable; my “regular” friends from the neighborhood got nothing. Regardless of how great these play dates were, they were almost never reciprocated and the friendships my mother would have preferred I form never happened.
I never realized what my mother was doing until I became a parent myself. Like my father, my husband works in law enforcement and we live a nice, middle-class life. When my daughter started kindergarten this year, my mother approached me about “cultivating the proper friendships” for my daughter and her hope that I will succeed where she failed. Tazi, I was horrified at learning the truth – that my mother tried to use me as a pawn to better her social standing! I told her I refused to use my daughter in such a way, to which she responded that my child will end up no better than me if I do not! Tazi, I am quite happy with my life; I love my husband and cannot imagine being married to anyone but him or living the happy life we currently live. We make sacrifices to send our daughter to a good private school, but that is because our public school system has gone downhill since we bought our house.
I thought I had made myself clear on this issue, but my mother is up to her old tricks again. She has started watching my daughter two afternoons a week to allow me some “me time”. This arrangement was my mother’s idea, but I readily agreed to it because I want my daughter to have a close relationship with her grandparents. I was at the salon last week to get a manicure when I ran into one of the “Snobby Mommies” whose child is in my daughter’s class. She seemed surprised to see me, thinking I would be at home hosting the play date that our children had that afternoon. I was taken aback, but quickly recovered and explained that my mother was watching the children.
I went home early to find my daughter’s play date in full swing, complete with Play-Doh, ice cream, and other fancies that are appropriate for special occasions only. After the Nanny showed up to pick up my daughter’s “friend”, I laid into my Mom about her intentions. She insists that I am somehow leading my daughter down the path of failure by not promoting friendships with her upper/upper-middle class classmates. I think I turned out well in spite of my lack of “cultured” friends, but I realize that times have changed. Is my mother right? Should I be encouraging my daughter to reach beyond our social class?
Dear Middle-Class Mom:
When your mother was a child, there were few opportunities for women who sought a career; women were expected to get married and have children and keep their husbands happy by being good and obedient wives. The man a woman married was often a man she met through friends or other social circles; the divorce rate in the 1950’s was just over 10% and it was not something you discussed in polite conversation, so marriage was for life – for better or worse, for richer or for poorer. From what you write, your mother was hoping to marry for richer and did not, and tried to steer you down a path that she felt would improve your chances of marrying a wealthy man. Please do not feel anger or resentment towards your mother for this – she was raising you in the way that she thought would lead you to the brightest future possible.
Times have changes since your mother married. Women now not only have amazing career opportunities, but many hold positions that are the envy of men – Senators and Representatives in Congress; CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies; even competitive drivers on the NASCAR circuit! While a person’s socio-economic status still plays a part in a person’s future career success, it is no longer the do-all and end-all predictor of how far they will go in life.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure your daughter cultivates healthy childhood friendships with children who like a respect her as a person; your mother’s attempts at bribing children to be friends with your daughter strikes me as a little twisted, but perhaps this is how things were back when she was growing up. If your daughter enjoys spending time with the children your mother invites to these play-dates – and they enjoy spending time with her – then I see no reason why the friendship should not be encouraged. However, I encourage you to treat all of your daughter’s friends the same – regardless of their family’s economic status. This is the point that you must make clear to your mother. If it is not too much trouble, why not have two children over at once, one from the neighborhood and one from school?
Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.