Playdates With the Rich: Explaining Class Difference to Kids


playte rich friendsUnlike my own early childhood, living with a single mom on a teacher's salary, I didn't think my kids would notice the differences in the way people live in our middle-class world. At least not until my daughter hit that magic, "I need those $100 jeans" age and I had to disappoint her, and probably embarrass her, in front of her friends. Sure we live in an urban environment and see people holding up signs asking for help, and my daughter volunteers by making sandwiches for homeless people in need, but looking up the economic ladder was not something I was prepared for at this young age.

Yet, it's happening. My daughter goes over to people's houses and comes home wondering why we don't have a swimming pool, or a second story on our house. Which is somehow much more complicated than explaining why we drive a car instead of carrying our belongings with us in a shopping cart.

While you can explain someone who is living on the street by saying, "This person is having a rough time in their life right now," the same does not go for the lack of a media room in your house. You're not having a rough time if you can afford a house. Just because Taylor's house is bigger, does not mean that you come from a destitute family. So it's tricky explaining that our family does not have the money for a birthday party at Disneyland, yet we're totally fine, and not in danger of having to live in a shelter.

Forget about the "why" of the matter. Does Jackson's daddy work harder than your daddy? Ummmm. This is where all those lessons on hard work paying off can come back to bite you in the ass. Any discussion about what career paths are more lucrative, financially, will probably go right over a small child's head. And if it doesn't, you've probably got a little Donald Trump on your hands. (Whether you think that's a good or bad thing, I'll leave up to you.)

So in the meantime, before a greater understanding of class is comprehensible, we just blow up our swimming pool in the backyard and let the kids play until they're too tired to realize they can't fit a raft inside of their pool. And reassure them that mommy and daddy are doing just fine, even if we don't have a summer house in the country.

How do you explain class difference to your kids?


Image via jimmyharris/Flickr

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Zamaria Zamaria

I haven't had this issue yet, but this is a very thought provoking article! Good job! I'll be thinking of how to explain it when my kids do ask.

nonmember avatar Mike M

You can often find documentaries on PBS (perhaps other stations as well) that are about people's lives in poor countries. (Or you can look for such documentaries on Netflix or at your local library.) Even if a child is too young to understand all of the details of what it's about, just seeing how much different the lives of poor people is in comparison to their own life should help them become less selfish and more empathetic towards others.

nonmember avatar Anon

Interesting question. When I was a kid, my parents never said we were "poor," but looking back, we kinda were. Young marriage of 2 dropouts, six kids, illiterate alcoholic (though loving and present) dad - you do the math. But when we would notice differences my mom would say something like "he's a doctor, and doctors make a lot of money." She believed she had smart kids and that we'd grow up and have the ability to have those things if we wanted them. And to an extent, she was right. ... One thing I've told my kids (now 4) is that people whose career requires a lot of college will usually make more money than people who stop going to school a lot sooner, or don't work as hard in school. When it comes to the obvious "have-nots," I have been known to say "maybe he doesn't go to work every day, or maybe he had to pay a lot of money for something recently." If they ask me why I haven't bought them something, I tell them. Usually it's not that I don't have the money, but that I don't believe I should use the money in that way. For example, I could afford a pool, but I won't buy one for various reasons. I buy a family membership to the local rec center instead.

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

I just explain that some families make different choices. It does oversimplify things a bit, there are always examples of people making ridiculous amounts of money for very little work and people working three jobs for minimum wage, but those people aren't around here. He has a friend with a much bigger house and a pool and such and I just explained that his dad works really hard, like hardly ever home. Another has fancy birthday parties and I explained that his mom goes out to work and he goes to daycare. He understands that we have plenty of money for the stuff we need and some extras but the choices we make mean that we go camping instead of going to disneyworld for vacation.

kisse... kisses5050

I remember telling my girls in the store one day "that's not I choose to spend our money" and a lady  overheard me and said "I am so going to steal that line. I hate telling the kids we cant afford something because it kind of scares of them"    as far as "class" I try to teach my children that belongings and houses are not how we select our friends and using good judgement is not the same as being judgmental

GlowW... GlowWorm889

Class is a hard question. But don't think it's not just as hard or awkward from the other side of the fence. I came from a fairly well-to-do family. We weren't rich, by any means, but we could afford a nice house (well, technically it started out a terrible house and was remodeled by my parens over the years), a pool, a large screen TV, and various other things. My parents never discussed class differences, because they didn't want to impart a feeling of entitlement about our good fortune. They always emphasized that we were lucky to have such nice things, not that we deserved them, and that we should be thankful.

As a little kid, it was cool to have nice things, because it meant I could have a pool part for my birthday and my friends wanted to come. However, as a middle schooler and high schooler, it became more of a hindrance. I stopped inviting friends over because I didn't want them to feel like I was flaunting it. My classmates assumed I was rich (and therfore spoiled), even though I explained we actually weren't and certainly did not act spoiled. It was awkward, and hard keep friendships. Be careful, when you discuss class, that you don't alienate those who are of a higher socioeconomic class. Kids are usually taught, in my experience, to treat the poor with respect and those of their own class, but not those of a higher class.

jcm62497 jcm62497

This reminds when one of my daughter's friends came over to our house for the first time and said "I didn't know you guys were rich!".  we are not rich, but we do live in a 3200 square foot house. She was living in a tiny apartment with her Dad who is a single parent.   I dont consider my family to be rich, but in the eyes of this child we were.

loveb... lovebug100

i always told my kids that we're rich because we have each other & that money has nothing to do with that.

Water... Water_geM

i never knew kids had issue understanding this...

 somepeople have more money,thus affording them more luxuries...

Cheryl_M Cheryl_M

Our family wasn't rich, but if there was something we didn't have, I couldn't have named it. A girl I met in kindergarten became the best friend I've ever had, and her family didn't have very much. They had moved from the city, and had five daughters. As a kid, it always amazed me how much closer they all seemed than my family did. We were close, but just the fact that it was okay for the sibs to yell at each other blew my mind! Over the years, we slept at each other's houses and grew to know each family really well. A lot of the time we were at my house, but only because it was quieter. Well, my friend and I had to deal first-hand with class difference, and it sucked.

Her mother apparently got to feeling badly about the fact that they didn't have as much as we did and decided she didn't want us to be friends anymore. I don't remember how that issue got resolved, but my feelings were hurt and my friend was really upset. The other instance was when my friend and her sister had a huge fight, and the sister tried to convince me that my friend was using me. I didn't believe her, but my friend was crushed at the possibility that I might.

I'm going to tell my boys that everyone works hard for what they have, but sometimes things can happen that make it more difficult to earn more money. We're pretty broke right now as I'm not working, but I just started working on my Bachelor's Degree and I'm hoping they see this as mom actively doing something to better our future.

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