The Hazards of a Privileged Life

A good friend of mine, whose parenting skills I greatly respect, says that she doesn’t think life is hard enough for kids now. I think she has a point.

At this moment, my son (who is ADHD, but I don’t know how much that has to do with it) is asleep. He has been since about 4:30, when he got home from school. Not unusual.  I can’t even get him to come upstairs and eat his pizza for dinner, or feed the cat, which is his ONLY daily job around here.

Well, that, and not actually flunking out of school. You’d think that would be doable. But I have been called in for yet another parent conference regarding his overdue homework and habitual lateness.

I mean, WTF? How hard can it be to just go to school on time and do at least most of your work? At an insanely expensive private school with tutors paid for by State?

He is 16 and 1/2.  At that age, I was working the 6 AM shift at Bojangles Chicken and Biscuits in order to help pay my own tuition at a private school, as well as all my personal expenses. My husband also worked as soon as he was old enough, and all the way through college, as I did. I simply can’t imagine my son ever being motivated enough to do all that. Or even half of that.

But then again, he hasn’t been asked. I have worked part-time from home (or mostly from home) ever since my kids were small. I liked that I was able to take them to soccer practice, softball games, etc. I don’t wait on them hand and foot, but I am generally available when I need to be. I don’t mind doing the laundry if they get it in the hamper. (For the record, I’m fine with them not slinging gravy biscuits and drinking wine coolers with a bunch of convicted felons at 6 AM. Really.)

But this plan may have had a flaw in it. When I did the laundry or made my own dinner as a teenager, I knew it was a necessary thing to do. My parents were both working full-time and then some. It was kind of a pain never to have a ride anywhere, like the kids with suburban stay at home moms did, but honestly, I didn’t mind the housework. I liked to be useful. It definitely built confidence.

The situation is complicated by being overseas, where teenagers can’t legally work even if they want to. Of course, a highly motivated teenager can set up a dog-walking business or whatever. But, see above. Some teenagers are only just about up to punching a time clock. And that can be a really useful experience for them.

Many of my son’s friends are working part-time back in DC. Not sure how that’s going to happen in Vienna. They’ve cut back on the embassy summer jobs hire program so much that only college students are eligible. Even my son realizes that’s a problem.

At the same time, he needs to learn to manage money, and so we give him an allowance—with a COLA. I mean, how else is he going to to learn to live with a budget? He pays for all his own entertainment and toys, and I do think he’s learning something from that. When the well is dry, it’s dry. He does not come asking for more. We have managed to communicate that much.

He knows that just going to school with the elite doesn’t mean we are going to live just like they do. And to give him credit, he’s been fine with that. No whining. It could be worse.

But I still wonder.

I never wanted to raise a kid that is too “special” to do an honest day’s work. I think there is at least as much long-term value in flipping hamburgers as winning violin competition medals or whatever. But tonight, I am really wondering if my son might be more mature and independent if I were around less. It’s possible the pendulum has swung too far in the privileged direction—in part because we happened to move overseas right when he should have been getting a driver’s license and looking for a fast-food job to finance his mp3 habit.

I like working at home, but it might be time to find an internet café to use as an office and leave a box of macaroni and cheese out with a note for dinner a couple of nights a week. Though, I’d really rather not!



  1. Kelly, it does seem like it takes kids longer to grow up these days. At least, that is how I felt about my kids (whether we were overseas or in the States). I feel your pain!


  2. I worked in high school and in college. If there’s one thing that motivates you to do well in school — or at least pass — it’s seeing how people live when working at a restaurant or working at McDonalds is their real full-time job. It was doable for me because I knew it was temporary, but I always wondered how people made ends meet and knew I wouldn’t want to live on that money for real.


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