I have been thinking of our social standing recently and this is only something that has popped up on my radar since my daughter started school. We are a middle income family living a comfortable life. My husband is the sole bread winner by choice, we own our own home and employ someone three times a week to help with the cleaning. Compared to the majority of people in South Africa, we live a luxurious lifestyle. Luxury is relative though isn’t it?
My daughter goes to the most amazing pre-school. The teachers are exceptional and clearly love their job, the class and playground equipment is in pristine condition, the kids toilets look better than some hotels’ and the premises is secure. This comes with a price tag though and we are forking out close to R4k a month for 4 hours of school a day with no meals or snacks provided. Crazy right? Yet I have already registered my youngest there because I can’t find any other school to compare, and I’ve checked.
Even though we can afford to send our girls there (barely!), I wonder if we belong. I drive my decade old car with her numerous dents and scratches to school and I park between Land Rovers and Porsche’s. It doesn’t escape my notice that most of the mums show up immaculately dressed with clean hair and perfect makeup whilst I look as if I rolled out of bed and into the car. In my mind, you need to have a live in nanny who helps get your kid/kids ready in order for you to look that good before 8am.
From the mouths of babes
My daughter is almost 5 now and is starting to notice the difference between what she has and what her friends have. After a play date or a party, she will muse out loud on the drive home, ‘I wish I had a doll house like that’ or ‘I wish we had a pool at home’. This is wishful thinking and we all do it but she does it with the innocence of youth and without the understanding of income brackets.
As a parent I want to give her everything her little heart desires but I also know that’s not a possibility. Not only is it not financially feasible, I also don’t want to raise spoilt kids. I have learnt that when I give the girls little presents or treats regularly, not only do they start expecting it but they don’t really enjoy what they have received. The toy will get played with a little then forgotten as they wait for the next new toy to arrive. In trying to give them more joy, I am actually taking joy away from them.
A Strong Foundation
I strongly believe that if you are satisfied with your lot, you will lead a happier life. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive for better, it just means appreciating and enjoying what you already have as you work for more.
The question is, how do I instill this satisfaction in my girls? Going to a fancy private school is definitely not going to do this. All that will do is highlight to our kids the things that they cannot have (as is the case at the moment). I do not want that for them. I don’t ever want our girls to feel as if they are inferior or second class citizens in any way. The choice we have made to help with this, is that we are sending our kids to a public school from Grade 1. We want them to interact with kids whose families are a mix of income levels. A diverse environment is a more accurate representation of reality.
Can Personal Satisfaction be taught?
Managing their social environment is not a complete solution though. I have been scolding my eldest quite a bit recently and it’s centered around one specific bad habit that she’s developed. If I hand her and her sister a snack for instance, she will look into her sisters bowl first before looking into hers and then compare who has more or whose half a naartjie is bigger. It drives me nuts! It doesn’t even matter how much she has in her own bowl and whether it is the perfect amount to satisfy her hunger, if her sister has more then it spoils her mood.
If you’re reading this post expecting answers then I’m sorry, I have no idea how to ‘fix’ this behavior. Being covetous is such a human trait and it doesn’t have to be negative. It can push you to work harder and strive for better but it can also make you not appreciate what you have and leave you feeling as if the world owes you something.
At the end of the day I just want our girls to be happy. Happy with what they have but also happy for their friends and family who have more than them.