Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Can you do it all?

This isn't related to the Rio Grande Valley, it's more of a general topic. Tonight, I was watching Neil Cavuto on Fox. He was interviewing an author who studied parents and parenting. She looked into the effect of money on how parents raise their kids. Cavuto has a poll (results) asking if parents who make more money are better parents. For now, the poll is a landslide towards NO. Before you jump all over this, the poll is non-scientific and keep in mind that the people who watch Cavuto are either finance freaks like me or have money to invest. So, it's likely that people with money are saying that money is not making them better parents.

Being that I am a poor Mexican and people often feel compelled to confide in me, I've spoken to nannies who usually tell me about how awful some of the families for which they've worked are. This goes for nannies here in the RGV and in Austin. By the way, if you want to get the dirt on a family, don't befriend the couple, a friend, or relative. The nanny is usually a much better source of information, especially if her bosses are asses. Anyway, the nanas tell me about how the parents spend so much time making money to buy the big house and the expensive cars, that they are never home. Most of their time goes into their careers. These parents often try to diminish their guilt by buying expensive stuff for their kids or taking them on vacations to this place and that. Basically, they try to fit in a few days of "quality time" in the year to make up for not being there the rest of the year.

The children often are spoilt because their parents are not there to guide them on how to be decent persons. During home time, the kids are up in their bedrooms while mom and dad are doing their thing. So, they're home, but not home. I've often heard nannies tell me that when they get married and have children, they will be stay at home moms. They see first-hand how destructive being a working couple can be to the children they watch.

Before you dismiss the nanas as being disgruntled workers, let me tell you that I've asked kids what they would prefer: having their parents around more often or all the junk and trips their parents buy? Kids tell me they would rather have their parents around. You know kids speak from the heart about these things. If you're the type who wants to earn craploads of money, you probably dismiss this because "kids don't know what they want". This is true about material stuff. Kids want everything. But, on a more instinctive level, kids want attention and love from their parents above all else.

Of course, this isn't all wealthy families. In cases of wealthy families where mom stays at home and raises her own kids, I've actually seen some good kids. Not all parents with money are bad. I guess I am referring to professional couples for whom the sky is the limit, income-wise, if they work hard. And they do.

Does this mean that it's better to be poor to raise your kids? I don't believe so either. It's not a question of money, so much. It's a question of culture. Poverty, in my opinion, is a culture. It is a way of living. As Dave Ramsey says," if you do rich people stuff, you become rich people. If you do poor people stuff, you become poor people". The problem with poverty is the inherent ignorance that accompanies it. Many poor parents are ill-equipped to lay the educational foundation for their children. They don't know to read to their children, to teach them colors, to teach them to count, or other basic skills. Poor people often think that the schools will take care of that. Poor people often spend so much time on basic survival that they don't have the time or energy to devote to their families or to self-improvement. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the professionals have a culture of going out and making the kill; family is simply another trophy like divorced doctors and lawyers with the trophy wife.

The guy who made the Super-size Me movie, Morgan Spurlock, also made a TV episode in which he and his fiancee borrow a couple of his brother's kids and go to Detroit to try to make a living on minimum wage. In an interview, Spurlock relates how taxing it is to work so many hours to meet basic needs like rent and food. His fiancee's paycheck went mostly to pay for daycare. The point is that poverty can be just as bad for raising kids. Whereas for people who make a crapload of money, it's a choice to not raise their kids, for the poor it's a necessity, except that they can't afford a nanny.

So, making money doesn't make you a better parent and being poor definitely limits your ability to be a better parent. So, what's left? What is a person to do? The answer seems to be that we should make a decent living and live modest lives so that we have the leisure time we desire. Is it that easy? Why don't more people shoot for a modest income, say $50k (although I'd be happy to raise mine past $20k), and spend more time with their families?

I guess it depends what you consider success. Most of my financial heros, Jack Welch, Sam Walton, Donald Trump, and many others have been hugely successful... and never home. Except for Sam Walton, most have been divorced. If you read Made in America, you learn that Sam Walton felt bad about not being with his family as much. In the same book, he writes with some misguided pride that many of his corporate managers end up divorced because of the demands of the retail business.

So, you're damned if you make something of yourself and you're damned if you don't. Why can't we hit a middle ground where we can make a living and be home with the kids to raise them like God intended? This whole issue strikes a chord with me because I've been caught in this trap. If I had a dollar for every time people tell me that I have so much potential, I'd have enough money not to work (by choice). Yet, every time I start to "let the Tiger out", as my Chinese boss told me, I hold back.

Fear. That's what keeps people poor, according to Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad. I'm beginning to realize that perhaps that's what has trapped me as well. Fear. Plain and simple. Fear of losing my family. My friends sense that I can do so much. I know that I can. And we know that I hold back. So, do I go for it and risk losing my family? Let the chips fall where they may? Would that make me a go-getter or a sell out?

There have to be other people out there with the same internal struggle. Can you do it all? Can you be a good parent and a successful professional? If you say yes, is it mere wishful thinking? If you have a nanny, it means you're not there to watch your own children. If you are home, you're not out dragging home the kill. So which is it? What choice are you and your wife making?

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