You Don't Have to be a Rich Asshole to Raise a Successful Kid

If you are a rich person living in a Big City and the only definition of success you can picture looks like private school —> Ivy League —> hedge fund manager, then please, go read this story about ethical parenting over at New York mag, which should really be called "Things Rich People With Kids Will Relate To," and which will allow you to justify that you can't help but be a system-gaming dildo because hey, that's the only way to ensure your kid is SUCCESSFUL in a GLOBAL marketplace.

Look, I get it, you have a kid and all you want to do (if you're not a complete Velociraptor) is make sure the kid has all the things/chances, and if anything stands in between your kid reaching for the golden chalice that is "SUCCESS" it will most certainly be over your dead body.

Well, that's one kind of parent anyway. The kind this article was written about. You know, the nutjob achiever parent who apparently has no scruples about muscling their kid to the front of the line by using their wealth, genitals or knack for nagging?

The piece asks "Is Ethical Parenting Possible?" as if we're all in this boat rowing directly toward posh hell together. Hint: The answer is no, says the article, it's not possible to parent ethically, Not Anymore, Not if You Care About Your Kid's Future:

Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral. Worse, the moral weakness of parents is always on display, for children bear witness to their incessant ethical hairsplitting. It may be delicious fun to tut-tut over the corrupt child-rearing customs (and to pity the progeny) of the aggressively rising class: the mother who, according to Urban Baby legend, slept with the admissions officer (with her husband’s consent!) to get her child into the Ivy League, or the one who sued an Upper East Side preschool for ­insufficiently preparing her 4-year-old for a ­private-school test. But such Schadenfreude elides a more difficult existential truth, which is that ever since Noah installed his own three sons upon the ark and left the rest of the world to drown, protecting and privileging one’s own kids at the expense of other people has been the name of the game. It’s what parents do.

Every hour, it seems, a parent is given the opportunity to choose between her child and a greater good, and in those moments the primal parental impulse can be overpowering. “If some science-fiction sorcerer came to me with a button,” writes the philosopher Stephen Asma in his 2012 book Against Fairness, “and said I could save my son’s life by pressing it but then (cue the dissonant music) ten strangers would die somewhere … I’d have my finger down on it before he finished his cryptic challenge.”

Um, I didn't go to no Ivy League or whatever, but isn't it a smidge different to fuck someone to get your kid into a top school versus making sure your child doesn't die? The former is immoral, but the latter is self-preservation? Please, explain slowly, like you would to a dog.

No matter, don't let the author confuse you. The piece uses this insane lumping-together of disparate crimes to normalize all the little quandaries parents are presented with to position their children for success, all set against a backdrop of swirling moral tension portrayed as How it Is Now. Pass it on: Everyone's being a lying dick for their kid these days! You just have to do it now, like recycling or going gluten-free!

But just so we are clear:

  • The person who sends their kid to school with lice just so they don't have to stay up late and vacuum it out of their hair so the kid won't be tired the next day for a really important test is a dick.
  • The person who actually invents fake facts (not "makes look good") on their kid's school application is a dick.
  • The person who holds their typical kid back a year so they'll make better grades is a dick.
  • A father who volunteers to coach Little League but gives his kid the best position (if it's purely favoritism and not actual agreed-upon merit — consult other adults!) is a dick.
  • Parents who do their children's homework night after night for fear they will fail are dicks.
  • The parent who "harangues teachers for better grades, theater directors for bigger parts and clergy for the best assignment in the soup kitchen" is a dick, a dick and a dick all rolled up into one big giant sporty foam dick.
  • The parent who says "but everyone is lying and exaggerating to get their kid X thing so I have to as well" is a dick parent. A DICK.

The author lumps the above dickishness with normal resource-using again here:

…they curry favor (they hope) with foil-wrapped bottles or hard-to-get tickets at Christmastime. In the interest of giving kids “a leg up,” ­parents will do almost anything: They’ll call friends on the board; they’ll pull strings to procure internships; they’ll invite the coach over for dinner; they’ll claim strong adherence to a religion or an ethnic identity that is, in fact, weak; they’ll fake recommendation letters; they’ll neutralize their child’s competition for a spot on the hockey team by whispering something about someone’s alcohol use; and they’ll administer the occasional misbegotten tablet of Adderall. The ­ultimate litmus test in New York City is this one: How many good people do you know who have lied about their address to get their kids into the better public school? And are you more or less sympathetic if that person is a hedge-fund manager or his nanny?

REALLY? Faking an ethnic identity or spreading vicious rumors is supposedly the SAME THING as pulling strings to get an internship? No. Stop it. Now I'm dying.

Parents who "rustle up" advantages and opportunities for their children using their network of resources are simply being parents. That's what you do. Rustle up connections you have in the interest of furthering your child's options. But that is not the same thing as lying. If I have a friend who is at an architect firm I'm not going to feel bad asking if there are any internships if my kid shows a big interest in architecture. That's not lying. It's trying to set your kid up with the resources you have. (Yes, rich people have better resources, and yet, somehow they must be scummier to keep them?)

And that, in a nutshell, is why I take issue with the story. All parents are aiming to get their kids the best, but we have vastly different ideas about what that is. This piece says that in New York there is One Finish Line and everyone is blurring the lines of ethics to get there first. But there's nothing organic about shoving your kid through some preordained success-o-meter assembly line, and there's nothing admirable about fueling it with the souls of smug assholes, even if they are gluten-free.

I say leave them to their race. The more I read about the frenzy of getting into the right private schools, the more I want to find a really good public one.

By the way, has anyone heard of this thing where you wait and see the kind of kid you have before you murder-fuck a preschool admissions officer to get them into baby Harvard? And then you nurture the skills and interests of that kid? And you try to make sure they are well rounded? And that genuinely being well rounded actually looks good on a resume, which leads to better opportunities based on the actual kid and their interests and not some fucked up arbitrary idea of what Success is based on some weird feeding frenzy/feedback loop of privilege and narcissism?

Just a thought.