Most of us go into parenthood with the best intentions. We want better for our children, and we work incredibly hard to make sure that we not only give our children more opportunities than what was afforded to us as kid, but that we raise children who're able to, one day, tear down the socioeconomic barriers that keep opportunities out of the reach of others, too. But we're not perfect. We're human. And there are ways us parents actually reinforced class stigma... without even realizing it.
In The Playdate: Parents, Children, and the New Expectations of Play, Tamara R. Mose explains that playdates and children's birthday parties have evolved into carefully-crafted and specially-planned networking events for parents. These events can help caregivers organize and expand their circles, providing those of us who spend the majority of our time with our children an opportunity to connect with other parents. As a result, a play date or a birthday party ends up being about much more than just a fun activity for a child.
On the one hand, the evolution of the play date is great. These activities give parents a chance to make meaningful connections; connections that lead to career advancement or obtaining social and cultural capital. On the other hand, these same activities make it easy for parents to enforce classist stigmas that their children can, in turn, internalize.
Parents with annual family incomes higher than $75,000 much more likely to have kids that participate in extracurricular activities than those with lower incomes, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study. And since one in five American children live in poverty, according to social analysts at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, there is a mountain-sized difference in people's ability to access resources and opportunities, like play dates and after-school programs, that impact social capital.
As difficult as it is to admit how deeply our lives are impacted by capitalism, it's important to be mindful of decisions and comments we make that perpetuate classist ideals, especially when our kids are involved. We are so much more than our incomes, and we should make sure our kids know that, too. And since the first step in eradicating a problem is acknowleding that it exists, here are just a few ways us parents reinforce class stigma; a stigma that just ends up hurting everyone:
Ignoring The Fact That Inequality Starts Early In Life
As Mose writes in her book, “playdates and birthday parties are just two of the earliest crafted encounters that parents are utilizing in order to socialize their children into social circles for capital gain.” Everything we do, as parents, is political. So even if it might just appear to be a play date or a birthday party, who is invited to that party, where that party is held, and what is required of people who attend that party can end up teaching our child something positive, or negative, about class and who has access to what.
Extending Invitations To Certain Parents Based On How They Dress
In The Playdate, Mose explains that parents tend to make assumptions about other parents based on what they’re wearing and, more generally, what they look like. She goes on to explain that parents will sometimes prevent their children from playing with others because of the way their parents are dressed, especially if their attire seems to suggest their socioeconomic standing.
It's ridiculous to assume someone’s income, or anything about their parenting style, by looking at their clothes. Denying your child a play date because the other kids’ mom is wearing sweatpants and a pair of dirty sneakers, specifically because you think that means she’s poor and doesn’t know how to take care of her kids, is not only incredibly mean, it's judgmental. Ask questions, find out more about her, then make a decision. Don’t judge a mom by her outfit.
Shaming Other Families For Where They Live
Before you tell your kid that they can’t play with a friend because of where that friend lives, remember that their friend lives there. Other kids live there. Other families live there. That neighborhood is their home. People raise children there, and it's highly likely that they've been doing so for generations.
I’m not suggesting that you send your kid to play at a place you feel is unsafe or dangerous, but I am suggesting that you choose your words carefully when explaining to your child why they can't go over to so-and-so's house.
Judging Another Parent's Snack Choices
Dr. Mose interviewed upper-middle-class parents for her book ,who told her that they had “gone to playdates where chips and soda were offered and knew that [those] should not be a home to which they would send their child unattended, since chips and soda in their kinds were closely aligned with irresponsible parenting by the working class.”
Sometimes we take breaks from the all-organic, all-natural snack items due to any number of reasons. Other families simply can't afford to offer these options to their children. In rural areas, convenient stores outnumber supermarkets, according to a study published in Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Supermarkets tend to offer consumers healthier food options. And in another study, as reported by ABC News, while most American families spend 15% of their food budget on fruits and vegetables, low-income families would have to spend upwards of 70% of their budget on fruits and vegetables.
Don't make assumptions about someone's parenting, or their dedication to their children, based on the food they provide their family. More often than not, what is available to you is a result of your privilege, and not your devotion to your children.
Teaching Your Kids There's An "Us' Versus "Them" Based On Income
Before your kids are old enough to learn about structural inequality and the history of wealth gaps fueled by racism and sexism, you can prevent them from developing classist ideas about other families by not giving into an “us” versus “them” mindset.
Saying things like, "We don’t spend time with people like that,” or, "They’re not like us,” to your kids when talking about families from different socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly if they don’t make as much money as you, teaches them that it’s OK to exclude others based on how much money they make.
Teaching Your Child To Respect Certain Jobs Over Others
Teach your kids the importance of all types of labor. From sanitation workers to bus drivers, mail carriers to stay-at-home-parents, librarians to domestic workers, and every other career that benefits society, your child should know that work is work is work. Every laborer deserves respect, and your child should know that.
Avoid using phrases like “real job” or “honest living,” because all you’re doing is perpetuating discriminatory ideas about labor.
Failing To Be Transparent About Systemic Economic Inequality
This one applies primarily to parents with older children, since they’re more likely to understand complex ideas about how the world works. Once your child is old enough to understand things like equity and the basics of capitalism, though, it’s important to be honest with them about the privileges your family has been afforded.
As someone who was made fun of as a kid for needing “free lunch” at school, I know what it’s like to shamed for being poor. Teaching our kids to understand the bigger picture can prevent them from shaming other kids who are less fortunate.
Teaching Them That "More Expensive" Equals "Better"
First of all, expensive items aren’t accessible to everyone. That’s obvious. And while there’s nothing wrong with paying more money for luxury items, it’s classist to do so while also teaching your children that more expensive items are inherently "better" than less expensive ones, or that the purchasing of said expensive item makes the person doing the purchasing inherently "better" than someone who wouldn't be able to make the same purchase.
Your kids could internalize those ideas, and then judge their peers who can’t afford the same things. Whether it’s clothes, food, or extracurricular activities, there’s no need to assign a moral value to expensive things that others can’t afford.
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