My Child is Lucky: Discussing Privilege With Our Kids

The idea of privilege has been a hot topic in the news lately. It’s important to discuss these ideas with our kids. However, to do that, we have to come from a place of honesty. The simple truth is my daughter is a very privileged little girl. Compared to all of the situations in this world that she could have been born into, she exists in the upper echelon of privilege. Most people reading this blog are also privileged, some in more ways than others, but I would suggest that almost all of us are in a better position than most of the world.

The word “privilege” itself has developed a negative connotation, and if you are someone who is missing basic privileges than that negative application is very real. However, to many of us privilege is not a negative. It is simply a truth of our existence. What is infinitely important, and the message we need to instill in our children is the importance of how we use our “luck of the draw” privileges. My daughter does not have every birth benefit in the world (for example: she is female, and unfortunately being a man in America is still a more privileged position than being a woman), but she has a lot of them. To illustrate the point, here are few ways she was born very fortunate, and how it has or may impact her life…

1) Medical Care

Right from the beginning my daughter was privileged. She was born 6 weeks premature in a situation that usually does not come with a happy ending. Our story does have a happy ending though, and a large reason for that was our proximity to world class health care. I don’t even mean good healthcare, I mean one of the best NICU’s in the country is located a mile and a half from my home. If my daughter was born in other parts of this country, or even this state, her story would be different. The lesson here is that privilege does not mean that nothing in life is hard or dangerous, it’s that when those hard and dangerous times occur you have access to the means to overcome. My daughter’s access to medical care from before she was even born gave her the ability to survive and thrive. She needs to know this, so that when she gets older she can realize that overcoming adversity is an accomplishment of both personal determination and being surrounded by the means to succeed.

2) Money

By the standards of the American Northeast, my wife and I are the definition of middle class. We are both full-time working parents, and we have to watch our budget on some level. That being said, by the standards of the rest of the world, we are comically wealthy. If I want food, I can dial a number or press a few buttons and make it appear at my home. If I am hot I power up my own personal air conditioner. If I am dirty, I get into a shower that at the turn of a knob sprays me with clean water while I wash with a bar of soap.

These are all privileges, and our children should grow up with an awareness of these gifts we don’t think about. The lifestyle difference of my family and the richest man in the world is infinitesimally small compared to the lifestyle difference of my family and a starving family somewhere else in the world. If on a scale of 1-100 of wealth worldwide, if Bill Gates is a 100, my little family in Central Massachusetts exists at about a 92. Most people I know are in this ballpark as well. Middle class in America is still a massively privileged existence. I am very happy my daughter has access to these things we take for granted, but it is very important that she realizes that even these day to day minor activities are not a reality for many people.

3) Education

My wife and I are educated people. I like to think we are also reasonably intelligent, but part of that is our access to education. We went to good schools growing up, and both graduated from college. Are we smarter than people who don’t have a similar background? No, but we have more access to the educational system, and understand how to be successful in a school environment. When my daughter has homework as she gets older, mom and dad will be able to help. When she is old enough, she will be able to study functionally whatever she wants.

These are not gifts that everyone gets. Some kids go to awful public schools, or have to drop out to support a family. This doesn’t make them less intelligent than my daughter, but they aren’t given the tools to achieve. Privilege doesn’t mean you are going to succeed, it means you are given reasonable means to attempt success. A good education system on the road to success is stepping up the plate with a bat, and a poor education system is stepping up to the plate with a branch. Both can get a hit and both can strike out, but there is no debate over which situation has the better odds.

4) Health

I work part-time with teens with severe disabilities. My wife is a therapist for adults with severe mental illness. There are plenty of kids out there who have a plethora of illnesses, physical disabilities, etc. My daughter is a smart, healthy little girl. Most of the kids I work with don’t even have a chance at total independence. They are great kids, and with the proper assistance can live happy and productive lives. However, they will never have the options that my daughter does. They will never be able to be scientists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, therapists, etc. The ability to choose her own path, and one day be independent are part of her privilege. With this comes a responsibility to help others without all the same options.

5) Race

There is a truth in this country that for some reason people hate to admit. Being White in America is easier than being a minority, specifically Black or Hispanic. I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is foolish to think otherwise. This extends to many aspects. My daughter will have an easier time getting a job, she will not have to worry about being judged by her skin color before her actions, and the justice system as a whole will treat her far more fairly. There are many other aspects of her life that this will affect in one way or another.

Hopefully, by the time she is older, many of these advantages will begin to even out. One of the ways to help this process is by developing an awareness of these inequalities. My daughter needs to be mindful of her innate advantages. The term “white guilt” is sometimes used in this context. This is a foolish term. It is not about feeling guilty, it is about understanding the world around us. This understanding and awareness is the key to progression. That way when situations for change arise, she can be prepared to say “This isn’t right… we need to fix this.”

So the bottom line is this. We all have some advantages, and some of us have more than others. In turn, we must teach our children about these unearned benefits that they have been born with. Not so they can feel guilty, but so they can recognize them and extend a helping hand to those who may need it along the way for whatever reason. Without awareness of their privileges our children can develop an ugly arrogance, and arrogance is not a privilege my daughter will have.

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