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How to Teach Your Kids About Privilege and Gratitude

How to Talk to Your Kids About Privilege

The Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses were paired with four-carat diamonds. The beach cover-ups and sandals of one small group of teenage girls alone would rack up a four-digit tab. The bar served $15 margaritas to adults and $10 smoothies to kids. Our room was serviced no less than three times a day. My daughter, my mom, and I were officially vacationing in the land of privilege, and for the first time, it was making me feel uncomfortable, mostly because I was looking at it through my daughter's eyes, but I wasn't exactly sure what she saw.

I wasn't raised in (and still don't live) a hugely wealthy lifestyle, but I've been known to occasionally frequent a fancy restaurant or to vacation in a pricey resort, and now that I have children, they sometimes come with me. This was the first time, however, that my 4.5-year-old daughter has been old enough to be aware of, and therefore question and comment on, the opulence surrounding her. "Do we have servants here?" she asked on the first day of our long weekend at a lovely beach resort. "Um, no, honey, they're not servants," I replied. "They're people who are paid to help us and the other guests." At the same time, I thought, well, sh*t, can a 4-year-old, Sofia the First devotee really understand the difference?

This vacation isn't the first time I've felt like I need to give my daughter an explanation of the vast privileges she's experienced in her young life. There was the princess tea party birthday she attended that I later Googled to find out started at $500, not including food . . . the packages of dresses that often arrive from her grandma for no other reason than her just being alive and cute . . . that time we bought first-class flights with miles and she decided every airplane should come stocked with warm towels and cookies, delivered directly to her seat (add free wine, and I have to say I agree).

In these moments, I always repeat the same things to her. "You are so lucky to have this party/flight/present." "Not all little girls get to do/have such nice things, so we have to be grateful for them." "Remember to say 'thank you.'" And, I'll admit, she usually does express gratitude, and I'm pretty sure that most of the time, she actually means it.

Yet, when surrounded by 10-year-olds who have no problem ordering $20 hamburgers and signing their parents' names to the bill and teens wearing more expensive clothes than I am, I wonder where the gratitude ends and entitlement begins. And as a parent, I wonder how I can continue to give her nice things without her taking them for granted.

For now, I think the best thing I can do is lead by example. I always try to go above and beyond when expressing my thanks for every gift, meal, and act of kindness I receive, especially when my daughter is there. I talk to her about donating used toys and clothes to children who don't have as much as we do. We write thank-you notes together and often list all the things we appreciate in our lives, big and small. At the end of the day, of course I want her to have everything she wants in the world. But I also want to make sure she wants the right things.

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