Dear Grandparenting: I raised my daughter to work hard and live within her means. We practiced what we preached. My late husband, Bill, and I had one credit card between us. The only time we ever really used it was for trips out west to see his family. I knew a few people who inherited more than enough to live on without ever working. Both got married a bunch and never amounted to a hill of beans. They never figured out what to do with themselves except keep trying harder to buy happiness.
My daughter’s husband started a little company six years ago that makes security stuff to protect computers against hackers. His business really took off. Last month he agreed to sell it for some seriously big money. My granddaughters (10 and 12) will be set for life, but I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. What’s to say I won’t wind up with a couple of lazy, materialistic underachievers for grandchildren? Maybe I worry too much, but sudden wealth has a way of changing people for the worse. If you don’t believe me, ask all those lottery winners who blew it. How can I help keep their little heads on straight? Lois Jankowski, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dear Lois: Plenty of families would like to have your problem. We’re all accustomed to the more common issue of too little money. But a financial windfall actually can send the lucky ones spiraling out of control just as easily, changing their thinking and behavior for the worse in ways they may be unaware of. There’s even a name for it: the sudden wealth syndrome.
Researchers have uncovered a multitude of troubles that can plague children who seem to have it all. Wealthier grandchildren, in fact, tend to be more distressed than their peers from lower-income families, and are at higher risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, cheating and stealing. Some issues emanate from feeling pressure to achieve or isolation from parents. Others stem from changes in brain chemistry resulting from the pleasurable sensation of receiving money or possessions, a “high” that can become an addiction, with cravings and all the rest.
Wealthy children also have to deal with the envy and resentment of others, and are presumed to be “cold” and out of touch. Studies show that people of lower socioeconomic status are better than the wealthy at reading others’ facial expressions, an important marker of empathy. The less fortunate might take pleasure in seeing them struggle. Old friends may abandon them.
The hits just keep on coming. Who said that the living was easy when you’re young and on easy street? We don’t know if your daughter intends to lavish goodies on your granddaughters. Hopefully she will adhere to the values of hard work and thrift that you instilled in her. If she needs convincing, show her this column. We don’t make this stuff up.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Jilly from The Villages, Florida, regards her grandchildren as “my reward for not strangling my kids when they were teens. I thought it would never end.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.