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Don’t Catch Affluenza This Christmas
Parents want material comfort for their children — but too much poses dangers to the soul.


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Nancy French

I looked at my 14-year-old daughter’s Christmas list, written on a yellow legal pad with curly letters and little hearts.

“Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath,” was written in loopy script, right next to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. (She comes by her conservatism naturally.) Then, there was Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer next to C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. There were probably 20 books on her list, an Amazon Prime parent’s dream. 

When I heard that Eric Metaxas was interviewing Malcolm Gladwell in his successful Manhattan series Socrates in the City, I knew I’d found the perfect Christmas present. And so, just before Christmas, Camille and I headed to New York for a few nights to enjoy the city — and we even had a little snow.

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Gladwell’s book — about overcoming odds, David-versus-Goliath-style — includes a chapter about wealth and its consequences for children. Gladwell writes about a powerful man in Hollywood who had grown up working blue-collar jobs in Minneapolis. He used to see basketball games in the cheap seats, behind a pole, wondering what it would be like to sit courtside. But that was before he became wealthy. Gladwell writes:

Like any parent, he wanted to provide for [his children], to give them more than he had. But he had created a giant contradiction, and he knew it. He was successful because he had learned the long and hard way about the value of money and the meaning of work and the joy and fulfillment that come from making your own way in the world. But because of his success, it would be difficult for his children to learn the same lessons. Children of multimillionaires in Hollywood don’t rake the leaves of their neighbors in Beverly Hills. . . . They do not sit in a basketball arena behind a pillar wondering what it would be like to sit courtside. They live courtside.

Camille and I discussed this chapter the morning of the Socrates in the City event in the joyful anticipation that naturally occurs when Mom lets you skip school and have an adventure.

That’s when it dawned on me. My kids live courtside, and so might yours. 

We aren’t multimillionaires, or even millionaires, but our kids have so many more opportunities than we had growing up. My parents grew up on Monteagle Mountain in Tennessee. My dad was the son of a coal miner, dropped out of high school six times, and eventually earned his GED. He lied about his age, joined the Marines at 15, and learned how to drive a tank before he knew how to drive a car. He brushed his teeth with a torn-off tree branch, the bark peeled back to create “bristles.” 

Suffice it to say, when I was a kid, we didn’t have Hilton Honors points (which allowed Camille and me to stay in Times Square for free Wednesday night). We didn’t have a Southwest frequent-flier number, because we never went anywhere farther than Kentucky. I’d never heard of The New Yorker, which has arrived in our mailbox every week for the past few years and introduced us to Gladwell’s writing.

In other words, our kids have grown up with many more opportunities than we ever had.

Many parents identify with the challenges of raising children in the modern world. That’s one of the reasons — coupled with the shocking failure of the criminal-justice system — why the Ethan Couch case felt like a punch in the gut.



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