I work at home and see a lot of neighborhood moms as I go about my daily errands. The other day, I bumped into a woman I have known for several years because our sons have played on the same teams and for a while they attended the same school. After chatting for a few minutes in the grocery store, a concerned look came over her face and she asked me whether I liked our son’s high school.
My son attends a local parochial high school. We very much believe that it is a better school than the local public high school. A significant majority of my sons classmates will go on to attend prestigious four year colleges and universities as compared to a much smaller percentage of local public high school students. That alone is reason enough for us to enroll our son in the parochial high school. We believe we have made a good educational decision.
Of course, attending a private or parochial school comes with a cost. My wife and I have to make sacrifices in order to afford the $10,000+ per year tuition and costs required by my son’s school – costs that are more than double the cost of attending a public university in Florida. Nevertheless we believe it is worth the cost to help ensure that our son gets a good start on his academic and professional life.
The woman with whom I was speaking in the grocery store agrees that the parochial high school is a much better school than the public high school and she would very much like to send her children there. Unfortunately, she lamented, she just did not believe that she and her husband could afford such a commitment. I smiled understandingly, agreed that the costs are significant and offered comfort that the public high school still has some fine students.
Then I excused myself to continue my shopping and walked away in silent disgust.
I do not sit in judgment on any decisions that other parents make on the behalf of their children, and I certainly do not criticize decisions that are based on financial health. If a family cannot afford “better” schools or if the local public schools are good, there are valid reasons for attending public school. What rubs me wrong, however, is when parents agree that certain fundamentally important decisions should be made for their children and then they refuse to make the limited sacrifices that are necessary to execute those decisions.
The woman with whom I was speaking in the grocery store knows that I have been unemployed for several months and that my wife and I are still finding ways to pay for our son’s tuition (and for the tuition of another son at a different parochial school). By comparison, her husband has a good job. She also drives a new $70,000 vehicle, always has her nails perfectly manicured and has a wardrobe that is always being filled with new clothes. She carries designer handbags and generally leads a life of comfort. Her husband drives a similarly expensive car. They would have to cut back only marginally to make another $10,000 per year a manageable expense.
But they do not cut back. They constantly try to “keep up with the Joneses,” in a suburban environment where it seems that every family is trying to one up the next with expensive cars, pavers for driveways and luxury vacations. Even in a down economy, I see a tremendous amount of frivolous spending.
And I suppose that is OK if that is how other people want to spend their money, but please do not bring money problems to me if your idea of a problem is really the inability to put the long term benefit of your children ahead of your immediate need for creature comforts. I walked away in disgust from the woman in the grocery store, not because I feel that I should sit in judgment on how she spends her money, but because she admitted to me that sending her son to our parochial high school was in his best interest, and then she lied to us both because she felt that she could not afford to do so.
Do you know people like that? How do you react when you see parents who think they are loving parents make decisions that are less than loving? How would you strike the balance between long term investments in the future of your children and the short term investment in creature comforts?