Madeline Levine, PhD
Jillian Wagenheim, Founder & Principal, Sertus Consulting
Farrah Azizi, Private Philanthropy Advisor, Give Great Group
In October 2019, we read Madeline Levine, PhD’s The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. Readers may approach this book from both a variety of lenses but also the variety of roles we each fill. There are tidbits and resources within whether read with your “parent hat” or “child hat”. As advisors, however, when we reading this book, it is particularly valuable to explore our own biases and how our own experience affect how we approach the topic with families. When discussed with the 21/64 Book Club, the discussion emphasized how the book’s lessons and frames can be utilized by advisors in our work.
One key parenting practice that frequently surfaces in affluent parenting is the difference between support and intrusion. While this can be seen in many areas of parenting, for the purposes of the Book Club and this review, we will focus on how it applies in the context of family philanthropy. As parents (or grandparents or other senior family members) begin to involve children (of any age) in the family’s giving, it is easy to mistake guidance and support for expectations and intrusion. One way parents can be mindful of this is to keep their own vulnerabilities front of mind, and to take an empathetic and curious position to how and what their child might be experiencing. As parents expect their children to take on additional responsibilities, or alternatively deny them additional involvement or responsibilities, parents are encouraged to recall their own pivotal building blocks. One advisor gave the example of asking parents what their first job was and what lessons they garnered at that time to help shift parents’ mindsets from expectations to empathy.
Many parents may wonder what this actually looks like. Advisors are frequently asked, ‘at what age’, ‘how much’, ‘how do I….’ questions around engaging children in the family’s resources. Philanthropy can serve as the conduit to begin many of these conversations. While many are familiar with formal junior boards as a structure to pipeline children into the family philanthropy, there are many other formal and less formal ways to do so. One advisor distinguished between a child’s numerical age and developmental age and incorporating practices that meet children where they are. Similarly, families as a whole would benefit to recognize that each new family member contributes their own uniqueness and individuality to the family; as families are living constructs. Families can utilize storytelling and values exercises to identify the individuality of each member, and to also increase family cohesion. Another advisor shared how functional individual discretionary giving can be in a family when it complements the overall guiding family mission.
Like many of the books focused on the experience of affluent families, the lessons and practices can be applied to families of all resources. However, Levine points out that “affluent parents hesitated to seek professional help more than other groups of parents. They have strong feelings about protecting privacy…wealthy parents react much more defensively and negatively than do middle- and low-income parents.” Advisors should be cognizant of how the emphasis on external markers of perfection and success are particularly emphasized in the culture of wealth. In working with families to build experiences that enrich internal validation and ties, advisors support strong individual identities and healthy relationships to the larger family unit.