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  • Nicole Doyley

Why We Expect More From Our Kids

Updated: Mar 13


Don’t be a helicopter mom!


You’ve got to let them make their own decisions.


Once they’re 18, you really have to let go…


As long as they’re happy…!


You have to let them find their way.


The older my kids get, the more I hear advice like this. I usually smile and change the subject, but sometimes I push back and explain that these rules don’t apply to Black people.


One of the most troubling set of statistics I’ve read speaks to the downward mobility of middle-class Black kids:


Seven out of ten black Americans born into the middle quintile fall into one of the two quintiles below as adults.[1]


A quarter of black children will make less than 80 percent of what their parents did, meaning that even in this expanding economy with higher earnings, as adults they are not just worse off relatively, but objectively…Retaining middle class status is more difficult for black families across generations.[2]


Because of systemic racism and the resultant lack of generational wealth, our hold on middle class status, if we have it, is tenuous; it is not something we should take for granted. Black families own only one-seventh of the wealth of white families, we are more likely to help poor family members, and we are less likely to receive any kind of inheritance. This means we have less money to give our kids. Black Americans who have climbed to the middle class are more likely than whites to see their kids fall down the ladder.[3]


We simply do not have the luxury of taking our hands off the wheel. Studies show that white kids can make bad decisions, take years figuring things out and still land on their feet. Black kids who take a similar path often do not.


Immigrants from poor countries know this intuitively. There is no Plan B, so most are actively involved in their children’s choices: college, college major, first jobs. They don’t leave it to their kids to navigate decisions that if poorly made, could have generational repercussions.


The hands-off ethos is born out of privilege, a thick cushion, a strong financial safety net. When you have that, there’s room for error; mistakes won’t set you back forever. It also springs from the cultural value of independence. No one wants their thirty-year-old living in the basement playing video games, but if he lives in your basement while he’s in graduate school, or while she’s saving for her own house, or if he needs you around while he heals from a broken relationship, why not? This insistence on pushing eighteen-year-olds out, leaving it to them to choose what they’re going to do with their lives, is not universal. Not everyone has a laissez-faire attitude towards their kids’ decisions, because if Black kids fall, they may keep falling.


We don’t have the option of assimilating into white culture because we don’t have the privileges white people have.


For some, this means insisting on college, even while white friends give their kids the option. It means helping them find scholarships, guiding them in what they should study and helping them research the types of jobs they might get after graduation. It means demanding to see their grades and expecting them to find help on campus if they’re struggling.


For others, it means helping their children research trade jobs or military careers and the best way to prepare for them, assessing each child’s skills and helping him or her find apprenticeships. It means showing up to guide and chiming in, saying Nope, no way! or That’s a great idea; that suits you!


Either way, our questions should be, “How will you make money doing that? How will you pay for health insurance? How will you support your family someday? How will you afford some of the things you enjoy?” We should use our age, experience, and knowledge to help them think about jobs that won’t become obsolete or replaced by AI.


We can’t leave it to chance. The stakes are too high.


Of course, we can do all of this, and our kids may still falter, but we should do our best to set them up to do better than us, not worse.


I’m not advocating trying to control our children’s lives, but I am advocating for being present, involved, giving them the benefit of our age, experience, and wisdom. The cultural rule of hands off and let them decide isn’t our rule; it doesn’t work for us, and even if it did, I’m not sure that it’s the best rule anyway.



[1] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/five-bleak-facts-on-black-opportunity/ [2] https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/stalled-struggling-black-middle-class#:~:text=More%20than%2035%20percent%20of,bottom%2030%20percent%20as%20adults. [3] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/five-bleak-facts-on-black-opportunity/

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