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Do you subconsciously or consciously choose your child's social circle based on class?



Something annoyed me this week. Something that involved a friend's daughter. He recounted the story of how his wife had learnt that certain comments had been made about his four-year-old daughter (let's call her "Sally") and their family.

Before I get into what those comments were, it's important to know a little bit about my friend. He works as a professional, his wife is a part-time teacher and their financial priorities are focused on their home and family. Their house is big (by this I mean glossy magazine big), however they are not showy people. Their cars are not new and they aren't premium brands. The clothes they wear are not designer and their holidays are respectable but modest. He earns a six-figure salary, I don’t know what his wife earns, but they are financially comfortable and you could say that they are "successful" (if you are shallow enough to label them solely on these material metrics). Although, if you didn't know them, you wouldn’t know they were "successful", because they place little emphasis on what they own.

So, back to the story. A mother (let's call her the "The Mother") whose daughter (let's call her "Alice") is friends with Sally at school and the two girls spend a lot of time together at school. The Mother has become acquaintances with my friend's wife in the usual "parents at nursery" type of way. However, without going into the detail of how it happened, my friend found out that The Mother had made a comment that she wished that Alice would hang around less with Sally and more with another child. The reason for this was because the other child was perceived by The Mother to be from a higher class and, therefore, better for Alice's social upbringing.

Now, on hearing this, my friend was a bit angry, largely confused but also slightly upset for his daughter. He started to query what sort of impression The Mother had of his wife and his family. He surmised that it was usually his wife that did the school drop off so it would have been in their old hatchback car, she would usually be casually dressed, not necessarily made up and in a rush (due to work or otherwise). In contrast, the child that The Mother wanted Alice to hang around with was usually dropped off by a very well dressed and made up stay at home mother in a new 4x4.

When I heard this, I thought this was ridiculous. How could anyone consciously wish to select the class of people for which their child would be socialising? And based purely on the impressions given perhaps by a nice car or designer clothing. This sort of desire for social mobility for my children has never crossed my mind and my friend agreed that this was a sad reflection of what may actually be the way that a lot of people actually think. Scary.

Personally, I think it is an awful thing to do. Assuming my friend's hunch is right, the thought of being judged on material things is sad, but an inevitability. However, to wish your children to be outside of the influence of a class of people is quite disturbing. After all, most people on low incomes can afford the lease of a fancy car and prioritise appearance over investment. This is not wrong and it is personal preference but to think someone "lower" due to the car they drive or what they wear is actually quite offensive. The irony of course being that my friend's family is probably in the "social class" that The Mother would want her daughter to be in.

However, having said all of that, I question if this is actually any different to wanting your children to go to a certain school? Or not wanting your kids to hang around with little Harry (who is generally a bad influence) or maybe little Harry's parents who appear to be uncouth and narrow minded? When does what I have described as offensive become justifiable? Is it a fine line or a clear distinction? Am I actually just being naïve or a hypocrite or both?

What are your thoughts on this?

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