Upper-Middle Class Parents Clash Over Parenting Advice

Answers to burning questions like, should you judge parents by their strollers?

Feb. 3, 2011— -- While millions of Americans scale back and re-imagine life with less, a privileged minority in the upper-income stratosphere have brought their worries and sometimes frivolous arguments online, where they anonymously debate how to tote a child in a 3-story house, why rich people don't feel rich, and whether to judge parents by their strollers.

The site, DC Urban Moms and Dads, serves a city where 29 percent of children live below the poverty rate.

The posters mostly hail from the District's tony 20016 zip code, where median family income is $133,000.

On DCUMDs, the well-heeled parental set from Ward 3 dominate the forums that are brimming with thousands of questions.

"Dating: When do you reveal your income? Do people steal strollers? Can your child be starving and fat at the same time?" Or, complex issues made matter-of-fact like a self-defined closeted lesbian who sees the benefits of heterosexuality for social success or job security.

It's where a mom digitally pondered the great income divide between her family and a babysitter.

"A former day care provider, who the children love and who we trust, agreed to babysit once in awhile. Nice I couldn't be happier. However, now I feel embarrassed about her coming to our house," wrote the anonymous poster. "Day care providers don't earn much and I know she came from a relatively poor family and here we are an upper middle class family, nice house.

"We're not rich by Washington standards but comfortable and we could be considered rich if one group grew up poor. Am I crazy?" the mom wrote in a thread titled "Embarrassed about my house with babysitter."

The class-sensitive question led to some backlash from other posters who were unable to comprehend the wealth guilt seizing the original poster. "You are insufferable," one commenter posted. Said another: "Stop being embarrassed and pay for her services already! She will appreciate it more than your misplaced agony. Poor people have their dignity, too."

It's these type of clashes that led the Washington City Paper to label the forums "The Mommy Fight Site."

Created in 2001, D.C. Urban Moms and Dads stemmed from a mailing list Jeff Steele started for his wife and another new mom to share parenting tips and coordinate activities. When his wife no longer wanted to be involved in the daily grind of maintaining the 8,000 subscribers' mailing list, Steele took over the email list and online forum that receives around 80,000 visitors a month.

The result: An upper middle class battleground where posters can exchange fire wearing a vest of anonymity.

Lisa Schwartz discovered the forum years after dropping the high volume mailing list. "When I started using the mailing list, I found it to be very helpful and it was really utilitarian," says Schwartz.

The board, however, came loaded with craziness due to its anonymous nature. And, the mom of one found some insight in the vitriolic nature of the board. "In a sense craziness can be useful if you're trying to learn things from people's points of view," says Shwartz.

What she didn't enjoy was competitive claws on display. "One of things that made me feel alienated is that competitive habits seemed to spill over to one up people through their children and to one up other children through their children," says Schwartz.

Parents worry "if your child has special needs, the teacher will spend five minutes less with my child," says Schwartz. It's this type of post that turned her off to the Web site. "Viewing another child as an impediment is an extreme of a high-achieving mindset that doesn't fit in with myself," Schwartz adds.

Money is hot topic on the Web site, leading to some of the forums most explosive discussions.

"If you're not attracted to your wealthy spouse…how do you make your marriage bearable?" An anonymous poster was looking for a way to stay in love with a guy that had a similar financial background but whom she was not attracted to. That question stemmed from a previous discussion where a poster admitted the attraction to her "fat" and "bald" husband was his $12 million bank account.

Most of our society is based around money, from advertising to the news, says social psychologist Susan Newman. "We see these images of people who are earning vast amounts of money or have vast amounts of money, so it looks so appealing and what so many people aspire to," says Newman.

"People are trying to develop and build their image. It's a guideline for image-making and D.C. is a very image-based town."

Is an income-based marriage healthy for children?

"You want children to see warmth and love and affection because you're your childrens role models. If it's a marriage of convenience, children are very perceptive and no matter how you dress it up, they're going to see through it as they get a little bit older," says Newman.

"We need to step back and let children be what they want to be and guide them instead of setting this goal of wealth and where you live and how you act as the standard."

The hundreds of thousands of posts isn't all elitism. "I see a lot of value in the board, and I just felt like pointing out the things that are bizarre and my opinion doesn't take away from the value," Schwartz says.

The community often responds to garish or excessive posts with sensible responses or open ridicule.

There's posts on how to wean, domestic adoptions, joint custody, and adopting a child that's the product of rape. The Web site delves deep into complicated and tough parenting issues without always igniting flame wars. And, then there are common problems that bridge all income brackets together like breastfeeding, post-partum depression, and education.

A recent poster sought an intellectual-like community after discovering superficiality in discussions. "…DC people I meet have degrees beyond a BA/BS level, but what do I talk about with these people? Their new SUV, what hotels they stayed in when they went to the South of France, Valentine's gift (jewelry preferred), chick lit, price of school uniforms, baseball games, stuff they have inherited from wealthy relatives, who they sat next to when they last ate out… I long for a good intellectual conversation – I haven't found many in DC despite all these degrees."

Lower-income parents in the District of Columbia don't have a huge presence on the Web site. "A more working-class person isn't going to be a stay at home mom and at work she's not going to have a computer at her desk," says Steele. "She's going to be a cashier. That means the working class only has time at night."

As of now, "they don't really make an impact on our site," he says.

However, it's a group that Steele would love to have to add diversity of thought and location to the forum.

The topics may turn off middle or lower income parents who are unable to afford some of the luxuries discussed by board members.

Despite the child-rearing problems that can affect all parents, there's a huge divide.

But there are common worries. "No matter how much money you have your money is not going to protect you from having a child with eating disorder or a child that gets into the drug scene," Newman says. "These are issues that cross money barriers."

"Having psychological problems or eating disorders, those issues transcend money," Newman says.

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