how has your parents’ level of achievement influenced you?

In the discussion on the previous post (about some young coworkers from disadvantaged communities), some commenters are discussing the advantage that you get from growing up with parents with professional jobs, and the disadvantage that you can be at otherwise — in terms of expectations for your education and career, familiarity with professional norms, and so forth.

I think this is a really fascinating topic and one that we don’t talk about enough, so I wanted to turn it into its own post. I’m just going to quote straight from the comments section:


I wonder how much of an edge having professional parents gives you, and how much that’s taken for granted.

Not that there is anything that can’t be learned…but I wonder how much value there is in growing up with the snippets of conversation about work that you really don’t understand and just growing up in the atmosphere where there are certain professional expectations…

Not that it prepares you for any particular career in a meaningful way – it doesn’t…but this made me wonder how much of an advantage this is.

Does anyone know of a reputable study on the professional success of children based on parent’s achievement and occupation?


My dad is a truck driver and my mom has an accounting job, but same job for 25 yrs/no 4-yr degree. I have other professionals in my family (aunts, uncles, grandparents), so I wasn’t completely uninformed, but good grief, YES, it’s a HUGE advantage for kids growing up with professional parents.

DH’s family ranges from welfare class to working class, and my SIL (waitress) thinks her daughter with an LPN is a huge deal — like professional IT people might think if their kid got a job at Google. SIL can teach her kids how to navigate govt assistance, but that’s about all. Forget how to apply to school, jobs, for loans, how to buy a car, etc. We really have no concept what it’s like on that side of things. . .


I think this can play a BIG role. In my family (all professionals) going to university was not an option. Growing up, I never once considered not going to university (in fact, my family generally follows the doctor, lawyer, engineer rule). The expectations are set higher. I know some families are ecstatic that their child was the first in the family to get a high school diploma (to me and my family it was like meh). There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just shows you how your upbringing can affect you’re perspective.

I also think it can be a lot harder for someone to come from a working class family into the professional world because there are different standards of behavior. When I entered the work force, I noticed a few coworkers mention a person was “rough around the edges.” What makes someone “rough around the edges”? I honestly think it has a lot to do with their environment growing up. Growing up in a professional family, I intuitively know how to behave and what is appropriate to say. I think the “rough around the edges” label is something they may have to live with for a long time, and it will hold them back. They might not even be able to overcome it, and it may be their children who do.

** I’m not saying everyone who is from a working class family is like this. Just that people from professional families have an advantage.

Tater B.:

My mother was a college professor and my dad worked for the government. So, there were some things I just knew when I entered the working world. Even now, I don’t mind sharing those “common sense” things with friends who may not have had my background. For some people, they really DON’T know or understand.


Your comment about high school is so true. When DH finished high school, everyone was ecstatic. He barely passed. I graduated first in my class, and my family was still like, “Oh, that’s nice.”

My son’s high school has a program for kids from those types of backgrounds. It’s for “average” kids who have the academic capability to go to college and aren’t in any trouble, but without the program probably wouldn’t go to college. They just don’t know about the steps to take to get the right classes & admissions exams, and their families might not even know about financial aid. My SIL doesn’t have a checking account. Do you think she’s going to be all over the FAFSA?


I was the first in my family to get a degree and a white collar job. I will second the theory that it’s an advantage for those with professional parents. I would be seen as “rough around the edges” and there were a lot of things early in my career that I didn’t know about working in an office and I had no one in my private life to guide me. It’s a really intimidating environment to go into when all you know is food service & manual labour.

Me again. What do others think? How did your parents’ place in the work world influence you? How has it played out in  your career?

{ 336 comments… read them below }

  1. -X-*

    Money was key. Both my parents were professionals and I think the biggest influence was money. I was able to graduate college and also get a masters degree w/o debt afterwards. That’s a big deal, esp for a young black man.

    1. Anonymous*

      I usually don’t comment, but this literally makes me so happy. I love hearing about a young black man making it and having all the tools to achieve whatever he wants. Congrats and never be ashamed of your successes no matter what you hear from other people.

      1. -X-*

        Thanks and I appreciate our point, but I had it easy compared to most Americans of any race. My father made a very good living, so I’ve had an easy life. Really.

        Now my parents, and especially my grandparents on both sides – they had far more obstacles.

        1. Melissa*

          Still, imagine the impact it can have if a younger black man who’s maybe not as well off as your family sees you in your current position, or even just having completed your degrees. Although money means the most, we still face racial barriers in our society, so sometimes having a same-race role model can motivate beyond the money. I’m sure probably most of my black female professors were better off than I was when I was a kid, but just *having* black female professors as a young woman made me think well, I can do that too.

  2. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

    Yes, the family you grew up in makes a huge difference. I used to work for a grocery store. We had great jobs for unskilled labor. Paid more than anyone else and offered insurance at no cost to the employee as long as they worked 24 hours a week. Awesome jobs!

    Yet people would start, work a week or two and then just not show up. I didn’t get it until someone explained to me that some of these people never had a parent that held a job, didn’t know anyone who had ever had a job, and just did not understand the commitment involved.

    These were bright kids with potential (or we wouldn’t have hired them in the first place), but they literally had no clue about the workforce.

    1. JT*

      “some of these people never had a parent that held a job, didn’t know anyone who had ever had a job”

      I’m not disputing you were told this, but there is almost no way it was true.

      I know no one who had both parents who had never held a job (except, perhaps, for some very wealthy young people whose parents are multi-millionaires) and have never heard of such a thing. I’ve been around poor people a fair amount in my life and simply have not ever heard of that.

      I guess there are kids of homeless drug addicts who might fit this, but that implies both their parents grew up totally destitute, never working at all.

      Perhaps they meant they did not have parents who had never had a *steady* job for a significant period of time, or their parents were not working at that moment. There are lots of people like that. But in the US, even among the very poor, people work or have worked. Not steadily and not well. But they’ve had jobs sometimes.

      1. Catherine*

        You’re probably right. I bet their parents either didn’t have steady jobs and/or always worked at the same level of jobs, without getting promoted. Seeing parents work hard for the sake of working hard is important, but so is seeing them work hard and get rewarded for it. I imagine that one or both of those pieces was missing in the kids’ upbringing. (Obviously I’m totally speculating, though, since I never met any of the kids in question!)

      2. Kelly O*

        Let’s also not forget that in some communities, you have kids with quite a bit of family who are “working for the state” as my Dad used to say (aka, incarcerated.)

      3. Liz*

        Unlike you, I *can* believe it. I’ve lived places where up to 3 generations of people have never held a regular (read: legal) job. And when each generation is less than 18 years, you can see the problem.

        1. Gene*

          I have no problems believing it either. My first wife’s dad’s family was from Rust Belt Pennsylvania. When we visited them many years ago there was one cousin who was “the Successful One”; he had a job (part-time IIRC) at Dairy Queen. No one else in the extended family had a job. Or any prospect of getting one – of course, they would have had to attempt to.

          There was family land that they all lived on, they bred like rabbits, and with the one exception they were all on the dole. Luckily, my wife had been raised by her mother alone; mom had a work ethic and instilled it into her daughters by working the same job for close to 40 years on the opposite coast from her dad’s family.

          1. JT*

            Gene – Your example disproves the statement I objected to.

            And Liz – by illegal to you mean outright crime only? Or cash odd jobs off the books? The latter is work.

            And I’d have to ask was did they really not know “anyone who had ever had a job”?

            Anyone? No.

            1. jennie*

              Just because you’ve never known anyone in this situation doesn’t mean they don’t exist! There are plenty of communities where the majority of people live off social assistance.

              And knowing someone who has done odd jobs does nothing to prepare you for holding a full time or even part time job where you have to show up consistently.

              I’m worried these comments are going to be full of people who have no understanding of or empathy for those living in poverty.

              1. JT*

                “There are plenty of communities where the majority of people live off social assistance.”

                The majority getting public assistance does not mean they don’t know *anyone* who worked.

              2. Melissa*

                While that’s probably true, I’d also like to point out that the majority of people on public assistance work. And even the high percentages are probably still lower than the true percentage of people on public assistance who work, because many people on public assistance work “off the books” because their pay isn’t enough to survive but it is just enough to make them ineligible for public assistance.

      4. TC*

        There is a significant difference between having a ‘job’ and having a career. When a person’s parents are from a working-class background, intermittently on and off public assistance, that doesn’t necessarily provide the same foundation or social starting point that the child of two or even one professional, college-educated enjoys. There is a lot of ‘insider’ knowledge, language, and behavior that is not transparent to those who have grown up in less affluent or less educated families.

    2. Your Mileage May Vary*

      In situations where kids are foster children and the parent(s) are working a case plan in order to get their kids back, we (their social workers) would have to list things that the parents would have to do to prove they were stable enough to parent. Some of those things were to have housing, transportation, and income for themselves and their children over a consecutive 6 month period. But we couldn’t list just that. Because someone who has never held a job for 6 months doesn’t know how to do it any more than someone who hasn’t had training in nuclear physics could build an atom bomb.

      So we’d break it in to steps. First, we’d teach how to get an application, what to wear when you turned it in, how often to go out looking for jobs, etc. Then, (and this was the more crucial part, I felt — the part that frequently got left out) once they had a job, we’d have to talk about how you go to work every day, even if you don’t feel like it. We’d talk about how you have to do what the higher-ups said to do, even if you didn’t want to (barring unethical or illegal requests, of course) and you had to do it to the best of your ability. We’d talk about their role as an employee in staying out of drama and how to navigate their role in the employee/employer relationship.

      We had lots of clients that had never had good role models about jobs. If you grow up in a house where your parents work, you at least know that they had to do some major shuffling if they had to stay home with you when you were sick. Or that they had to go to work anyway if they had a cold or stayed up too late with a colicky baby. If you don’t have that role model at home, you don’t know that up front.

      1. Another anon*

        This reaffirms my position as a democrat. And I want to cry.

        Signed, daughter of two parents who never graduated high school but worked hard because they knew how to survive.

        1. Joanna Reichert*

          @ Another anon (6:27 pm Aug. 23)

          “This reaffirms my position as a democrat. And I want to cry.”

          This is a very interesting comment. I grew up in a Democratic household and since have become decidedly more Republican/Libertarian in my views.

          I have a LOT of poor friends and acquaintances. A LOT. Probably more than 60% of the people I associate with (not work channels, friend-of-a-friend sort of thing) are living on government assistance. And do you know what they do with a lot of that money? They sell their food stamps so they can buy drugs. They continue not working. They are comfortable where they are, their basic needs are met, they are not pushed to be better, to do better, and they can still indulge in their vices.

          This sort of behavior is not atypical.

          My mother-in-law took a job working with preschool-elementary aged children at a mission downtown. The children are safe and played with while the parents are encouraged to clean up their act. They don’t. They don’t use the resources GIVEN to them. They continue to sleep around and bring different ‘uncles’ around their children and return to their abuser and won’t stay off drugs and whatever else happens with these folks. And the children think it’s normal. And almost ALL of the staff there, except my mother-in-law, encourage the behavior. They say things like, “Thank God Obama got elected again, he’s going to take care of you!” to the children. …… um, NO?! PEOPLE are supposed to take care of THEMSELVES. And if they can’t, then there are programs to help them, and if they want to turn away help then sorry, next customer please.

          We are developing whole generations of lazy, unskilled people because we are ENABLING those behaviors. Welfare is a temporary fix, NOT a lifestyle like it currently is.

    3. Natalie*

      I actually had a really interesting conversation with my partner about this last weekend (he is a former professional chef). You see, in the kitchen, you are always hiring dishwashers. It’s very hard work – lots of standing, hot water and chemicals, gross food, your workspace is a tiny hole – and only pays minimum wage. As a general rule, dishwashing does not always attract the most stable people, so one day they won’t show up.

      So my cousin asks, why don’t they show up? There are ton of reasons that don’t typically effect even the marginally better off. In his 6 or 7 years in a professional kitchen, my partner lost dishwashers because: their car was impounded, got a DUI and lost license, got sick and assumed they would get fired anyway, ended up in jail for a drunk & disorderly, was an ex-offender and messed up probation somehow, was a teenager and could not get prom night off because it was a Saturday, and several people that got better jobs and just bounced as soon as they were hired at the new place.

      1. Melissa*

        Or couldn’t afford childcare for the day when their kid got sick, or their car broke down and they couldn’t pay to fix it or rent another one, or they didn’t have enough for bus fare that day, or their lights went off and they spent the day fighting to get them turned back on because their elderly parents needed the electricity, or they spent the night before in the emergency room for thriving strep throat, or a lot of other reasons that don’t imply arrests or irresponsibility.

  3. S*

    This has been on my mind all week, actually. My parents are both separately self-employed because they really don’t work well with others. I’ve been wondering what kind of lessons that taught my sisters and I when we were growing up. Certainly they have nothing helpful to say on resumes, interview skills, etc., but also there was no notion of what it was like to work within a department or group or to have a boss in my house growing up. They are also currently 64 and 59 and neither of them have any retirement money saved, so perhaps the most damaging influence of living with my parents was a lack of sensible examples of how to manage money.

    1. S*

      Thinking more about this, they also have never modeled a healthy work/life balance. Self-employment can mean (and does mean, for them) long hours, working every minute of the weekend, and having no off switch.

      One thing I know for certain from observing them is that I will never be self-employed myself. I don’t ever want my job to define my entire life in that way. I’m told that this is generational, though, and that having been born in the early 80’s correlates with a concern for a balanced existence.

      1. Summer Camper*

        This! My parents are self-employed, and my younger sister helps them run their businesses. When I’m home, it’s like EVERY conversation rotates around “how can we make more money?”, not because my parents are greedy but because they really have to be on top of things, always generating new ideas, to be able to make it.

        As the only non-entrepreneurial one in the family (and the only one with a college degree) I often feel less valued than my sisters, who contribute meaningfully to the family business. I can’t relate with my parents on the whole “I dreamed up this company last night, let’s do it” level like my other sisters can, and it really sucks. Zero life outside of work when you’re like that.

      2. Melissa*

        I can see that…I was born in the mid-80s but I also have a concerned for a balanced existence. I think I read somewhere that late Generation Xers and Millennials are concerned with their work also being their life’s passion, but also having time for family and hobbies. That’s probably because our Baby Boomer parents were workaholics, generally speaking, and were somewhat obsessed with striking out on their own (which I think drives a lot of the rhetoric around small business and mom-and-pop stores now). They didn’t want to work for anyone. I think most of us are pretty content with working for everyone else and developing the more specialized skill set. Some people are just good at managing and attending to the business aspects of stuff.

    2. Melissa*

      Oh boy, that was a big one in my house (not learning how to manage money). I have no idea if my parents have anything saved for retirement. I suspect my father does, but my mother only started working (I mean, at jobs that weren’t Wal-Mart or McDonald’s or being a SAHM) when I was 16 so if she has anything, it’s a small amount. And I learned such unhealthy messages about money. My mother once told me (around age 13) that everyone misses a mortgage payment or two to pay for something else – she was arguing with my father at the time because we didn’t really have money for school clothes. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s and paying rent myself after college that I realized that was not at all true. I think my parents were trying to hide how poor we actually were from us so I never really got to see them managing money or paying bills. Pretty much everything I know about managing money I had to teach myself or learn the hard way.

  4. lk*

    I completely agree that it’s a professional advantage. Like others, going to university was not optional and I always knew I would be. I also had 4 internships/professional jobs while getting my degree, so already had some idea of how to function in a professional setting. But again, it was never a question that I’d get a degree and work a professional job.

    However, I also have worked in several food service environments. I was surprised when people thought my office job was impressive… to me it was actually pretty crappy. But a lot of my co-workers just didn’t have the background or experience I did and thought the professional world was unattainable for them.

  5. jmkenrick*

    As a disclaimer, I think there are a ton of factors, but I’m just going to touch on these two (which overlap, I believe).

    I agree with -X- that money makes a difference. Having professional parents can increase the likihood that you’ll be well-off, and that matters.

    Also, in terms of networking I’m connected to my Dad on LinkedIn. We live in the same area, and he’s a successful banker, as are many of his friends, so the connections are useful.

    When I first graduated, my peers and my family WERE my network. If it weren’t for them knowing people, I probably wouldn’t have found my job. (As it was, I got my job through a high-school connection – but again, a connection I probably woulddn’t have had if my parents didn’t have the income for me to grow-up in a relatively affluent area.)

    1. jmkenrick*

      I also feel obliged to add that both my parents have a good work ethic, and were very supportive and taught me good social skills/manners, which I think are important in the workforce.

      1. Jamie*

        I think this is huge – and unrelated to socio-economic status.

        Having good manners and being well spoken was stressed in my family of origin. I’ve in turn stressed the same in raising my children.

        I consider it the ultimate favor to them to have taught them to behave properly and speak well – carrying yourself well gives you a leg up regardless of your financial circumstances.

        1. fposte*

          I definitely think that a parent can do much to help their kid in that and other ways. I’m reminded of the late great Carrie Ponder, a single mother on assistance in the South Side of Chicago, who aimed for neighborhood-atypical success fro the get-go and raised eight kids to university level and beyond. Apparently the family was legendary enough in the neighborhood that the troublemakers basically left the kids alone.

          On the other hand, that’s a level of heroism that you can’t really expect everybody in tough circumstances to be able to possess.

        2. Melissa*

          Yeah, even though my dad was a blue-collar worker he’d absorbed a lot of professional standards from somewhere, and he taught me a lot of that. I think the most important thing he taught me was that you never know when you’re being observed – for a promotion, for an evaluation, for anything – so it’s best to always carry yourself in the way you’d like to be seen by a supervisor or a hiring manager. My college was really big on that too; they didn’t allow us to wear pajamas or slippers or sleeping caps to the dining hall or class (and you would get sent back to the residence hall if you tried to swipe in wearing that stuff). So when I hit graduate school some of my colleagues used to poke fun at me a little for “dressing up” for class and having a slightly formal way of interacting with folks, but several people have noted to me that I’m always well-dressed, so I know people notice.

    2. Karen*

      “As a disclaimer, I think there are a ton of factors…”

      Oh absolutely. Geographic location, soc-eco status, environment you grew up in, the list goes on.

      Having had parents who did or did not work in an office certainly won’t make or break you, but it can help.

    3. LibKae*

      This was in line with what I was thinking too. I undoubtedly had unrealized training just observing my parents as a child (and I now want to go and give them hugs for the boost up that I’m sure that gave me), but this post has made me wonder how far that early training extends into a career.

      If, for instance, two people start in a similar entry level job on the same day. One of them was raised by parents with degrees and office jobs, and the other was the first in her family to get a college degree and plans to hold onto any job for any length of time. I suspect that the first, knowing subconsciously how to behave and how to act in the office environment, would have an easier time making connections, building up her network, etc, while the second, who might still seem “rough around the edges” as someone else called it, could have a harder time negotiating all the weird little eddies that exist in any office, and might not make the same connections.

      I wonder how far into a career this sort of thing could extend? I’d hope that eventually the two would even out as the second person picks up all those things she didn’t learn from her parents, but it would take time, and I’d imagine it could last through the first year or two at least.

      1. fposte*

        I wonder also if some of the advantages of the person in the pioneering generation become more apparent as you get higher in your career and have more autonomy. I think the entry-level are often the hardest because so many of the strengths are skills-based rather than conceptually based–once you fit through that narrow doorway, things get roomier.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I was thinking the opposite, with the same argument, lol.

          Skill-based entry level jobs are great for someone who wasn’t brought up knowing the white-collar social protocol. I figured out how things worked in general in an office environment, but for some stupid reason, I was under the impression that everyone’s career would march along in a nice orderly progression. Once you need to do things beyond the basic job requirements to move ahead, I was clueless. (Why would I volunteer for things, go to happy hour, etc.? I had to go home at 5 and take care of my kids and house. . .that’s a blue collar POV.)

          1. LibKae*

            Interestingly (though not surprisingly), the white collar kids would be in the exact same boat if the positions were reversed. If I chose to change my career path tomorrow and switched to a blue collar job (assuming I could get one, being totally untrained), I would drive myself crazy looking for political eddies and wondering if I should be volunteering somewhere :)

            1. jmkenrick*

              I fully believe this. I know for a fact that I can come off as snobby in certain situations.

              I still cringe when I remember some of the thoughtless things that came out of my mouth in college. Oy vey. What can I say? My life is a work in progress.

          2. Melissa*

            That’s very true. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad I took a part-time position in graduate school, because I’m learning just those things. The idea of volunteering to do extra stuff or staying late without overtime was anathema to those I grew up with – why would I even do that? But I’m learning now that employers look for and, in a lot of places, expect that kind of ethic. And that a lot of the connections are made at the happy hour or office holiday party or dinner, and not at actual work.

      2. Kelly*

        Great point. I can see many ways this would have ripple effects:

        1. 1st person knows when/how to ask for a raise and does so, 2nd person doesn’t.

        2. Manager is from a similar background as the 1st person, initially responds more positively to her, and even after several years is more likely to recommend her for internal promotions.

        3. The 2nd person, the one who came from the less advantaged background, may now be expected to help financially support the same family members who weren’t working professional jobs when 2nd person was growing up, draining time and energy, making the 2nd person less likely to be the person who stands out to their bosses by volunteering to work special event fundraisers, etc.

        4. 1st person has been taught through her upbringing that this entry-level job is best utilized as a springboard for further educational attainment, 2nd person doesn’t realize this is an option.

        I hate hate hate hate making equivocal comparisons between different types of institutional barriers, but I imagine that this gap would have the same long-term ripple effects as the gender gap in the workforce.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. And so often, those of us in the first group think we’re just getting all that stuff on merit, without thinking about how our positions of privilege have contributed to it.

  6. Tamara*

    I definitely absorbed a lot growing up, having a dad in a professional job and a mom who used to be (she was stay at home while we were growing up). However, right now my biggest advantage is having parents who are also advisers now. They are both a tremendous source of knowledge for navigating the professional world any time I have to step outside of my ever-expanding comfort zone.

    1. Louis*

      I totally agree with the parent as advisor role.

      My dad was a school principal, managing 30 employee. Discussion at dinner where along the line of “The janitor was late for 4th time this week”, “I need to make sure the two new teachers have all they need to work”, “I need to prepare the meeting with the parents comitee”,… all management issue.

      You pick up a lot of stuff just by watching when you are a kid and you have someone to advise you when you encounter a difficult issue.

  7. Jamie*

    I think a lot of it is expectations. It never occurred to me that college was optional – because it wasn’t. I actually have more respect for people who put themselves through school – because for me it wasn’t a conscious path. It was just an extension of high school – something to do and I didn’t appreciate what an opportunity it was to go with no job/no loans until much later. I totally took it for granted that it was the way it should be.

    And I didn’t think about this before – but since the discussion came up I’ve been wondering if there isn’t a comfort level as well. I have never understood why some people with whom I’ve worked are intimidated by executives. Nervous, almost afraid to speak up. Now, I don’t run around opining uninvited all the time – but I’ve never been intimidated by bosses or people who make a good living just because of those things. My dad was a boss and made a very good living – and he wasn’t perfect. They are just people. Maybe there is an intimidation factor if you were raised in a different environment.

    To be honest I don’t remember discussing a lot (any) IT issues with my dad when I was a kid – but his example made it clear that if you were good and worked really, really hard…there are rewards for that.

    1. jmkenrick*

      The nervousness is an interesting point. When I was in college, a friend from a less affluent family once made a comment about how she didn’t feel like her internship was a place she “deserved to be,” so to speak. I, on the other hand, took for granted that I belonged in an internship, and then in an office job, with a decent salary. It didn’t seem like something you get if you work really hard and you’re lucky – it just seemed like something you get.

      I could see that attitude manifesting itself in appearance as nervousness versus confidence.

      1. jmkenrick*

        I think Jamie’s suggesting generalities. Naturally, there are bound to be lots of exceptions to any patterns people might notice.

        1. Jamie*

          Oh absolutely – almost nothing applies across the board and certainly not this.

          I was just musing aloud that maybe some people aren’t as intimidated by the ‘big dogs’ at work because we’ve seen even bigger dogs at home yelling at the lawn mower, trying to (unsuccessfully) catch the cat for a trip to the v-e-t, and burning the pancakes.

            1. Jamie*

              Ha – no Simon Legree here – and as Miss Manners always says inanimate objects are meant to be yelled at. People aren’t.

    2. Anonymous*

      I believe it was Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” where he mentions this being intimidated by authority figures as a difference between classes. He talked about how more wealthy parents encouraged their kids to speak up (he used the example of 2 kids at the doctor’s office).

      Of course there are exceptions to any general statement but it’s interesting to think about the psychological effect of different classes/economic statuses.

      1. Catherine*

        Yes, that part of Outliers stuck with me too. The confidence to ask authority figures questions was a trait that I took for granted before reading that book. It’s definitely a big help in the working world!

        1. Student*

          Oh, this is something bad I got from my parents that I hadn’t really thought about. Pervasive mistrust of authority figures.

          My parents taught me from an early age that cops are to be feared – don’t call them unless your life depends on it, because the odds better that the cops will hurt you rather than help you. Kept me from calling the cops when I probably should’ve.

          Don’t trust anything the doctor says, they’re all quacks out to take your money. Don’t go to the doctor unless you think you’re dying. Kept me from going to the doctor when I certainly should’ve.

          Don’t trust the teachers, they’re all idiots. Union thugs with their self-interest at heart who don’t care about a grubby nobody kid like you. Kept me from talking to teachers about nearly anything at all.

          Don’t trust the boss, he is always your enemy. He’s out to get as much money from your work as possible while sharing as little of the profits with you as possible. Kept me from trusting my bosses, even up to the present day.

          1. twentymilehike*

            O.M.G. THIS.

            This was my parents! Sadly, I lost my mom to cancer for this very type of thinking–did not go to the doctor until she was practically on her death bed and by then it was far too late. I would have lot my dad also if my mom hadn’t forced him to the ER after having a heart attack. The second time he had a heart attack he literally waited a week “to see if he’d get better on his own.” Both times resulted in multiple bypass surgeries and he STILL won’t go in for a check-up because apparently the doctor who saved his life is a “quack that can’t be trusted.”

            SO. FRUSTRATES. ME.

            Seriously, Student … are we in the same family!?

            1. LadyTL*

              To be fair though if they have dealt repeatedly with the same kind of doctors I have, I can see where they would view all doctors with distrust. There is only so many times you can deal with being ignored, talked over and called a liar before the distrust becomes a habit.

          2. Gwen*

            It’s so interesting how this stuff works out. I have the exact opposite – my dad was a cop before I was born, became a criminologist (and met my criminologist mother), and when I was a teenager was re-hired very high up in the NYPD. I had a couple of cousins who were also in the NYPD, and stayed in as street cops. So I grew up with the police and tend to think of them as teddy bears with guns, ha. My friends are mostly hippies who don’t like the cops, and I’d probably be the same if it weren’t my family, but as it is I think they’re great.

            It’s amazing how extreme the views we inherit can be.

      2. Kathryn T.*

        The doctor’s office example is a good one. I was raised by scientists; my husband’s parents are a social worker and a teacher. I have a tendency to view doctors as peers (or anyway as peers of my parents), and I am much more likely to engage and dialogue with them at the doctor’s office. My husband is much more likely to go in, present his symptoms, hear what they have to say, and leave. One of us gets much, much more responsive health care than the other; I’ll leave identifying which one as an exercise for the reader.

        If you grow up in an environment where you see “suits” (for lack of a better term) as your peers, I think you’re probably more likely to be able to interface easily and constructively with managers and executives than someone who grew up in an environment were suits are an external force that controls your parents’ lives.

      3. Natalie*

        Yes, my partner and I deal with this (the doctor part specifically, and other parts more generally) because we come from different class backgrounds. He was raised in Michigan by family made up entirely of GM employees and then moved into cooking, which has a very blue-collar culture. His cohorts and bosses usually found questions to either be a challenge to their rightness or a sign that the asker was stupid or not paying attention.

        1. Liz*

          My family was like this too (farmers on both sides for generations), and it is a huge, huge problem when you move to a white collar environment.

          Interestingly, I was just working a temp position for a boss who still had this mindset (army background) and it really rattled me. So I hope I’ve adjusted, but I know my deference meter is still off sometimes.

    3. Other Jamie*

      “It never occurred to me that college was optional – because it wasn’t.”

      Me too!!! My parents are a lawyer and an engineer (plus they’re big on education anyway), and it was never an option not to go. Granted, I did go to private schools my whole life, so that also helped feed into the mentality…

      But also, on the other hand — I feel out of the loop sometimes. I was a really sheltered and straightforward kid — I didn’t even realize that people ACTUALLY went to community college as an alternative to college.

      In my sphere, the only people I really knew who did anything at community college were kids who wanted to get ahead in math during the regular school year, or take advanced computer classes. In my mind, it was an alternative high school summer school. There was usually one or two students who wouldn’t go to 4 year college straight out of high school, and it was like “gasp! what? why? what’s wrong?”

      It wasn’t until I went to Texas for college that I found out just how many people actually go to community college to save money on 4 year college tuition, change careers, etc etc.

      I’m very grateful that my parents have the jobs they do, and gave me the life I have… it’s funny, I feel like I almost have my own personal AAM in my pocket at home, because of all the stories I’ve heard over the years about bizarre coworkers or managers.

    4. Rana*

      Interesting. I can see that working from the flip side in my own experience. I was raised to be respectful of authority, yet my father frequently complained about the stupidity and short-sightedness of his superiors, and my brother and I were encouraged to see ourselves as equally valuable as people with more power. So unfortunately (?) the attitude I absorbed (and had reinforced in grad school) is a weird combination of respecting authority and not paying enough attention to it.

      If I’m not careful, I end up being viewed as an anxious goody-goody rule-follower by those who like to flout convention, and being seen as “mouthy” by higher-ups who expect deference. I think the truth is that I’m very respectful of rules and authority figures up to the point that they strike me as stupid; after that I have trouble pretending respect I no longer feel. Not good!

      I also tend to see people as people first, which means I tend to treat janitors and CEOs (not that I’ve met many of those) with equal friendliness and courtesy. That was something I definitely learned at home and saw reinforced daily, as my dad’s background was decidedly working-class yet he went on to get a PhD and marry into my mother’s middle-class professional family. So sometimes I overstep by treating an authority figure in what’s seen as an overly chummy fashion, thus being perceived as disrespectful when that was far from my intent.

      All of this means it’s probably best that I’m my own employer right now.

    5. Anonymous*

      Expectations is how it appears to me as well. You take all the people I grew up with, all of us having uneducated parents who struggled to find work or make ends meet, usually not working full time– the thing that sets the ones who have good jobs now from the ones who don’t is expectations. And not just expecting them to go to college, but expecting them to never have the same struggle.

    6. Melissa*

      I am somewhat intimidated by bosses because my parents were never the boss, so most things I heard about bosses were neutral to negative. The boss was preventing my dad from spending more time with me, or the boss would fire dad if he tried to take this day off. Or, at my mom’s job, the bosses were reorganizing the hospital and limiting her practice (she’s an LPN, and a lot of hospitals are phasing them out or using them as nurse’s assistants because they really want RNs and especially RNs with bachelor’s degrees). It wasn’t until I was in a supervisory role myself that I understand some of the things my parent’s bosses were thinking about. Or that you could actually have an amicable, friendly working relationship with your boss – especially in white-collar positions. In blue-collar positions the boss is often separated from you by a gulf – you do skilled labor while he sits in an office; you wear a uniform while he wears starched shirts; you are paid hourly while he’s on salary; you went to a training program whereas he went to college. The differences are stark. But in white collar positions…often your boss is quite similar to you in a lot of ways, just with more experience.

  8. BCW*

    You know, I agree… to a point. I came from a professional family, and like many others, college was an expectation from the get go. I knew how to act in most situations, I talked very properly, and knew how to function in different situations. And yes, I credit my professional parents for that.

    However, I think its border line condescending to say just because someone grew up in a house where their parents weren’t white collar that they don’t know how to act in a professional setting. I taught 8th grade for years, and the vast majority of my students came from low income homes with parents who didn’t have degrees. And I saw how those parents acted. However these kids knew how they should and shouldn’t act. They knew apporpriate behavior vs. inappropriate behavior the same as I did when I was in 8th grade in the suburbs. They CHOOSE to not display those behaviors all the time. Its why when I was there they’d act a certain way, but if I had a sub they were different. They did what they think they could get away with. Now while 8th grade is different, you can’t possibly tell me that a 22 year old doesn’t know that they shouldn’t do certain things, they just choose not to.

    1. Karen*

      “I think its border line condescending to say just because someone grew up in a house where their parents weren’t white collar that they don’t know how to act in a professional setting.”

      If you’re saying it as an absolute, then yes, it’d be condescending. Certainly there are many people who have been successful without white collar parents. I think the point is that having that type of parent CAN be an advantage, for numerous reasons.

    2. Catherine*

      I also used to teach, but I think there’s a big different between an 8th grader knowing how to act in the classroom and a young adult knowing how to act in a professional setting.

      Many aspects of “good behavior” in school are pretty black and white. Plus, students get positive and negative reinforcement from teachers on a regular basis, so they quickly figure out, for instance, that talking while the teacher is talking isn’t OK (which again, is pretty straight forward). In those situations, when they break a rule, you’re right, they know exactly what they’re doing.

      The professional world, on the other hand, is more nuanced. Everyone can probably figure out that you shouldn’t scream at your boss for giving you less-than-desirable hours, but not everyone will know the “right” ways to write an email to a superior, dress professionally (I’m always annoyed at how much bad advice there is out there for young woman on this topic! Some professional dress suggestions are ridiculous.), shake hands, make water-cooler chit chat, and so on. For many of the things we do at work on a daily basis, the “right” way is only obvious to those of us who received some sort of guidance OR who took it upon ourselves to read about it or learn about it some other way. When people break those “rules,” I believe they really may have no idea that they’re breaking a rule at all. And that kind of rule breaking can have a very negative affect on career potential and promotions and, in some cases, on holding a job.

      1. Liz*

        This is really well said. It still bothers me when I see people doing the ‘But doesn’t he know…” gossip game. Why not assume he doesn’t, or he would follow the rule, and give him a hint before making fun of him?

        It is also really weird to navigate the rules for different systems. I went to college with really well off people, and their rules are pretty different from the middle class types. It ended up being confusing to me that I couldn’t follow the rules for rich kids in other groups because middle class kids just assumed I didn’t know better because I was poor.

      2. Lily*

        The previously posted link about social class in the office was very illuminating! I still don’t understand when to shake hands and it is not always possible to learn by observation. For example, if you don’t know that you shake hands with people the first time you see them each day, then you are not going to figure that out from observing that they shake hands with some people and not others upon entering the office.

  9. Malissa*

    I grew up with a LPN for a mother and a truck driver for a father. A good work ethic is what I learned from them. I had my first job before I could drive and worked full-time through most of high school and all of college.
    I’m now an accountant. Professionalism I’ve had to learn on my own. But I did have a good boss in the retail world to help with that. By the time I got to the professional world I fit in splendidly.

    1. Tax Nerd*

      My mother was the chief of the lab in our small town hospital, and my dad was a truck driver, but died when I was young. (I’m a tax accountant now.) I definitely grew up with the idea that college was a given, and not optional. But I had to pay a lot of attention and learn how to operate in an office setting, since I’d only seen glimpses of hospital life, which is way different. I was lucky that my first internship was in the midwest, where several people there were the “first off the farm” in their family, so the firm threw in a lot of subtle professional/cultural training for all interns.

      When I was 18, I didn’t know how to answer a phone in an office* – I tried temping in office jobs the summer after my first year of college, and let’s just say I was a dismal receptionist. I’m still learning to navigate office politics, and how to negotiate for what I want at work.

      Paul Fussel’s book Class is a bit dated, but it was still an eye-opener. One thing I took away from that is the control of time. As a white collar worker, it’s no big deal for me to schedule a dentist appointment at 2, and come back to work after if I have work to do, or just take the rest of the day as personal time if it’s a slow time a year. People from blue collar backgrounds that I work with are much more attuned to having their time managed. They’ll say things “Lunch ended up taking an hour and fifteen minutes, so I’m staying fifteen minutes late”, even though they’re salaried (and not busy). I’ll tell them that the occasional 15 minutes isn’t a huge deal. They’ll be working lots of overtime at other times of year, so they’ll “make up for it” in the long run.

      I still read things like Ask A Manager or Corporette to see what other landmines are out there that I might not know about.

      * I’m pretty sure the first time I answered my own phone line at work, I said “Hello”. I later turned it into “[Company Name], Tax Nerd speaking, can I help you?”, which gave people the impression I was a receptionist, and not an accountant. Then I noticed that my (male) bosses always answered their phone with just their name, so now I just pick up and say “Tax Nerd”.

      1. The IT Manager*

        This reminds me of something funny. I do come from a white collar, middle class family. Not attending college was not an option (although my bro solved that pressure by spectacularly flunking out his first semester). I went to college, joined ROTC, and never really held an office job; although, as freshman I did do work study at the university career center. Anyway while at ROTC field training, I was ill while the other cadets were away for the day, and the leadership tried to occupy me and set me answering the phones. I answered “hello” to the first call, passed on the call and was quickly told that I didn’t know how to answer the phone properly. I’m sure they told me what to say, but I was never one to talk on the phone much anyway and spent the rest of the day dreading phone calls.

        Later in real career I have answered the phones in a variety of ways including “how may I help you”, but it probably helps that my name included a rank in front of it Lieutenant, Captain, and then Major IT Manager so the callers know I am not the secretary.

        I still don’t like answering the phone much though.

        1. Gwen*

          I come from a similar background and right now my position does include being on the main phone, so I have a lot of practice at it and pride myself on being good at handling any caller. I have to say that it bugs the heck out of me when I call a business and they just answer “hello”! It was always annoying, but now that it’s part of my job I pick up on it even more.

          I always assumed (prejudiced, privileged yuppie that I am) that the people who do that were gum-chewing teenagers with little or no idea of how to act professionally. I guess that coming at it from the other direction can make a person just as badly suited to it!

        2. Ellie H.*

          This reminds me . . . when I was a younger I used to tease my dad for answering our home phone with his name out of habit, but now that I’m used to answering my work phone “Hi, this is Ellie” I have started to do it too with my cell and now I totally understand.

      2. Blinx*

        From Tax Nerd: “People from blue collar backgrounds that I work with are much more attuned to having their time managed. They’ll say things “Lunch ended up taking an hour and fifteen minutes, so I’m staying fifteen minutes late”, even though they’re salaried (and not busy).”

        This is me to a T!! As a salaried worker, I was fanatical about not taking advantage of a flexible work environment, and always made sure I “clocked in” an 8 hour day. I never heard of this theory, but it really makes sense to me now.

  10. Sophia*

    Wow. I’m glad you posted this.

    I come from a single parent household that survived on welfare and housing assistance my entire life.
    I graduated from college when I was 20 and made 3x more in my first job than my mom has ever made in a job.

    My mother didn’t even graduate from high school and to this day I find a word here and there in my vocabulary that I say incorrectly because she always used terrible grammar and enunciation around me. I didn’t know a thing about pay checks, tax rules, or office etiquette when I entered the workforce and still wouldn’t if I hadn’t been so comfortable asking HR and coworkers questions.

    It’s still a struggle every day and I still realize I’m missing some things that my peers know already. It’s worse when my mom gives me terrible advice about finances, my job, and my life. As a young person, I should be able to listen to my mom for guidance. She can’t tell me a thing about how saving for retirement works – had no clue what I was talking about when I mentioned my 403B. She doesn’t know about car payments. She can’t help me prepare a resume or cover letter. She knows little about benefits. She doesn’t understand office culture at all.

    In fact, she encouraged me to stay unemployed as long as possible because it would affect her housing and welfare benefits as long as I was living with her. I took a job as soon as I could and moved as soon as I possibly could – getting into a lot of debt because I was never taught how to properly save money (I never could save very much money legally because savings would affect our welfare benefits.)

    Looking at everything in writing, I am so blessed that I’ve somehow survived and I’m doing better financially than most people my age.

    This is why programs that help mentor young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are SO important. There’s really is a lot missing for these young people and it’s very easy for them to take a wrong step.

    If you know a young person from such a background, please please please consider becoming a mentor. You will help them more than you can imagine.

    1. BCW*

      Well its unfortunate you had bad advice. And while you may not have known about tax forms etc, I assume you knew what kind of office behavior was appropriate vs. inappropriate right?

      1. Anonymous*

        I wouldn’t assume that. If you have no exposure to office culture beyond movies and TV, I think it would be very difficult. I grew up with two professional parents, have had many internships and 10 years of work experience and I still am unsure of what to wear in a new job situation, etc. Every company, job, customer, situation, etc are all different. You learn by experience. If you have no basis to start with, then you’ll make plenty of mistakes, and these will hold you back a bit in your first few years.

      2. Sophia*

        Yes and no. I’ve always been more mature than my peers in general – so I’ve never had a behavior issue.

        However, I struggled with things like:
        -What’s the appropriate way to use sick days
        -What types of relationships are appropriate with your coworkers

        I love this blog because it really clues me in when there’s something I just don’t understand.

      3. Anonymous*

        I think this discussion shows that things that may seem “common sense” to some are things others had to struggle to learn.

        1. Rana*


          And it’s not just across class; it’s across generations and industries, too. My parents were good at modeling professional behavior in their fields (engineeering, management, and public libraries) but were very much at a loss when I was navigating academia and its strange professional culture and job markets, despite both of them having advanced degrees. I’m also the only person in my family (or my husband’s) who has gone on to work as a freelancer, or to work in the fields that I do, and so there is no guidance there, either. I’m very grateful for the resources and professional communities out there (and for a family background that trained me to be aware of and seek out such things) but there’s still an awful lot that I feel like I’m making up as I go.

  11. Elizabeth*

    Neither of my parents had 9-5 jobs when I was growing up. But not because they were blue-collar: my father was the owner of his company and could come and go as he pleased, take vacations whenever, and leave early to pick me up from school. My mother spent stretches of time temping in law firms, but would stop whenever she didn’t feel like it anymore and always chose a job that left her time to be home when I got home from school.

    So I did absorb that knowledge about how to behave in an office. I learned about covered shoulders and open-toed shoes. But I never was around someone who had to be at work every single day no matter what forever and ever except for two weeks each year. That is still a very difficult concept for me. I have a work ethic but not a “job ethic.”

  12. Sabrina*

    I think it makes a big difference. My dad was blue collar and while my mom worked in offices most of my life, she was never an executive or anything. Neither went to college. I had no guidance from them about applying to schools or FAFSA or taking standardized tests because they just didn’t know, and this was before the internet was really a thing. And of course the guidance counselors at school were next to useless. Unless you specifically asked for help they did nothing. And at 18 with no frame of reference, how do you know what to ask? I’m going back now, started ~, 15 years after graduating HS and I’m learning things I should have known as a graduating senior back then.

    1. Kelly O*

      Thank you for mentioning absolutely useless guidance counselors. I had no idea the different types of financial aid available to me. I didn’t know that although my test scores didn’t qualify me for this or that, I could have had something, and the way loans were structured back then, it would have been a payment, but manageable.

      And every time I see my old guidance counselors from high school and community college (as I am wont to do from time to time if I go back to my old stomping grounds) I fight the urge to not punch both those nice ladies in the face.

      Tangent, sort of. My mom went to high school with my high school guidance counselor. They did not get along then or now. My mom will swear to you up and down that half the reason I could not get any help was because the guidance counselor was mad at my mom about some boy they dated in high school. That’s why I’m glad my kid won’t go to school where I did… not that I had many dates, but you never know…

      1. Bri*

        I have a real horror story about this but my conselor was actully fired because of me. At the beginning of my senior year of highschool I applied for some honor society and was rejected because they said my GPA was too low. I went and calculated my avaerage for myself and came up with a full point higher then my transcript said! I raised the issue with my conselor who wavied it off with a “the computer is never wrong” type answer. I rasied this issue again and again with her and she kept blowing me off.
        Then I wanted a scholorship that had to have a letter from her to apply and she woulden’t give me one because my she said my GPA was too low to get accepted to that school. ( I had my acceptence letter with me.) At the end of the day my college ended up sueing my HS on my behalf because my GPA was indeed wrong. I lost about 10,000 in scholorships as well as Hope. I never did get the money since it had already been allocated to other students but my college found me another scholorship to make up for it.

      2. Catherine*

        +1 on the guidance counselor disappointments. I remember going into an appointment with mine my senior year and she called me “Katie.” I corrected her, to which she responded, “Oh, but you’ll always be Katie to me!” ??? Um, OK, I guess that could be the case since you know absolutely nothing about me anyway … Luckily for me, though, I didn’t really need a lot of guidance. My parents were on top of things (heck, I was on top of things, compared to my counselor) and financial aid wasn’t a big issue for us.

        My ex, however, really needed financial aid and graduated college with a ton of debt. I asked why he hadn’t pursued more scholarships since he was an IB student with good grades and came from a single-parent household without much money. His response: “Oh, when I graduated the only scholarships were for African Americans.” B.S. His guidance counselor (and mom, who was a teacher) really dropped the ball is all. Arg, we split up and it still bothers me!

        1. Rana*

          I hear you. I missed out at a chance at a National Merit Scholarship because I took the SAT early, and therefore didn’t think I needed to take the PSAT after that (I mean, why would I take the “pre” when I’d already taken and done well on the real thing?). No one explained this to me; everyone just assumed that I knew how it all worked.


          …Actually, I’m not even sure we had guidance counselors. There may have been one day when someone told us what careers we were best suited to (I vaguely recall mine being either “forest ranger” or “member of the clergy” – what?) but nothing more than that.

        2. Another anon*

          This! I put myself through college working as an admin at a fortune 500 company because I didn’t know financial aid was an option. I was so clueless and my parents didn’t understand anything. But I was smart enough to learn to type and get a good admin job and that made all the difference.

          1. Liz*

            You were also smart enough to live in a city with access to a fortune 500 company, rather than the middle of nowhere :) I’ve always thought there might be better odds of the smart high school students in a large city doing better than their socioeconomic circumstances would normally make available.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              Thisis an interesting point and I wonder if pros/cons make it all balance out in the end. I’m inclined to think you’re right about the advantage, but then I think about times I’ve lived in a very small town (Beloit- I think it’s where AAM went to college actually) and now living in NYC, where younger people are exposed to crime, drugs, illegal and tempting opportunities, etc. making urban living a disadvantage here. Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

      3. Sabrina*

        Even now I haven’t gotten a whole lot of help with Financial Aid even though I’ve asked a lot.

        Back in HS I never took the ACT or SAT. I didn’t think it was necessary, and no one told me differently. I found out well into my 20s that taking one of them would have qualified me for scholarships I never knew existed.

        My HS guidance counselor changed my senior year. So I went from someone who was useless but I knew, to a new person who was unknown to me but also useless. My mom died that year, I was never offered any kind of counseling, she never even asked how I was doing while she was sick or in the aftermath. I asked to change my schedule to accommodate the time I had to spend at the hospital, she forgot about it. There was just no help at all. I’m all for helping yourself but again, at that age when you have no idea what you’re doing, you need help. You need someone to say “Hey, you should do this” and if you don’t, then you’re SOL.

        1. Jamie*

          It is criminal that your guidance councellors failed you, especially with what you were going through. If they couldn’t do their jobs for you, what would prompt them to act?

          I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

    2. Anonymous*

      I had to learn a lot on my own as well. My parents were always at work every single day in sickness and in health, but only because if they missed a day and weren’t paid…we’d be eating ramen noodles. I love my parents to death and they did the best they could, but they really couldn’t prepare me for what I needed them to.

    3. Jessica*

      My guidance counselor actively hated me and tried to sabotage me at every turn (not paranoid here, honestly). I finally had to go above her head to get things sent to colleges and get records released in a timely manner. But then, I was never shy about doing that kind of thing, even though I’m not sure where that feistiness comes from. That might just be a natural thing, since it shocked both of my parents and my older sister wasn’t remotely like that. Heck, my dad was thinking about getting an associate’s several years ago (didn’t happen, because he lost his factory job that he had had since before I was even born), and he asked me about the FAFSA stuff and was talking about all these new-fangled forms and things. I stared at him in shock and reminded him that I had had to fill those forms out, too! Because I was doing a lot of the budgeting and things at home by the time I left for college, I had just taken their taxes and filled out my FAFSA on my own. I had completely forgotten that part, and my parents didn’t even recall signing the forms (although they did, and that was AFTER I had explained what the form was and why I had to complete it each and every year).

      I didn’t know anything about applying for non-school scholarships and grants (so I didn’t), so I was lucky that I worked my tail off in all areas of school (extra-curriculars, volunteering, working, and academics) to get a full tuition scholarship somewhere. The strange part? While I get my grad degree, I am working in a college counseling office at a private school (we have a separate guidance and college counseling office structure), and in the beginning, I was learning just as much as the kids from my boss!

  13. Jubilance*

    Coming for a professional definitely helps. Both of my parents grew up poor, in blue-collar homes. My dad got to college thanks to a football scholarship & became a CPA, while my mom did the “one class a semester” community college route while I was growing up. My mom went from being a secretary to a professional with just her AA, but she’s always said that the guidance she got from her mentors who took her under their wing & taught her those unwritten rules of professionalism were invaluable. So growing up, my parents instilled all those things they learned into me & my siblings. When I started working, it blew my mind that people DIDN’t know these things – I thought they were common knowledge and common sense!

    In the previous letter abt I think it was mentioned that some of the employees were the first in their families to be employed. That’s huge, and when no one in your family has ever had a job (or gone to college) there’s just so much you don’t know. You don’t know that you can’t roll out of bed & throw on whatever you want & go to work. You don’t know that you have to speak in a more professional manner than if you were just hanging out with your friends. It’s amazing how what you’re exposed to can totally change your life trajectory.

  14. Esra*

    It’s a bit weird to be in a transition generation. My family and extended family pretty much capped out education at (some) high school. My parents assumed I would go onto post secondary education because I did well in school, but didn’t save or prepare for it in any way.

    I had to leave home at 16, and it’s definitely hard to handle living expenses, trying to save for school, keeping your grades high enough to get some scholarships, and go through applying/etc. You need to excel and be better than kids who don’t have to work any part time jobs, let alone two or three, who have parents who are interested and invested in their education, and who have access to resources you didn’t even know existed.

    In some ways, you’re a lot better off. When I got to university, I noticed a lot of my peers were lacking basic skills, they couldn’t do laundry or cook or budget. They wasted time and money drinking and partying too much. On the other hand, I found myself completely out of my depth when it came to networking with professionals and figuring out office politics. It’s something I still struggle with and I’m not sure those issues would be there for people coming from a different background.

  15. kate*

    I come from a family full of doctors, and for us, college was not even a question – we were expected to go to college as much as we were expected to go to grade school. It was paid for in full and we got out with no debt, so there was no conflict.

    For me, anyway, my parent’s success was so much a part of my psyche that it was actually really difficult to choose a profession that DIDN’T guarantee that level of success, even though it’s something that I loved. My parents were always 100% supportive of us – “whatever you do, we’re proud of you as long as you do it as well as you can” sort of philosophy. However, growing up my father was the gold standard for success: to me, anything less than an MD from Harvard, a half a million dollar salary, a 4k square foot house, yearly vacations to south america or europe and I wasn’t “as successful as I could be”. And, of course, my peers were from equally wealthy and successful backgrounds, so it’s almost like it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have that life some day.

    Of course I grew up and became a photographer and married an airline pilot. Reality check: the level of success that I grew up around is NOT the norm. It has been hard to let go of that. My husband and I still make about 80 thousand a year combined, and to me it never seems like enough even though it is actually a fairly respectable household income for people our age (26).

    I guess my overwhelming sentiment is that it’s a lot of pressure. I feel the “wolves howling at the door” more acutely than my husband who grew up in a family where success and finances were not as assured. I worry more. On the plus side: I push myself harder and put more emphasis on planning for future success. My threshold for success for our family is much higher than his.

    1. Blinx*

      “whatever you do, we’re proud of you as long as you do it as well as you can”

      To me, this is more important than money or background. Kate, I’m so happy that you were able break the mold, follow your dreams, and live your own life. That takes a lot of courage!!

    2. Rana*

      I understand. Our current household income right now places us close to the poverty level (though it’s offset by investments we inherited, a resource most people in our position lack), and it’s strange and frustrating sometimes to realize that even though my brain thinks of myself as a middle-class or even upper-middle-class person (due to my upbringing and prior professional experience), financially, I am decidedly not, and probably never will be. It’s hard for me to take finances seriously, for example, and some part of me always believes that “things will work out” even there’s no reason to think that.

      1. Rana*

        (And, yes, I’m aware of all the privilege still present in our situation. Among other things, we do have family to fall back on, and that in itself is another way that kids raised by middle-class families have advantages that kids raised by struggling families do not.)

        1. Liz*

          This. After working two and three jobs at a time to attend college, with the help of a lot of scholarships as well, I graduated and couldn’t find a job that paid enough to cover the rent in my town. I asked my family if I could move back and they said “No.” Not out of tough love. Just because they didn’t need another person in the crowded house, they didn’t need my help on the farm (admittedly I am tiny and not very helpful with physical labor), and they thought I must be a total loser not to be able to support myself after graduating with a fancy degree. My mother said something about “Maybe if you apply yourself….”

          It was partly due to my family being pretty nuts, but also due to the cultural differences. And I am probably the only person in the world who gets jealous when a friends say they might have to move back with their parents :)

          I have never had a friend who could wrap her head around the situation, either. I will say something like, “No I really can’t ask my parents for help….” and the response is always, “I’m sure if you really need it…” Um. No. Not even then. They’re just not a factor.

          It’s another class thing that does not translate.

          1. Blinx*

            Liz, that’s true, it is really difficult to comprehend how alone and on their own some people are, at the age of 18 or 22, and then for the rest of their lives.

            Throughout my career, whenever I’ve lost a job, my dad has always reassured me that I can borrow money from him. “You’ll never lose the house” he would say. But since the market crashed a few years ago and everyone’s retirement funds tanked, I haven’t heard these reassurances. Now I’m beginning to think in terms of what if I go through all my savings before I get a job? What then? I’ll need to scramble, just just like others have been doing their whole lives.

            1. Liz*

              It’s not that bad :) One nice thing is that my friends who depend on their parents support have anguished conversations about things like, “Can I let my parents find out my roommate is gay?”

              It can be really freeing to just make up every single aspect of your life for yourself. Again, though, it is not something I ever get to talk about because it DOES NOT translate.

              1. Lynne*

                Yeah, I know what you mean. This makes me think of the slight disconnect I felt the other day when a friend was complaining that her brother usually forgets to give her a birthday present, even though she always gives him one.

                Me: “So…stop giving him presents.” (They’re both adults, after all.)
                Her: “My mother would hit the roof if I did that; he can get away with it, but I can’t.”
                Me, thinking to myself a little bemusedly: …so what? Shrug and hang up the phone if she starts yelling at you, and refuse to speak to her until she can be civil.

                But I don’t think I really understand the point of view of someone who – voluntarily – calls her parents every week or two and visits them for Christmas. A problem like this would just not come up for me (and if it did, I’d find it fairly easy to solve – by cutting off contact permanently, if nothing else.)

                Anyway, you’re right, I have complete freedom to live my own life and make my own decisions in peace, and that *is* a silver lining. :)

                1. Lynne*

                  (I should perhaps clarify that I really don’t think cutting off all contact would be an appropriate response for my friend in this case; it would be out of proportion. For me, the context is different; right now I’m only continuing – very limited – contact with my parents because it’s brief and superficial enough that everyone stays polite, and I will only keep doing it as long as they respect my boundaries.)

  16. AnotherAlison*

    I’m going to have to argue with -X- about money. While money no doubt makes a big difference, I think knowing what to do is even bigger.

    As it says on the front page, my dad is a truck driver. His dad was a guy on the line at GM. Both actually are/were high paying blue collar jobs. In the 1990s, my parents saved about $10K towards my college, which would have gone far then. Although we were a mixed blue collar family, there was also no question that we were going to college and I didn’t have to worry about paying for it.

    Anyway, point is, although I had the money, I didn’t really know how to handle the whole process. I became an engineer because that was what the cool kids were doing back then (not really!), but I made some really regretful choices that a more savvy family wouldn’t have made. I had grades/tests/ECs for a top 25 school, but wasn’t allowed by my parents to apply. I had a fellowship for grad school and didn’t take it. (That really had more to do with circumstances beyond my parents’ control, but they never said TAKE IT.)

    Friends who knew better. . .I had a HS friend who’s dad was a professor locally, and the friend ended up at Harvard. Can’t go wrong there. Another friend’s dad was a scientist, so she has a PhD. A friend from college worked on the Mars Rover (he had worse grades and didn’t receive some dept. awards I received). I ended up with a very average career, much below my potential as a new grad (I am one who peaked at 22), and I wish someone had said don’t do that. (Just for the record, I don’t think I’m hot stuff, and I’m certainly nothing special now. However, I worked hard back in school and ended up above average, and no one knew what to do with that. I was pointed down the average path because that’s all we knew.)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Not that there aren’t people from much more disadvantaged backgrounds who end up making a huge mark on the world. Obviously, some people figure out how to live big in a way that I for whatever reason couldn’t!

      Sometimes, though, I think us middle class people are the worst off for setting big goals. If you grew up on public assistance, you don’t know you’re supposed to stop when you get a $60K/yr salary and a 4-Br house in the burbs. A million dollar home may seem no more out of reach than an average one when you come from a trailer park (DH is spent some time there). On the opposite end, like Kate said, nothing less than a Harvard MD would do for an affluent family. You have to go for it, then.

      (I really sound like I’m blaming my background for my boring life and career! Feel free to call me out and put me down. I can take internet haters.)

      1. JT*

        “Sometimes, though, I think us middle class people are the worst off for setting big goals. If you grew up on public assistance, you don’t know you’re supposed to stop when you get a $60K/yr salary and a 4-Br house in the burbs.”

        I’m lucky to have not been poor enough growing up to be on public assistance, but I think if I’d been that poor I’d be rather annoyed at your statement.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I didn’t say middle class kids were the worst off. I said worst off for setting big goals. As a hypothetical poor person, you’d be offended that I said you were better at dreaming big than me? I’m kind of curious why.

          (I can see the argument against what I said, I’m just not sure why it’s offensive.)

          1. JT*

            Ignore my comment below from 7:59. Perhaps I misunderstood. At 2:46 pm you were saying the middle class are worse off in terms of dreams because we can’t achieve our dreams, which are bigger than some poor people. Is that a fair characterization?

          2. Lynne*

            As someone with a non-hypothetically poor childhood, I didn’t think your comment was particularly offensive, AnotherAlison. I’m not sure what effect it would have had on the extent of my goals if I’d started from a comfortable middle-class place. I half think I wouldn’t have been as determined to succeed, but who knows?

            Certainly, my twenty-year-old self didn’t really distinguish between a 50K salary and a 100+K one; both seemed equally…I’m not sure how to put this. Not exactly “out of reach.” But…both inhabiting a realm I aspired to, where it seemed money worries would all disappear. There may have been subconscious expectations involving unicorns and pixie dust. (Where’s my pixie dust, anyway?)

            …In the back of my mind somewhere, a part of me is still afraid I’ll end up *back* in poverty if I don’t keep a strong focus on developing my career. I don’t really have a familial safety net to fall back on, if something goes wrong. That’s a pretty strong ongoing motivator (although I’ve resisted choosing a career purely for its financial prospects, because I do want my life to be a little more balanced than that).

        2. Another anon*

          I get what she is saying. She’s saying that in some ways middle class kids shoot for middle class and it doesn’t occur to them to shoot for something beyond that.

          1. Jamie*

            There have been studies on the relationship between money and happiness which would support that assertion.

            The theory is basically the greater the need the happier the money will make you. Going from poverty to an income where one can pay bills without worry, although few luxuries, is powerful. Going from 150K to 200k or even 5 mil to 10 mil won’t cause the same level of satisfaction as going from 20k to 50k.

            There is a biological drive to escape poverty. If you’ve never gone without food, shelter, or medical care due to lack of money you may be happier with the status quo – simply because the status quo is more comfortable.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Looks like you got it figured out & if I was smart I wouldn’t comment again. (I was offline last night & missed all the excitement.)

              Yes, basically, what I was saying is Oprah doesn’t become Oprah without the disadvantages she faced. Instead, middle class teenage Oprah grows up to be the Des Moines, IA 5:00 news anchor.

              I grew up blue collar middle class, but DH had 5 different stepdads and grew up some degree of poor depending on who his mom was with at the time. He had free lunch and lived in trailer parks. He had his mom tell him she was buying new snowmobiles for them, and used the loan to pay bills instead. He drank powdered milk and remembers passing on his used cereal milk to his brother. He knew that that lifestyle was NOT what he wanted. He had more than his parents ever had at age 25. Me. . .I graduated college and a year later we bought a new house in the neighborhood I grew up in. I was happy. I had all I ever wanted. Until I started thinking it was pathetic that my life goals were something I could achieve by age 23. It literally never occurred to me that I could have more. Even now, I have a paid-off 5-year old car (and we have two other vehicles with over 100K miles). I am thinking about trading it in and buying something different, but I still feel guilty, even if I pay cash! My parents raised me to buy new and drive it into the ground for the best value. I know poor people who now have more money than they were raised with have this same type mental hurdle sometimes, but where it’s different is that the middle class standard is almost universally acceptable, while mostly agree the poor standard isn’t something to aim for. It’s like I have a hard time buying nice undies because Wal-Mart ones are good enough. No one is going to say undies handed down from your cousin are just fine for the rest of their lives, even if that’s what they grew up with. Excluding the few ultra-cheap people I know. : )

              (I know I’m a little crazy.)

              1. Gwen*

                I know this is a pretty old post but I still feel compelled to say… that attitude isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m kind of wishing I had that attitude right now.

                My fiance grew up with low-earning professional parents. He didn’t suffer from any of the disadvantages talked about here, really, but they never had much money. I grew up upper-middle class, being pushed to be very high-achieving by my very high-achieving parents. My parents have a lot more money than his parents, and a lot more money than we do right now, and I want my career to be better than theirs were. I am a complete workaholic and am doing all I can to get ahead.

                But that’s a problem for my fiance. He thinks I’m buying into the rat race and that it would be reprehensible for me to work for any of the really huge corporations I’m looking at – and you know, he’s right, really. I don’t like the ideals I’m aspiring to either. We could be perfectly happy with good, normal jobs at local companies. Except that I wouldn’t really be happy with that, you know?

                Just sayin’…

  17. Kelly O*

    I have had this on my mind a lot lately – in particular another blogger I read had something about “stupid” applicants who sent in resumes without a Bachelor’s, and how basically it was his opinion that there are no barriers to it and that you can’t say money is a roadblock because “look at the admissions office.”

    My mom stayed at home with us when I was a kid. My dad worked in the warehouse for a coal mining company, often working long hours and overtime whenever it was available. He went to college for a semester and dropped out when his dad died. My mom never went to college until I was in high school, and then she never finished her Associate’s. When I got my Associate’s, my parents were really, truly proud of me.

    I didn’t finish my Bachelor’s at that time. I couldn’t get enough financial aid at the time, and my younger brother was ready for the community college I attended. I got my first two years on a full scholarship, but that was the extent of it. My ACT wasn’t quite high enough for a full ride. My mom had started work at that point, so we made just enough too much for me to qualify for a lot of the financial aid options I was given. I couldn’t, at the time, justify going into debt for two more years, so I just did what everyone else was doing. I started working, got married, and hoped one day I’d have time.

    And now I have a hard time justifying going into debt for college. I’ve got a fund already for Sarah so she does not have to make those choices, hopefully. But I still worry – would the ROI be enough? Would going into debt to finish the Bachelor’s give me enough to really make a difference? What about all the horror stories I hear of people with shiny new degrees who can’t get a job?

    For me, and others like me, it’s not about a lack of work ethic. I know I could find the time and make it happen. It’s the fear of taking on the debt and not getting enough out of it to be “worth it.” But then I remember my husband is ten years older than me. What if something happened to him? I mean, we get by fine now, but how could I manage if I were a single mom? And how much better would we have it if I took the gamble and it paid off?

    There is just an awful lot to consider. My mom encourages me to finish my degree, no matter how long it takes. My husband is supportive. But I remember seeing my folks going over the checkbook, figuring out ways to make groceries stretch so we could pay all the bills, and I do not know if it’s right to risk it.

    (For the record, my younger brother never finished his Associates, despite spending five of the best years of his life in community college. I have three first cousins, two of whom have 4 year degrees. One is an engineer, the other a CPA, and both their parents took out loans on their own and paid for college. I did not want to ask my folks to do that. It didn’t seem fair.)

    1. Another anon*

      Could you take one class at a time or find a job that will pay for your classes? It sounds like you really want it. Ou should go for it. It will be worth it!

      1. LadyTL*

        Except she just pointed out that no getting a higher degree might not be worth it. I’ve worked minimum jobs with people with Master’s degrees in hard sciences and other degrees lower as well. A degree is no longer always worth the debt load since it does not always get you the better job or better pay. Right now I’m working with someone who already has a bachelors and still taking classes part time to get a masters. Know what we are making? $7.50 an hour.

  18. twentymilehike*

    I grew up with working class parents and I became the first in my family to attend college. Years later, looking, back the biggest way I see that influencing me was that I, like I noticed some others touch on, have had very low expectations for jobs. I’m 30 now, and I’m JUST realizing that it is NORMAL to have benefits at a job! For my whole life I thought it was normal not to have paid time off, and not to have insurance and not to have sick days, not to have a retirement account. My parents never had any of these things! Granted LOTS of poeple are in that situation, but given my level of education and experience, I’m finding out that my peers are higher paid and have many more perks in their positions because they haven’t settled the way that I have. I don’t push for more and I fall into “I can’t do better than this” because this is “good enough” and “better than my parents did.” Its easy to get taken advantage of when you have low standards.

    The other thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet was that a lot of non-professionals are not highly educated and I think that makes a HUGE difference. For example (and I know this might sound a little mean) I don’t really feel that I learned a lot of useful things from my dad (it was more like how to fry an egg, how to wax a car, how to get drunk). Not that I don’t love my dad dearly, but we struggle now that I’m older because he is not highly educated, and is very ignorant. His way of solving a dispute in ANY environment is to tell the person to “F*** off” and if they don’t like it you can kick them or something.

    When I moved out I had to ask my college roomates how to apply make up, and I’m slowly figuring out how to dress professionally. It makes it a lot more difficult to know what is appropriate and what is not when you’ve never been around adults that act like, well … adults.

  19. EAC*

    I am with BCW, upthread who mentioned that it can be somewhat condescending to assume that children of blue collar professionals somehow are at a disadvantage.

    My father was a mechanic and my mother was a nurse anesthetist. They were savy spenders/savers and they planned for their retirement. Our family lived comfortably in a solid upper/middle class African American neighborhood and my sister and I understood that we were to attend college after we graduated from high school. My parents made sure that we knew how to write resumes, network and that we wore the standard blue suit to our interviews.

    I was a bit of a problem, however. I really didn’t want to go to college. When I was very young it was very clear that I was a talented cook and my parents did all they could to steer me away from that, because, at the time, cooking was seen as a menial job for African Americans (we all know what has happened in the culinary world w/in the last 5-10 years). Being the dutiful daughter, I went to college and spent twenty years in corporate America, always feeling like a square peg forced to fit into a round hole.

    I am just now pursuing what I have been passionate about and while I may no longer be in a white collar profession, I love what I do and if I had children I don’t think that they would be at a “disadvantage” just because I don’t wear a suit and carry a briefcase to work everyday.

    Oh, and I never felt that my parents were operating at a lower level of achievement based on their professional titles.

    1. twentymilehike*

      EAC, I really liked reading your story. Your parents sound like they have really good heads on their shoulders. I think maybe the differentiation isn’t so much professional/non-professional parents, but instead more along the lines of motivated/unmotivated?

      I was the child of hippies, basically. That probably says it all LOL

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Whoaaa I know I’m really late here, but I have to adamantly say that the distinction we’re talking about here is NOT the difference between having motivated and unmotivated parents. Am I misunderstanding you, twentymilehike? All of the post so far have so clearly demonstrated the effects of privilege, access, education- and motivation has not been the key factor at all.

  20. Kris*

    My mom does financial analysis and cost studies for the federal goverment. I often read my mom’s economic impact studies when I was a teen. I also was in and out of her office a lot. This helped me develope a sense of what the real business world was and I think I have benefitted from that greatly.

    Dad was an aircraft mechanic, which meant skilled work but no education required. What I really got from him was the good work ethic which to me is more important that the business knowledge. The business stuff I could’ve learned but if you enter the workforce with no work ethic it’s unlikely to be developed.

  21. Joey*

    Of course it matters, but only if your goal is a professional job. I think a highly skilled blue collar parent is an advantage for a kid that wants something blue collar. It’s so much easier for a kid to succeed in the business world when his parent(s) can teach him how to get things done in the business world. Just think of the kid who needed help with his high school algebra and can’t turn to his parents for help. Same thing. Yes they can get outside help but it’s so much easier when those resources are readily available.

    My dad is blue collar and my mom was admin so the bar for me was basically just a degree. They had no clue how to help me figure out which degree to get, how to get through college or how to progress through the professional world. So I basically was on my own. My buds who had professional parents helped them select a college, A degree and had way more contacts in the professional world than my parents could ever dream of. They weren’t handed jobs, but at least they had some advice and guidance to build off of.

  22. Jennifer*

    I feel like I’m back in my sociology classes all over again. YES, the socioeconomic status/employment/education level etc matter very much. It matters from before a child even enters pre-school. Modeling of behavior can be extremely influential in addition to more direct/overt advice and discussions.

    I grew up in a household with a mother who had quite a bit of higher education and a great career, whereas my father never finished college** and went through a ton of jobs, all closer to entry-level or trade type positions. Who did I go to with college application questions, resume questions, and for general advice? My mother.

    **My father who never finished college is much more intelligent than my mother. He is still one of the most intelligent people I know. Yet he did not finish college for a multitude of reasons and so has been stuck in less-than-fulfilling jobs his whole life. Yes, there is always the one in a million Bill Gates type person who skips college and does extremely well, but that is the exception and not the rule. Society tends to value my mother getting her degrees much more than my father simply being naturally smart and talented. This is why having parents who are able to teach you to conform to the norms of what society/the workforce/college admissions staff etc are looking for can be such an advantage.

    1. Karen*

      “Modeling of behavior can be extremely influential in addition to more direct/overt advice and discussions.”

      YES YES YES! There are great examples in this comments section that show that parents don’t necessarily need to be wealthy white collar workers to give their children an advantage. Parents who can model “office appropriate” behavior or work hard to give their kids that type of information are just as crucial.

    2. Anonymous*

      Sociology major here! I, too, am enjoying the flashback to the discussions from college haha

      I mentioned Gladwell’s “Outliers” in a comment above and thought I’d plug it again haha. An interesting thing in that book is that he talks about Gates and how he’s not just some genius that happened to make it. He had an OPPORTUNITY and an advantage. He was able to use the opportunity of gaining access to a computer at the right period in time when not a lot of people had access to them. I think this discussion is interesting not only from the side of having professional parents or not but also what kind of opportunities are afforded to you in life (which also ties into economic/social status).

  23. Hello Vino*

    Both my parents are college educated (in Singapore), and my dad worked very hard to come to the US for grad school. It was a big deal considering that he could barely afford books and school supplies when he was younger. My maternal grandfather helped fund my dad’s grad school education. After grad school, my dad’s career really took off and soon he was able to repay my grandfather. However, my grandfather insisted that my dad should not pay him back, but save the money to send me and my siblings to college instead.

    On both sides of the family, I was the first to come to the US for under grad. I was very fortunate to attend a top notch university that has allowed me to go far in my career in a short time, despite the economic climate. My dad worked hard to get to where he is today, so my siblings and I would receive the best education to help us succeed in life. My dad’s story has obviously made a huge impact on me. Not only is it a constant reminder of how fortunate I am and that I should never take things for granted, but it’s shaped me into an ambitious, driven professional.

  24. BCW*

    I wasn’t trying to be condescending by calling people condescending if that makes sense. I wasn’t even trying to say that the person was, just that to me the thought process wasn’t fair to people. I was more saying that its a bit unfair to assume because someone didn’t grow up with a lot of money that they don’t know basic norms. I’m speaking from experience that I finished college, had jobs, went to grad school, and have been working well in office settings for years. However my brothers who grew up in the same situation are “rough around the edges”. I think thats because they are choosing to not act right as opposed to not knowing what to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I see where you’re coming from. I’m all for you correcting a viewpoint that you disagree with — I just think in discussions like this one it’s really helpful to just state why you disagree without calling it “condescending,” because it can shut the conversation down and make people afraid to contribute.

    2. Natalie*

      I keep getting an error, so my apologies if this posts more than once.

      “I was more saying that its a bit unfair to assume because someone didn’t grow up with a lot of money that they don’t know basic norms.”

      To me, there is value in being aware of these issues, but using them in the opposite way you are suggesting. We shouldn’t make assumptions about a poor person’s ability to conform to office norms because of their background. But if I had an employee who was struggling with some aspects of the culture, it may be better to understand that their behavior may have roots in some aspect of their background, rather than chalking it up to laziness or apathy or writing off poor people as stupid.

      In my opinion, far more people do the latter than the former. Witness how many discussions of poverty involve laziness, short-sightedness, cheating on welfare, and stupidity versus the trends and traits we have been discussing here.

      And it’s worth noting that there are no “basic norms” that cut across all cultures. Even among white, middle-class professionals, some professions have different norms than others.

    3. Liz*

      For me, the problem has been that people who didn’t grow up with a similar background as coworkers and bosses DON’T know the norms, and also don’t know they don’t know.

      I think the way I’ve seen it used – and it has been applied to me (miniskirts in the office are a big no-no, even if they are on tv and in the magazines) – rough around the edges is a euphemism for “doesn’t follow the same rules or make the same assumptions.” It isn’t a person who swears at work and won’t show up every day. It is a person who doesn’t know to light up and agree when someone says, “I try not to take myself too seriously.” It is the person who misses the cue to “Stay positive.” Or shows distrust of authority. Or doesn’t ask questions because that would imply stupidity or not paying attention.

      It stings, but I got a lot further when I just sucked it up and admitted I didn’t know what I don’t know. I definitely have been condescended to, but I think talking about the differences is a lot smarter and more productive than pretending that it just doesn’t exist (which doesn’t really save anyone’s feelings, and really only makes it easier for the people who already know).

  25. Laurie*

    Absolutely, it makes a difference. I’ll echo Ivy’s experience quoted in the post, and add this:

    My dad is a electrical/electronic engineer turned software developer who, since I was a little kid, has let me play with transistors and soldering irons (THAT was fun!) and computer parts. Talking about what was going on at his job or giving me updates on computer databases and technological issues has always been normal dinner talk. I underestimated the importance of this until 4-5 years back when I realized just how much I knew about technology despite never having gone to school to study it or even bothering to read about it regularly.

    So, flash back to my college days when I defiantly decided that I was going to break from tradition and get an education in finance. Got my Bachelors, worked for a little bit, got my Masters in Finance, worked some more and realized that with every job, I seemed to be getting more and more tech assignments. As in, whatever job I was doing, eventually I’d add several responsibilities on the ‘business analyst’ side i.e. maintaining systems, liaising with the IT group, general first-wave problem fixer etc.

    THAT’s when I realized how much of an impact your parents’ professions have on you.

    It gives me the sort of advantage you would get with double-majoring in finance and IT. Without ever having put a dime down for studying IT. Cool, no?

    This also leads me to believe that dynastic business families are formed for the same reason – the kids grow up knowing insider tips on how to run a business. It’s not something you can learn from going to business school or even starting a business yourself.

  26. Julie*

    A bit like Elizabeth, above, I had professional parents who didn’t necessarily work 9-5 jobs. My mom was a schoolteacher, and while she worked like a dog during the school year (teachers jobs do NOT end when the kids go home at the end of the day), she got her summers off to relax. My dad worked contracts as a trainer for an international company, teaching 4-day courses about 40 weeks a year. He’d be traveling (usually internationally) during those 40 weeks, but he could choose to take off any week he wanted.

    Even after 6-7 years in the workforce, I’m *still* have trouble adjusting to the “normal” white-collar life with only 2-3 weeks of vacation per year.

    (As an addendum, I’m one of the people for whom university was the expected path and I never questioned it. Both my parents have university degrees, and both my grandfathers went back to school after they retired from owning their own companies, one of them getting a law degree and the other getting a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and writing a PhD thesis.)

    1. Hilary*

      I can echo this! My parents were both teachers (now retired) and always remember finding it strange when my friends parents had to work in the summer.

      Now that I’m in a full-time office job, the biggest adjustment for me was vacation time and figuring out how and when to use it. Even with educated parents, I had no idea how things like vacation days and lieu hours worked since my parents had never used them.

  27. Clare*

    My parents were both professional (one a research scientist, the other a nurse) but they never really spoke about their work at home. I never knew much about their projects, colleagues, problems etc. They both had a strong traditional work ethic: to get anywhere, you needed to work your socks off – and study.

    I think I’m far more influenced by my grandparents, who were writers, artists and a composer. I saw that work could also mean going into your study or studio, and staying there until it was time for lunch…

  28. MissC*

    This will contain a lot of generalizations and broad brushstrokes, but I guess that’s the nature of the topic (which I’m so glad was raised because such things often aren’t).

    Obviously there’s a huge difference between being “disadvantaged” – as in, where there was no stability growing up and the things that are often taken for granted – like there is going to be a next meal or there will be no violence in the house – can’t actually be taken for granted.

    But where there is stability, and it’s a question of “blue-collar” parents and “white-collar” parents, I think that children of “white-collar” parents often have a signficant advantage in their youth. More “polish”, better network, easier path through schooling, what have you, putting them ahead of the game say through to their early 20s. But children of “blue-collar” parents tend to develop a resourcefulness that maybe comes with having had to figure a lot of things out for themselves from a young age, that puts them ahead of the curve in their late 20s to early 30s, once the “polish” has been applied. And then by the time you’ve been in the workforce a significant period of time, it all evens out in the wash and is no longer a significant factor. Again, broad brushstrokes and huge generalizations, and discounting real and severe disadvantages…

    1. Jamie*

      Good read – this part really made me miss my dad:

      “When I go home and visit my father, we have one topic of conversation: stupid people and how stupid they are.”

      In reading that article I remembered being about 6-7 and at my dad’s company picnic. I wasn’t the world’s most extroverted kid, so I stuck to him the whole time and he didn’t care that I wasn’t playing with the other kids. I just shook my head and he shooed them away – but when his boss came over with his daughter all of a sudden I had to be nice and go play with her. I felt really betrayed – but looking back…office politics. There were people his kid could shun and people who his kid could not shun.

      Decades later I just figure this out – I guess a lot of our early training was less than intentional.

    2. Joy*

      Bow in hand, Katness Everdeen was in the banner beside this article as I read through it. I think that intensified the aggression I felt while reading it. Being a blue-collar kid trying desperately to figure out the white-collar niceties can be really frustrating. Why does everyone want everything so sugar-coated?!?! I am 35 and it has taken me every bit of the time from getting my degree right out of high school until about a year ago to figure out that I have to keep my mouth shut sometimes and tolerate stupidity if I want to progress in my career…my mother taught me the opposite, “Tell them what you think and don’t take crap off nobody *yes, with the double negative*” I really enjoy that type of straight-shooting dialogue and the article left me pining for my less sophisticated self to make an appearance…

      1. chica*

        Just have to high five you here for the “no sugar coating” thing. I think my mother was in this position, and that created SO MUCH frustration for her. But she learned to keep her mouth shut about some things, so that’s one of the lessons she passed onto me. Still sucks sometimes though.

        1. Joy*

          Yeah I still think it sucks sometimes (as you can tell from my previous post), but I do think I’m happier now that I don’t constantly fight it.

      2. Jessica*

        Honestly, because I was raised that way, too, I love blunt people. My favorite bosses have been the blunt ones, and my best friends are straight-forward. I just react better to that then the people who beat around the bush and don’t tell it to you straight. Just give me what I need to know and don’t sugar-coat it! When someone does the backhanded compliment thing, I usually respond, “I don’t think you meant that the way you said it. Did you actually mean [x]?” Oh, the looks! (Unfortunately, while my coworkers are good about it and usually stop doing that crap, I can’t do that with the students and parents. It’s not socially acceptable to let people know that you know that they are being rude. What’s up with that?)

    3. Jessica*

      “He also writes about blue-collar people’s incredible discomfort with networking. One interviewee actually became nauseated at a seminar on how to network, feeling that it was just a class on how to be fake and dishonest.”

      Oh, and this…I have the hardest time with this. When I was applying for grad schools, I asked for letters from people I had kept up with from my undergrad days (professors and coworkers/librarians at the library I had worked at), but then I felt that they would think that I had only kept in touch fairly regularly for this one reason. I just felt…I don’t know, guilty, I guess, like I was using them when I truly enjoyed keeping up with them and really liked them when I was there. Ugh. I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable asking for help from anyone. (I don’t even like to ask friends to help me move or if they would help me pick up a couch in their truck because I only have a car. It’s such a weird anxiety thing. What’s even weirder is that in my family, you generally do help out family members who need it, but I don’t recall my parents ever needing to actually ask for it. It was always just there when needed.)

      I hope that made at least a little sense…

  29. Michelle*

    I can totally relate to AnotherAlison’s original post about the expectations that come with growing up in a household of white-collar professionals. While other kids were allowed to scrape by on C’s and feel really proud/accomplished when they got a B or a rare A, I was automatically expected to have A’s all the time – and if, God forbid, there was an A- or a B on my report card (even in an AP class!) the reaction from my parents was, “What happened? I thought you were good at this.” And I’d be in trouble. Maybe I was spoiled and should have just been grateful for the ways I benefitted from their high standards, but I still think it was so wrong that I never got to feel accomplished for my efforts, and instead was constantly made to feel inadequate or “not good enough” when I couldn’t be perfect.

  30. LT*

    Personally, it’s been a difficult journey to break out of the poverty mold set by my parents. And I’m sure it’s not just me; hundreds of research studies have demonstrated that intergenerational mobility (the degree to which the economic success of children is independent of the economic status of their parents) is largely determined by parents’ success. Parents’ success – educational attainment, wealth, income, occupation – affects childrens’ educational success, occupation choice, and even long-term career attainment. Familiarity with professional norms is just a small sliver.

    Consider the following: “Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution, versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance.”

    And: “By international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of intergenerational mobility: our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults.”

    For more info, here’s a publicly accessible research study by Tom Hertz, an Assistant Professor of Economics at American University:

    1. fposte*

      What interests me, LT, is when the community is at a different level of privilege than the parents. I’m not familiar with a study specifically on this effect in financial success per se, but I know in similar studies of other aspects, the community norms can make as much or more difference than parents. That could be somewhat complicated by the fact that kids in communities with a higher average level of advantage than their parents are often there because they’re in families that have prioritized their kids’ advancement. But you hear from the kids themselves that it’s tough to be an achiever in a social group where nobody thinks about achieving.

      I don’t know that that gets us any closer to a solution, but I do think it suggests that the generational predictivity is changeable at the level of the emerging generation.

      1. LT*

        I think the closest I’ve seen is a study that compares the schools’ average poverty level versus parents’ income in determining student success. It was used to make a case of city-wide public school busing. Let me see if I can hunt that article down. If I remember correctly, students who came from poor families were more likely to succeed if they went to K12 schools with much higher average family incomes, while student from wealthy families were less affected by attending schools with lower average family incomes. In essence, being surrounded by wealthier peers helped poor kids, while being surrounded by poorer peers did not necessarily harm wealthy kids.

        At least one aspect of this boils down to having some sort of exposure to wealthier or more professional norms. If you can’t get that at home, it helps if you can get it from school or elsewhere.

  31. HDL*

    All of my parents (mom, dad, and stepdad) worked for the government in low to mid-range sort of jobs. Dad got a college degree by going to night school, but mom and stepdad never went past high school. We were solid middle class because the Fed pays well and, once you’re in, you only need experience to get into the higher pay grades for most job types. My mother raised me on the assumption that I was going to college. It just never occurred to me that there was any other way. She helped me with my homework when I was younger and just made sure I got it all done when I was older. I graduated in the top 5% of my high school class, and like another poster said, that wasn’t a huge deal because it was understood that I would finish high school with good grades. My mother was all over the FAFSA and hounding me to finish my college applications and study for the SAT. I went to college with scholaships and then, after a couple years of working in my field, I completed my doctorate. I am the first person in my family to have an advanced degree. Now, I am a scientist at a top research institution, which sounds impressive but doesn’t pay very well. If my mom had lived to see me graduate with my PhD she would have been ridiculously proud and I would have thanked her for making me believe in myself and do all the hard work it takes to accomplish something worth accomplishing.

    The moral of my story is that parents who are dedicated to seeing their children achieve more than they did, academically and professionally, can more than make up for any disadvantages of their own work or educational status.

  32. Karen*

    It’s a huge advantage to have had parents or people around you who work in some kind of office environment, and one of the advantages we might not think about is how to dress in that environment.

    My co-workers and I were recently talking about interns or job candidates wearing inappropriate clothing to the office, which is something that seems so common sense to us, but that’s because we all had parents who had worked in offices.

    Whether it’s your parents giving you advice on how to dress, or simply modeling it for you throughout your life, it’s an advantage.

  33. fposte*

    I think it can go beyond parents to the general social milieu. Often they’re the same, of course, but if your friends, peers, and school are clearly negotiating the college-application calendar, you join in. I did have the model of professional parents, but my father wasn’t in touch with the application process at all–if it weren’t for my friends going through the steps I would have missed them. (And actually I realized later that I hadn’t left enough time to apply elsewhere if I was rejected from my early decision school, so it was good that I wasn’t.)

  34. LA*

    I’d like to share not my experience, but my husband’s experience. Neither of his parents went to college. My mother-in-law had her first son in high school. My father-in-law is blue collar. However, my husband is a medical student and will earn his M.D. next May. The doctors he is currently rotating with were very surprised that neither of his parents are doctors. I think in the medical field that is very unlikely that you will succeed unless you have family in it (an uncles, parent, etc.). It is not only the knowledge you earn growing up, but the connections they have.

  35. AnotherAlison*

    While this discussion is going on here, I’m having a real-time conversation with DH about his aunt, who needs $3,000 by Saturday or she loses her house (which is a family home that the grandparents owned). This is a perfect example of what happens in disadvantaged families. I’m not going to air any (more) dirty laundry here, but we’re weeks from breaking ground on a shop/barn and buying my 15 y.o. a car. . .not feeling particularly charitable to give them part of the cash we have saved for these things, esp after gifting this same aunt $1000 last December. Yet, feeling like an a-hole for not helping. . .

  36. Judy*

    My dad was 3rd youngest of 13 (!) siblings in a farm family. He was the first to go to college, and it was paid for by the GI Bill after Korea. (He got significant push-back from his father about going to school.) His two younger sisters went away to college and became teachers like him. That generation 3 of 13 went to college. My 28 cousins nearly all went to college, and I find it interesting to consider a plot of the professions. The older ones were pretty much teaching or business. The younger ones are more CPA/doctor/dentist/engineer.

    With both parents being teachers (with masters degrees) it never seemed a choice to go to college. But they also didn’t know much about things like looking for jobs and company downsizing. When you teach in the same classroom for 26 years, I think my career realities scare them.

  37. Laura*

    I wouldn’t say education level plays a role, but industry type.

    1) My mother has no college degree but worked her way up in corporate america as a senior level accountant. She started as an admin assistant. I grew up hearing about office culture, promotions, bonuses, departmental conflicts, etc from her.

    2) my father is a PhD from THE TOP school in his field. Worked as a professor for a while, but ultimately, when I was young, decided to start his own business and be successful as a 1-man show from our home office. Although he is brilliant and has given me the best advice in terms of career support, succeeding in college, grad school plans, his ideas of corporate social norms, how to navigate office politics, etc are FAR off as he hasn’t done it. I learn this from my mom.

    Both provide me with valuable experience, and overall, I do agree that growing up with Corporate America parents provides a huge advantage for those wishing to go into Corporate America.

  38. Sarah Fowler*

    Really, of course it makes some difference. Growing up my dad was in retail management and he taught us a lot about customer service and basic economic concepts (supply and demand, etc.) just from basic discussions at the dinner table. I was very successful in my first few jobs (restaurant and retail) because of this “training”.

    Incidentally, he is now in a more white-collar position with the same company and I am self-employed. He’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur and never had the capital to make it happen. I’m sure that influenced me to get out of the corporate race (to avoid bureaucracy) and get started early (right out of college) on my self-employment dreams rather than wait for a spouse and kids to support. I started my company when I was 22 and worked it as a side gig until I went to freelancing full-time this year (age 25). I love my job!

  39. M*

    I grew up with 2 professional, highly educated parents – they sought out explanations for why I was struggling in 7th grade English class with an incompetent teacher, expected me to ask my own questions when dealing with gov agencies/college, and overall demanded me to be self-sufficient.

    This will be familiar to most people who have ever taken a sociology class – Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau has some interesting points about the tendencies of middle/upper class parents to bestow upon their kids an assertive attitude while lower class parents tend bestow a more passive attitude. So it’s potentially the difference between questioning other adults and authority figures/ seeking out help and not acting… Part of this seems like an access to information & having the time/flexibility.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, I keep meaning to read that. Similarly, there’s been some interesting research on this in older child adoptions, because there’s often a class transition that has to be made.

  40. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For people who feel like you didn’t get the “how to act professionally in an office” norms transmitted from your parents or community, I’d love to hear more about what types of things were challenges for you when you started working … and also, were there things that it would be helpful for people around you at work to have done to help you out?

    1. Karen*

      I keep going back to the clothing thing: when my boyfriend (now husband) was starting to go on interviews for jobs after working in a computer store, he didn’t own any clothing that was appropriate for this. Like, not a single pair of dress pants or dress shoes. He borrowed from his dad…who also did not really own any of these clothes. The outfit he cobbled together still makes me cringe.

      It never occurred to me that knowing how to shop for a suit or dress shoes was a skill or something that you had to be taught. Needless to say, I took him shopping immediately.

      1. EAC*

        I don’t know how old you are but I will just speak on the issue of younger people who dress inappropriately for the office. I think this issue spans across social-economic lines. Most young people, especially women, are taking their wardrobe cues from fashion magazines like Lucky and Marie Claire or from the popular fashion bloggers out there. None of these outlets really address the issue of dressing for a conservative work environment. So even if they do have white collar parents, they aren’t taking cues from their parents.

        I never saw my mother wear anything but nursing scrubs for her job and my father wore mechanic’s overalls. But whenever our family went out to dinner, to a play or even boarded an airplane for a family vacation, we all dressed up (something that most American’s don’t do anymore). So when it came time to for me to interview after graduating from college, I knew enough to go to the local department store, tell the sales associate that I was interviewing for my first job at an insurance company and I wanted a suit for the occasion. And that suit was pretty sharp, if I do say so myself.

        It sounds like your husband just didn’t have the lifestyle that dictated the need for a suit up until the time he started looking for a new job. When I switched careers, I took the bulk of my ultra-conservative clothing from my previous career to a consignment shop. I’d be hard pressed to produce a suit at this stage in my life.

    2. Esra*

      Office politics. I was totally unprepared. My parents were both self-employed and their attitude was very… work is just work. You do your work, you do it well, everything is fine.

      So when I got into a corporate office it was a shock. Suddenly projects are getting pushed back because of politics, and you have to pussyfoot around so-and-so, and handle all the ins and outs of interpersonal office dealings.

      That’s actually how I came across this blog. I found myself getting beyond irritated at things I found petty getting in the way of work being work and started looking online for solutions.

      1. SB*

        Office politics for me, too. My dad was an air traffic controller (federal job, hierarchy based on seniority only, as far as I can tell), and my mom was primarily a stay-at-home-mom, though got the occasional job working at our school or church for a little extra money. I have no fashion sense, but don’t know how much of the blame goes to them vs. me, but definitely didn’t have a clue about office politics. I figured if I show up, do my job, and am nice to everyone, it’s all good. Especially having recently moved from accounting (pretty straightfoward environment of just getting your job done, with minimal politics required) to a position with more touchy-feely aspects, it’s hard to navigate. I’ve got a good mentor here, so sometimes I’ll pull her into a conference room and ask “just so I can see if I’m off-base or not, did so-and-s0 just say such-and-such because of thus-and-so?” and she’ll tell me if I’m catching on or way off base. :-)

        1. Anonymous*

          Office politics +1. Apparently just showing up and working hard isn’t enough. News to me. I’m just not good with all the shmoozing and butt-kissing aka networking and relationship building.

          1. Esra*

            I am a terrible shmoozer and butt-kisser. I always try to tell people when I think they do good work, but I get very impatient when someone needs their ego stroked to do their job.

            With graphic designers, a lot of projects start with a few different pitches for design direction. I had an art director who constantly wanted to ‘throw [her] hat into the ring’ whenever a designer on our team got a project assigned and had to come up with concepts. Problem was, she was better at managing than designing, so her ideas were pretty much never selected. She would pout, get passive aggressive, and pick apart whatever was selected. So in addition to researching, developing, and executing your work, you also had to praise hers endlessly and put up with her post-rejection grumping.

            1. Laura L*

              ut I get very impatient when someone needs their ego stroked to do their job.

              Yeah, I had this issue with a previous landlord. I would send him brief, to the point emails and not get responses and my roommate who stroked his ego by thanking him profusely for doing his job would get responses. It annoyed the hell out of me.

            2. Jessica*

              Amen! Several of my bosses that I’ve had at my current place of business really keep pushing me toward an administrator position that I just don’t want. They don’t understand that I cannot schmooze, as I call it. I work at a private school, and there is a TON of schmoozing that goes on at fundraisers and other things that all administrators are required to go to. I can be charming in my day-to-day work, but the actual, no-reason small talk and butt-kissing for people that I really don’t like and only have to talk to so they will hopefully give us a ton of money? Well, there’s a reason I also can’t do sales and/or fundraising.

              I was always taught to say what I mean and mean what I say. I should also mention that this has been the hardest thing ever for me with my in-laws. They are a different “class” level than I was raised in, and I just have a hard time not saying, “Okay, this thing? This is what I really think about it.” One time my MIL did something that I hated, but I had to let my husband deal with it. If it were my mom (who has, in the past, done the exact thing my MIL did), I would go to her and say, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you do something so stupid? Stop it and don’t do it again.” But, um, my MIL wouldn’t respond well to that. So…yeah. I let hubby deal with it. ;~)

              That said, I am very well known for my “nicely mean” business letters (those professional “I mean business” letters), as this was a skill that I have crafted over the years and have become very good at. It’s the in-person niceties that seem to elude me. I am really too sarcastic for my own good. Luckily, my coworkers love my sense of humor, though, even when I really mean what I’m saying. Heheh! ;~P

      2. Malissa*

        Office politics was something that took forever for me to pick up. I got majorly burned in the mean time. I trusted the wrong person too quickly.

    3. LT*

      Networking (this is a huge one), work ethic, dressing for the office, speaking professionally (vocabulary, speaking articulately), and interpersonal relationships are some examples.

      Holding jobs for most of my teen years helped a bit, even if they were only low wage jobs. At least I was able to learn something about having a work ethic and saving money. Going to college helped a lot. I’ll never forget the time a professor told me that my manner of speaking immediately revealed my low income background.

      Even after receiving graduate degrees and landing an amazing job, I still struggle to follow some professional norms. Sometimes I think that it will always be an effort for me instead of something that comes naturally.

    4. Lynne*

      I had a job where one of the people who’d interviewed me took me aside not long after I’d been hired, and gave me detailed feedback on the things I’d done right and (especially) the things I’d done *wrong* in the interview. That was extremely helpful, and not something I would have felt comfortable asking for then. In a more general sense, I guess, I want to say that people often shy away from giving constructive feedback, and yet it can be so valuable to just…point something out, or make a suggestion.

      (Also, I don’t easily pick up on workplace politics, and I really appreciate it when someone explicitly mentions something to me instead of just expecting me to intuitively catch on. My manager does that sometimes, and I love her for it.)

        1. Lynne*

          I have thanked her for telling me this or that, but haven’t actually told her that I appreciate it as a general thing. You’re right, I should, and I will! :)

    5. LibKae*

      Almost entirely off topic, but I wonder if anyone has ever done a study of how any parent’s job will affect our workplace behaviour?

      My folks were both college educated white collar types, but I was raised a child of the foreign service (so, bouncing around the world, living cheek to cheek with the rest of the diplomats’ kids, going to work functions and learning to make small talk with your dad’s boss and understanding, if only subconsciously, why that was important). I’m unbelievably grateful for the childhood I had, but now that I work in an office I see everything as a … diplomatic battleground for lack of a better term. This isn’t to say that I create a hostile environment (I actually tend to be a bit of a doormat), but I often view the landscape of any office in much the same way as I used to view the local politics of wherever we were living as kids — clusters of personalities and histories to be negotiated around, people to be cultivated, alliances to be made.

      I wonder if, even when the necessary workplace skills are learned, there is a noticeable tie back to parents’ jobs in the workplace behaviours of their children?

      1. Jamie*

        Interesting – and I think it’s on topic.

        The only thing I really remember my dad saying about work was that almost everyone was stupid and needed way too much hand holding. He believed technology was intuitive and if you couldn’t understand how to run software (not write it, just run it) you either just weren’t trying or were a danger to society and shouldn’t have a job.

        I’m also in IT and am taking the fifth on whether or not I grew up to share those views.

        His core principle was logic, though, and that I will admit to sharing. There is nothing that can’t be solved or advanced if you just apply logic and people have too many damn feelings.

        1. LibKae*

          “people have too many damn feelings”

          Lol! Now this one I can agree with as a diplomat’s kid too :)

        2. Rana*

          Heh. My dad worked as an engineer promoted to management (he’s now retired) and he had much the same attitude; he was particularly scathing when he talked about the “idiots” who were several levels above him.

          One notable side effect of this was that he tended to put in for relocations fairly frequently as a result of his unwillingness to tolerate superiors he thought were stupid; this meant that we moved around a lot when I was a kid, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t rub off on my own sense of how long one typically stays in a given position.

      2. fposte*

        Not “parent’s job” per se, but the fact that my father floundered until his mid-thirties and only then went to law school and successfully practiced in an area he loved. We were late-coming kids, so this was all backstory to us, but I always found it incredibly reassuring that you could have a fine life even if you didn’t know what you wanted in your twenties.

    6. Jo*

      These are the things I might have known if I came from a different background OR maybe I was just young and stupid…
      Knowing how to treat the most senior people with the additional level of respect (ass kissing) they expected. Believing everyone should be treated equally just doesn’t cut it.
      Dressing for the job I wanted not using the most casually dressed employee as a benchmark. (Little did I realise at the time she was an office joke)
      Taking an Annual Leave day should be booked in advance rather than ringing up that morning. (I mistakenly thought since my work would just sit there for the day no one would care).
      Punctuality is noticed, even though you may stay later, people notice if you are ten minutes late on a regular basis.
      Offices are rarely a place where mature adults work together for a common goal. They are more like high school with all the cliques, gossip, backstabbing and favouritism.
      Don’t ask your employer to take pity on your unqualified relative and give them a job unless you are willing to be tarred with the brush of their mistakes while they are learning to be awesome. Also expect other employees to resent both of you for the nepotism.
      Know at least a little about current affairs, politics, the share market and world geography. If you are not 100% sure you have your facts straight when discussing these things, keep your mouth shut.
      One of the hardest things still to this day is the lack of networking contacts that would be useful in my field. No white collar friends of my parents that could be potential clients or leads. Also no idea that while I was at uni I should have been trying to cultivate these sort of contacts with my classmates. Now years later, I’m trying to build a client base of my own, pretty much from scratch.

      1. Suzanne*

        My parents had jobs, not careers, so the whole career path thing has always been difficult for me. My husband’s family is professional all the way (medicine) as were his parent’s friends (CPAs, lawyers, CEOs). He and his siblings understand the career vs job so much better than I ever will. My mother also had an innate fear of being in charge and, unfortunately, passed that on to me.

        I currently work at a career college with many low income students. The professional world is completely foreign to them. They don’t understand proper dress for the workplace, the importance of proper grammar and speech, or the need to take initiative. I dislike the term critical thinking, but many of them lack anything like that. It’s not a matter of intelligence often, but they can’t deduce B from having been told A. It’s like they don’t know they can do that or should.

    7. Joy*

      I guess my suggestion goes along with ‘office politics’, but specifically I would have found it so helpful if someone had sat me down and told me that people often speak in code rather than plainly saying what they mean. I am an intelligent person, but this common sense eluded me. Everyone in my world was very blunt and I could trust that there were no hidden meanings in what they said to me. That mindset was a real disadvantage in the workplace. A lot of criticism fell on deaf ears in my early years because it wasn’t bluntly given.

    8. Anna J. W.*

      To be honest, the most difficult challenge for me is getting over just how much I resent my parents. Their background and values worked against my favor in preparing me for the professional world. It’s awful because they’ve done a lot to get my siblings over to America, and they can’t help being who they are – yet I’m still resentful instead of grateful. Even though I’ve finally gone through an exhaustive and expensive wardrobe overhaul and am learning white-collar etiquette via online/book resources, I get so annoyed/jealous about people who learned all of this from their parents and had oodles of resources at the ready (AND act like they’re the best thing since sliced bread. And then that attitude gets them exactly what they want!)

      But here are some examples of how my parents (authoritarian, Asian, Catholic, immigrants, blue-collar workers) affected my self-esteem growing up (and even now):

      -Nearly every conversation with my dad transforms into a lecture about how I ought to lose more weight (a BMI of 22 = fat), that I am such a lazy, disobedient daughter, that this shows in my physical appearance, and no white person would want to hire that.
      -Any attempt at discussion then turns into another lecture on how I need to respect my elders, bow my head, accept what they say even if they are wrong, and never EVER talk back. And then it transforms back into the overweight lecture.
      -Even though there was overwhelming pressure to do well in school, the pressure after school was to get a job as fast as possible. I was discouraged from aiming high, and was instead constantly commanded to seek out lower-paying, “safety-net” type jobs rather than “wasting time applying for jobs where white people would never hire you anyway” (always this emphasis that white people would always look down on Asians).
      -Huge sense of distrust towards things without immediate benefit – medications that don’t work within ten minutes (and, by extension, doctors), lifestyle changes, insurance, volunteering, going to employee events, or anything that costs a lot of money.
      -When I was job-hunting, I was constantly threatened that if I did not obey my parents, I would immediately get kicked out of the house. You better believe that I wasn’t allowed to feel entitled!

      I feel a little scarred by it all. Perhaps I have bigger issues that are outside of AaM’s scope…

      1. Tax Nerd*

        Yikes! All of that is a lot for a young person to deal with. I’m wondering if you aren’t resentful at not having advantages so much as having an enormous amount of pressure put on you without all of those advantages, and then being told some B.S. version of why you’re not good enough.

        Just so you’ve got another perspective, I’m going to tell you what I suspect you already know:

        – A BMI of 22 is fine and healthy. You’re not lazy or disobedient, as far as I can tell. Furthermore, these things don’t manifest in a person’s weight, for Pete’s sake. (Yes, there is discrimination against the obese, but that’s at BMIs at 30+.)
        – Of course you need to respect your elders, especially if this includes your bosses, but there is a polite way to talk back to your boss when s/he’s wrong. (Usually it’s asking questions, such as “Can you clarify what you meant when you said XYZ, as I understood it’s ABC from Rule 409A?” kind of thing. Not too long ago, air captains and doctors were not to be questioned, ever, and even those industries are starting to get over that mentality, because you know, people died from it.)
        – If I may stereotype wildly, many white employers are happy to hire Asians. That so many Asians have been pressured to study hard and not be overly argumentative often translates into a good entry level worker. Apply for any jobs that you think you are at least 80% qualified for. This is a tough market, but don’t sell yourself short because your father thinks you should.
        – Trusting that things will work in the long-term is hard to learn, because it involves learning to trust people and/or ‘systems’. Seek out success stories – people who quit smoking and started running marathons; people who took their meds and live a better life for it, etc.
        – I hope you’re not still job-hunting in that environment, and that you wrote in the past tense gives me hope that you’re not.

        You probably are a bit scarred from it all – most people would be. I’m guessing you were taught that therapy is for the weak, but at some point, you might want to talk through some of this with a trained professional, if only to slay (or tame) some of the dragons in your brain.

        1. Anna J. W.*

          I am a little scarred, but somehow it hasn’t taught me to keep my non-Confucian opinions to myself (which is why I still get the occasional threats to get kicked out of the house, three months after the last post). But I suppose being a black sheep is a way of keeping my sanity.

          I mis-typed on the ‘trusting in things that work long-term’ part. I have no issues with those – no issue with healthcare since I work in healthcare – it’s my parents who have those trust issues, as per their socioeconomic class. I don’t think I could drag my dad to the ER even if he had a heart attack, which is kind of a problem.

          I did get a job under this poisonous atmosphere, and it changed my parent’s attitude…marginally. Now that they’ll be receiving a small portion of my income, though, I think I may be in a better bargaining position for myself. In the meantime, I always have this blog to make sure I don’t make any social missteps at work!

      2. Lily*

        This post really makes clear that many have been raised in a way which is different enough from the “business class” (if I may make up a word) that business rules are emotionally difficult to follow. That is why it is so important that AAM explains the rules. AAM, do you know that you are contributing to social mobility and equality?

        Regarding Asian, I found an organization LEAP which “has parsed the complicated social dynamics responsible for the dearth of Asian-American leaders and has designed training programs that flatter Asian people even as it teaches them to change their behavior to suit white-American expectations. Asians who enter a LEAP program are constantly assured that they will be able to “keep your values, while acquiring new skills,” along the way to becoming “culturally competent leaders.”” The article also refers to a book called Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling.

        I really appreciate being able to discuss the way work works here and was thrilled recently when I thought about past work problems and realized I knew what I should have done!

  41. Amanda*

    I agree with many of the other commenters – a basic knowledge of office culture and the working world, absorbed through childhood exposure, is one of the advantages of having professional parents.

    However, I wonder if there isn’t some kind of tipping point? I came from a solidly middle-class background, with college degrees a few generations back, but was expected to work for every penny I wanted to spend on myself. I took every job I could find and got tons of exposure before and during college to a wide variety of jobs.

    I went to a small, private, liberal arts college where I met a lot of kids who had never held a job in their lives, because their parents had simply handed out cash. They went to private high schools where they didn’t know any other peers who held down jobs. They didn’t work during college, either. Their first exposure to the working world, in any personal way, was their first job after college. Many of those friends from college have turned out to lack any serious kind of work ethic or ambition, including some of my best friends. They do okay, but they have clearly backslid from their parents’ levels of accomplishment.

    On a certain level they, too, lack an awareness of office culture and what it takes to succeed in a career.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      In general, it seems that those kids who didn’t work because they were handed money were also handed the fraternity legacy membership, which led to the legacy corporate job. : ) Their lack of work ethic may eventually ruin their opportunities, as in your friends’ cases, but I too wonder who has the better chance – the slacker who knows how stuff really gets done and has connections, or the hard worker with no clue about the “secrets” of the corporate world.

    2. LibKae*

      Good point! I hadn’t thought about that.

      I had quite a few of those kids as employees when I worked at a university library. It was a very small campus with no outside work nearby, so we got a lot of students for their very first real jobs. We used to say that it was part of our job to teach them how to behave in a workplace. The little things, like: show up on time, don’t hang out with your friends when you should be working, etc. :) For quite a few of them this was a complete shock.

      1. LibKae*

        Sorry, it occurs to me that this reads a bit like it could almost go under the OP from the email that started this thread.

        What I meant to include (it made perfect sense in my brain, but amazingly enough I suspect no one else can read that) was that for a lot of my students this was a “well, I don’t really need the money, but I’m going to try out this work thing to see what all the fuss is about”. We lost a few when it became clear that they would be expected to work — and sometimes at the nasty grungy stuff that libraries excel at — but after an almost visible worldview shift a gratifying number of them became some of our best employees. The same was true, for whatever it’s worth, for the students we got who had gotten there through scholarships and with no parental guidance on how to behave in an office. At colleges, though, there is a certain level of expectation that you will be training the students not just in the job but in how to behave at the job (or at least there was at ours), and none of us minded that aspect. Before this thread I hadn’t really thought much about how that might have impacted them long term except when we served as references for first post-degree jobs, but now I’m really hoping that students are getting similar training at college jobs around the world!

    3. Anonymous*

      I have also had a lot of student employees (in a university library) who seemed to not need the money.

      I employed some work-study students, which was great for both me and the students: they got paid more than I was paying my other students (at least a dollar more per hour) for doing the same work, and they cost me significantly less per hour than the other students. When their work-study money ran out and they had the option of going back and asking for more, they sometimes said, “Naah, you can just put me on your regular budget,” even after I clarified that it would be a drop in pay for them. It just wasn’t worth it to them to walk across campus and ask.

      They were all diligent workers, though.

  42. GeekChic*

    I had a mix of experiences growing up. My Dad was a senior executive (then president) of an oil services company so I was accustomed to moving in very wealthy circles. He also taught me, as others have mentioned, that senior executives and wealthy people are “just people”. One of his earliest lessons to me was “No one deserves your respect automatically, respect is earned. This is true of teachers, bosses, relatives – everyone. The only thing people deserve is civility until they demonstrate by their words and actions whether they should be respected or not.”

    My Dad was the first in his, very large, family to finish high school and the only one to finish university. My aunts, uncles and grandparents were farmers, soldiers and mechanics. Every year I worked on my grandparents’ farm and greatly respected my grandfather for his wisdom (grade 3 education, notwithstanding).

    Another thing that helped me to see across class boundaries was my schooling from grades 4- 9 when I went to a community school that was designed specifically to break down class and religious barriers. Some of the wealthiest families in my city (multi-million dollar homes) sent their children to this school as well as some of the poorest (no home to speak of). I learned very quickly that I took many things in life for granted.

    Although I did end up going to university (eventually earning multiple degrees), I started out my adult life in the military and served for a number of years before being discharged for health reasons. My Dad was very supportive of my military career even though some of his colleagues were somewhat startled by my choice. I think the totality of my background helped to make me a good manager (when I managed) and it certainly helped me understand that there are a variety of experiences to be had in the world.

  43. Anonymous*

    My mother always regretted not having a college degree. She was born in 1951 and took some courses, but quit when she got married and had me. She later went to a trade school. She saved like crazy so I could go to college.

    Attending college was a requirement – I had no choice in the matter. When I was 18 I didn’t feel I was ready. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t even know how to start figuring it out. But my mom would have none of that. She told me it didn’t matter what I studied, all that mattered is that I went to college, and after that, jobs will just be waiting for me. Employers would hire me merely because I had a degree, it did not matter what the degree was in. She encouraged me to study Greek mythology as it was a subject I enjoyed.

    My mother also discouraged me from doing anything that wasn’t related to college prep. No sports or dance activities, no extra curriculars, nothing. Those were fluff. College was what was important, that other stuff was a waste of time.

  44. Sophia*

    I think it’s a study in itself to see what percentage of the commenters here come from professional parents. There are only a handful of people saying they came from really poor or lightly educated parents.

    What does this mean?

    Maybe if your parents didn’t work in an office or have education, you’re more likely to be unaware of how much you don’t know and unlikely to look for self-improvement in an online resource.

    This is just speculation – but I was definitely surprised to see so few people with similar backgrounds to myself commenting.

    1. Natalie*

      The general lack of intergenerational mobility (referenced upthread) is probably a huge factor. The children of poor parents are overwhelmingly likely to stay poor.

    2. Suzanne*

      Absolutely, Sophia! See my comment above. The students I work with truly don’t know what they don’t know, and don’t know they should want to know. They want to get decent jobs, but they honestly have no clue what a decent job really even is or what it will take to get one.

    3. Another anon*

      Neither of my parents finished high school. But Dad had a union job as a welder. Mom worked as a nurses aid for a few years, but mostly was a homemaker. Four of us have degrees (the other three don’t but have good jobs) and all are solidly middle to upper middle class. It was the work ethic that my parents instilled in us. And a firmly stable household. We were lower middle class – because my parents had so many kids! If they had stopped at three or four they would have been mor comfortable. :)

  45. D*

    I agree that it makes a difference. This doesn’t even touch the subject of growing up with a single parent which I think also has a significant impact.

    1. GeekChic*

      Absolutely. Growing up with just my Dad definitely shaped me. Particularly since so many people focused on where my mother was… :P

    2. Jamie*

      It depends how you define single parent.

      My parents were divorced so I technically lived with my mom, but enough time at my dad’s each week to not feel like I was raised by her alone.

      To be honest when it comes to work I credit my dad with all the influence. My mom was a nurse and the whole nurturing and caring for people thing wasn’t exactly a good fit for me. My dad started in IT back before most people had even seen a computer (1959). Holing up in an office wrestling with problems no one else wants to deal with and subsisting on coffee and migraine medication…apparently that was the draw for me.

  46. BossLady*

    My father was a successful entrepreneur but didn’t attend college. My mother did the “go back to school” thing when I was in middle school to get her BA and then her Masters. So for the college part, I was completely on my own to figure out how to navigate that, what is normal, etc. And yes, my peers were doing the same, but not all of them and it isn’t the same as when your parents say: “Hey let’s got on a tour of college campuses!” As a result the college application period was immensely stressful for me. (And from then on career advice from my parents seemed less credible, even if actually it wasn’t.)

    However, working with my father on weekends, summers, etc. I learned much about running a small business by the age of 20. I think I get much of my professional work ethic from him – for better or worse. He was a good boss but of the ‘older school’ variety and I have had to un-learn some of it and adopt a more forward thinking management style.

  47. ProudToBeABlueCollarKid*

    I thank god I was raised by two blue collar parents. They ensured that I understood what work ethic, manners and well-rounded values brought to the table. My parents worked hard and continue to work hard, things weren’t always easy but they did their best to provide my sibling and me with all that they could offer. Furthermore they demonstrated how to truly value money. A number of you indicated that University wasn’t an option it was an expectation. This applied to me and my sibling as well, it wasn’t an option, I was told from a young age you will go to University. I’m the first one with a University degree in my family, my parents are proud and supportive. They are happy that they could guide me to have a better life than they have had. They helped pay for my education to the best of their ability but I knew at young age I needed to work hard to put myself through school. I put myself through University and Grad School. I’ve learned from my parents that nothing should be served to anyone on a silver plate, you need to work and show what you are made of. I work in a white collar environment; and it took me no time to fit in, because I’m a hard worker, which has been recognized by every manager I have ever had. I will often pitch in on items that are outside of my job description, because I don’t view it that way – we all have a responsibility to ensure the organization we work for is successful! I don’t take anything for granted and I will be sure to instil the same values in my children. Now all of that being said, I am a driven, competitive and goal oriented individual – which comes down to my personality. For an individual that innately is not these things growing up in a blue collar family could be limiting for them moving into a white collar society, but truth be told this would also be true to white collar youth that are not driven. They either end up working minimum wage jobs or they sponge off of mommy and daddy for the rest of their life. In university it was fairly easy to point out the privileged kids and those that were working their butts off to put themselves through school. The same goes for the workplace! Success isn’t handed to you, you need to earn it!

  48. quix*

    My parents were teachers, so with them it was all about education. I grew up thinking that going to college was the ultimate goal, the necessary step in having what it takes to have a successful life. They even funded the first year of college for me.

    As much as I appreciate that, I found that there was so much more than education needed, and I came to grips with that a little late.

    I guess it worked for them. Mom went from high school to college to a teaching job, while Grandpa put Dad through a soil science program and then teaching college after watching Mom made him decide on a career change.

    In both their cases, their education flowed fairly quickly into a relevant job afterwards and that was the lesson they passed onto me. Get an education, then you can get a job with it.

    I focused on the education too much. I went through grad school with a 4.0, but I didn’t do internships, I didn’t do professional groups, I didn’t make strong alumni connections. Now I’m working entry level retail 4 years after graduation.

    I’m a little bitter over it. I don’t blame my parents. I should have questioned my assumptions and done a better job looking at what was really useful in building a future. I do wish the colleges I went to had a better orientation program that better conveyed the value of the activities I didn’t participate in.

  49. Lisa*

    My dad was a manager in his industry, reaching up to the director level, but usually ending up fired or laid off due to personality conflicts and refusal to play “office politics.” He retired after the dot-com crash. My mother was (and is) a self-employed artist whose tireless work ethic and understanding of business allow her to make a living from something most people are lucky to afford as a hobby.

    Did their level of success influence me? I’m not sure. I knew my dad as unemployed as often as I knew him as a successful manager. My mother’s work never really interested me until I was old enough to realize how unusual it was that she can support a family with her art.

    What did influence me, however, was that both of them raised me to simply assume that I could achieve whatever I wanted to achieve in my work life. There was never a question of “good enough” or “smart enough.” If I articulated a goal, they had adult conversations with me about how to achieve it. I even remember my dad coaching me on how future Presidents behaved during junior high and high school, saying, “I hope you won’t run for President, because that’s an awfully stressful job, but you’ve expressed an interest, so you should know how early the people who got there started.” It was not a consideration whether or not I would be ABLE to run for President — only that, if I wanted to, here’s what to do.

    Not to say they never criticized–they did–but it was, “Hey, if you’re going to be a CEO, kid, turn off the Gameboy and study some math, you’ll need to balance budgets.” The assumption was always that their job was to give me as many tools as possible to achieve, not to tell me what I could or couldn’t do.

    It took until a couple years ago for me to realize how rare that kind of upbringing is, especially for a girl interested in business management. All of my similarly inclined friends have faced “But you’ll get married” or “What if you want to stay home with your kids?” from their parents. Mine just figured whatever I was driven to do, I ought to do, and here, kid, read this book about that job you’re interested in.

    I won’t say my parents were great. I have a lot of complaints, too. But boy, did they ever give me the confidence and perspective I needed to succeed!

    1. Anon*

      Same here – from a woman now in finance. I remember laying out budgets to my parents (upper level manager/executive dad and teacher mom) to justify increases in my lunch money. We signed contracts when it was time to get our license. I don’t remember there ever being a limit on what they thought I could do, or any pressure to achieve; or any differences b/c of my gender.

  50. Michael*

    I was raised by my mother who was definitely blue-collar working in a few different factories as I grew up. She had no college degree but a pretty solid work ethic and a GED.

    I don’t have a college degree myself but I do have my diploma and work a white-collar job and I contribute my success to her work ethic. It has been a huge hurdle learning how to conduct myself professionally and I still feel like I’m learning by leaps and bounds year after year. That said I’ve done pretty well for myself. I’ve gone from working in a small town where 30k is enough to survive to starting a position that pays over 80k and have had the pleasure to work for a few fortune 500 companies where I’ve done very well in those roles.

    I will definitely be encouraging my son to go to college. He’s just a toddler now so I’m going to start young and teach him things as I learn them myself which I think is actually pretty neat. I may get my degree and may very well be forced to if I hope to continue rising through the ranks otherwise I think I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and keep learning.

  51. Neeta*

    No one pressured me to become an engineer like my parents (and with good reason), but it was expected that I’d be going to university and do something “worthwhile”. I.e. not something humanities related, I mean.
    I don’t remember every clearly being told that I’d have to attend university, rather it never even entered my mind that I wouldn’t attend it.

    In the end, I guess I kind of became something that they heartily approved of, though it didn’t really feel like coercion to me. Recently, when I was talking to my dad, he confessed that they were mightily relieved to learn that I chose a well-paying profession. Maaaan… makes me sounds like those stereotypical immigrant kids in the US. Heh!

  52. cf*

    My dad was the first one in his family to go to college. His dad had a small business that my cousins now own and run. He went to school on the GI bill after enlisting in the Coast Guard. Then he joined the air force as an officer, which is where he spent his career until I was out of college.

    My mom was the first one in her family to go to college (grew up on a farm). She dropped out after her freshman year because she hated it so much. She never had any money – she says she didn’t even have a dime for a cup of coffee. She went as a scholarship student (valedictorians in Wisconsin used to go to state schools for free), but the scholarship did not give any extra cash.

    There was always the expectation I would go to college, but my parents didn’t know anything about the SATs or applying to school or financial aid. The recruiter from Princeton pulled me out of class when I was a high school senior to try to get me to apply there, but I didn’t have the money to pay the application fee. I didn’t know that the fees are often waived. I applied only to one college, the one that didn’t charge a fee. I got in, fortunately, and got some nice scholarships.

    When I looked for work, my parents’ friends were no use to me. My dad’s co-workers certainly were not. How much good does knowing a colonel or a general do you if you’re a civilian?

    I paid my own way through college. It is just recently that I am realizing the true impact of working 20 hours a week at school, 60 hours a week in the summer, and then graduating with a debt equal to more than half of my first-year salary. It took me years to pay off the loans.

    Meanwhile, my friends whose parents paid for college got to spend an extra $200 a month (which was almost as much as my rent back in 1987 Houston) or save it. During college, they didn’t work or worked far fewer hours. Their grades were a lot better than mine – although I guess if I had wanted to study more, I could have found the time.

    My friends tell me I always talked about money in college. Maybe I did – it’s easy not to think about it if you’ve never had to worry about it. If your parents are paying your tuition and sending you spending money, what worries do you have? Except for a few hundred dollars a year for books, I got no financial support from my parents. Not that they weren’t willing, but the money just wasn’t there.

    I still remember one of my friends saying something snippy about how my mom should have gotten a job to save for my tuition. We lived overseas for most of my youth. Any job my mom could have done on base went by law to a national. Of course, she could’t have worked in the country – who is going to give a work visa to an American when their own people don’t have enough jobs? It stung that my friend thought my parents weren’t working hard enough on my behalf.

    Someone mentioned something about people being nervous around executives. I am that way. I don’t know if it’s my personality or the fact that I grew up in a military family. Rank is very highly respected in the military. Just yesterday, I asked my boss if it was OK for me to email the CEO directly. I’m 48 years old and I get nervous at this.

    After a few years in the workforce, I was making more money than my dad ever did as a career officer, which made me feel guilty, as anyone who has the possibility of death as part of his job description should be making more than a corporate paper pusher.

    1. AnonA*


      We sound like we have similar stories. I got a total of $15 of help from my Mom in college–$5 for my first three years on Valentine’s Day. She didn’t have it to give me.


  53. Christina*

    My (divorced) parents had completely differing views on work. My dad (in his mid 60’s, an electtrical/software engineer with a BS from Carnegie Mellon) was home at 5 every day, his briefcase was to carry his lunch and wallet, never took work home (that I can remember anyways), and generally took the view that work was the place to earn the money to do the stuff you wanted in your free time, not your whole life or really even worth missing dinner for. After an illness, being burned by management, and let go from his job at a company that was going downhill (Kodak), he’s pretty much done his own thing, messes around with some stock market stuff, but is generally not interested in working for anyone ever again. He lives frugally enough and has enough in savings that he can do that and seems generally content to be a “putterer”.

    My mom (in her late 50s), on the other hand, comes from a decidedly blue-collar family, busted her butt at her job (human resources/benefits/management) and getting her MBA while working full time with three kids under 12 (we split time between my parents), often had me start dinner when she had to work late or had a class, but still made it clear how much she valued what time she did spend with me and my sisters. She recently left her position as a senior VP of HR for an international company due to “philosophical” differences with her new boss and has the savings/severance package to look into opening her own little gourmet food store, something she’s passionate about (she’s actually offered me a position as her partner since she knows I’m unhappy in my current position).

    Now I call them for advice depending on what I want to hear–I call my dad when I want commiseration on my jerk boss and why management sucks. I call my mom when I want actual, useful advice on how to make things better (she’s my own personal Ask-a-Manager!) :-) Between the two of them, I think I have the best of both worlds. My mom showed me how far you can go, my dad reminds me that work is not the be-all, end-all.

    I’m proud of both of my parents for where they are and for what they’ve given me. I know I’m lucky, and thank the stars every day.

  54. Reechel*

    I’m surprised to hear that this is a topic which US HR people don’t seem to be familiar with. Have you never heard about Pierre Bourdieu?

    In Sweden, most (if not all) university level educations in the HR field includes Sociology.

    Our inheritance and social status makes a huge difference in the work place. In Sweden, for instance, the higher education is free. Yes, free. Everyone has the economical possibility to borrow money cheaply to cover the living costs while studying.

    But guess what. People from families with no academic background tend to study a lot less than people from families who have an academic background. And they get lower grades aswell as tend to have a harder time finding a job when they’re finished (if they ever finish their studies).

    It also has a lot to do with the fact that we like people who understand us, who have similar backgrounds. The bosses and recruiters are likely to come from a middle/upper class environment and hence choose people with a similar background.

    All according to Bourdieu who is French and has observed this in France.

    I think he is right in many ways.

    1. LT*

      Good point. Social capital is a huge determinant of success. Coleman, Portes, and Putnam – all social capital theorists – may be more familiar to Americans.

    2. Rana*

      Bourdieu was a revelation when I read him in college. I still use his concept of the “habitus” sometimes, when I think about this stuff. :)

  55. M.*

    Both of my parents have white collar jobs, and both are managers in charge of some hiring in their department. That alone has been a huge advantage- 2 people to coach me through the interviewing process when I was just applying out of college, and to give me advice about how to be a better interviewee and employee.

  56. Blinx*

    My story is a mix of many others above. My mother’s family was extremely poor. Although she wanted to study nursing, there were no funds available for it. My dad apprenticed himself at age 18, and worked 40 years at a blue collar job in the auto union. My mom became a full time homemaker, and her “job” was to make sure whatever my dad earned went as far as possible. They bought a huge fixer upper, and my dad’s only “hobby” was repairing and maintaining that house. At the age of 50, my mom realized a life-long dream, and went to school and got her RN degree. They paid off the mortgage early, my dad retired in his late 50s, and they moved to a much smaller house.

    We four kids grew up knowing we could go to college and have it paid for (within reason — I went to a state school). 2 did, and 2 didn’t. Now, 30 years later, we’ve all reached the same relative level of comfort and standard of living.

    How did all this affect me? Although my dad had the same job all his life, it went up and down according to the price of steel and oil. He was laid off several times, to the point where we went on food stamps, but he was always called back. To this day, when things slowed down at work, I always got nervous that there would be a layoff, and never wanted to get “caught” not looking busy. So, there were layoffs and several of the companies I worked for went out of business. And my dad, and now my step mom had no idea what it is like to look for a job in today’s world and can offer me no solid help. Just the example of living frugally and having a safety net of savings (thank God for that!!). But yeah, I do feel like I have a blue collar chip on my shoulder.

  57. Emily*

    My parents’ influence didn’t have a great impact directly on my profession, but their education (both attended ivy league colleges and have at least one Masters degree) and their values absolutely shaped me into the kind of professional I am, in a more general sense.

    My mom stayed at home for 15+ years to raise two kids, but she worked so hard in various volunteer roles that it sometimes seemed like she was a working parent! All that time with the PTA, the church, the Girl Scouts, etc., she was networking and keeping her general skills current so that when we were older, she was perfectly positioned to join the workforce for the first time since business school, while earning a degree in school counseling, a field that has nothing at all to do with her MBA.

    My dad is in finance, or accounting, or something—not interesting to me in any way, obviously! He has been laid off a half dozen times that I can remember—just a string of bad luck. But he never let that disillusion him to the point where it diminished his work ethic or where he’d let us go without. When he had to, he took a temporary position, a job with a longer commute, or one where he wasn’t crazy about the people. Sometimes, my mom would work retail at night until he was employed again, and even though I was just a kid, I was absorbing huge life lessons about commitment, pride and sacrifice (and I associate those lessons with shopping mall parking lots, like the one where my dad and my brother and I would sit in the car, playing word games, when we drove to pick my mom up after her shift!)

    So, like Clare above, I didn’t know much about my parents’ work lives (volunteer or professional work), at least not until I was much older and already on my own professional path, making my own decisions, at my own speed. Even now, we talk about our jobs in terms of specific successes, funny or annoying coworkers or clients, or the latest version of Windows or MS Office, but none of us can fully grasp the others’ industries in the big picture. My parents’ influence is more in the shape of values, people skills, as well as “person skills” (as in, how to be a good person). Work hard (that goes for education, too—my parents did what they had to do in large part to send my brother and me to college and it was always understood that we were both going to college!); don’t take anything for granted (again, that goes for education—a degree is not a guarantee); take advantage of opportunities; give back when you can (volunteer, mentorship); respect everyone—the warehouse runner as much as the CEO; emphasize your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses; have a personal financial plan; I could go on . . . and maybe I should, but in a thank you note directly to my mom and dad.

  58. Lynne*

    University wasn’t an option as far as my parents were concerned, and I don’t mean that in the usual way. It was actively discouraged; my parents thought it was a waste of money and tried to talk me out of it. I’m pretty stubborn and went anyway – I saw it as my way out of poverty, and thankfully, it has been.

    Five years after getting my master’s, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a handle on how the professional world works (and reading AAM helps with that, heh). And these days there are a few people I can ask for professional advice, and get something genuinely helpful; I would have loved to have had someone I felt I could ask about this stuff, when I was younger, but…well, at the time, asking anyone older felt like an imposition, and my peers didn’t seem a lot more clueful than I was. Looking back, there *were* people who would’ve been willing and able to mentor me, but even though sometimes they offered guidance without me asking (and I am so grateful for that), it didn’t occur to me that it might be okay to ask them about something that wasn’t strictly task-related.

    At least I did realize I needed to entirely disregard any kind of job-related advice my mother had for me. I still cringe, looking back at a couple of times I took her advice. (I doubt my father would have particularly good advice either, but I so seldom talk to him, it never came up.)

    People have mentioned the thing about learning to responsibly deal with money, too…personally, I find that issue simpler to deal with; in a lot of ways, I can just do the *opposite* of what I saw growing up and wind up with a good result. Plus, budgeting and saving are pretty straightforward concepts, and I had a lot of practice with tight budgeting when I was living on student loans and scholarships. Professional stuff is more complicated. (I’m not so much referring here to things like showing up on time, being polite, working on teams, or taking constructive feedback gracefully; I didn’t have trouble with that stuff, maybe because those are all skills you can develop in school. I’ve struggled more with the things like…negotiating job offers, deciding on a career path, networking, or dealing with office politics.)

  59. AnonA*

    Class replicates itself for the most part in the United States, with a large emphasis on middle/upper class advantage being passed on in a multitude of big and small ways.

    My own path is complex. I grew up one of four from a single mother who cleaned houses and accepted money from family and a father who left our family without child support. We are all smart and learned to be self-sufficient, hard workers. What we didn’t learn was how to set career goals, how to handle money and how to actualize anything we wanted. I contrast this to a friend whose child has never worked for money, has never had chores and is now in Singapore interning with a stockbroker friend of the family (he’s 17).

    I am smart and had a great high school education and put college applications and financial aid/loans together myself. I went to a Seven Sisters school where the class differences were stark and did a double major and dual degree program. I worked each summer in a factory and during the year as a babysitter (most money). I never had an internship nor had any clue about how I would translate a college degree into a career.

    After college, I worked temp jobs through Kelly services. I got on full time at a job through that, and worked for a decade in a mismatched job. Only when I took a severance did I start to really put the career pieces together. I feel like I lost a decade in terms of career advancement by figuring it out so late, but with that comes loss in potential income, 401K, etc.

    I really feel like I am “passing” by having this job with my background. We talk a lot in the US of disadvantage based on race, but not a lot of the disadvantages that class tags you with. I found it really funny that my last two interviews asked what my parents did and if I was tough enough to work with mechanics in garages (these questions actually made sense in context).

    While I feel that I can meet people where they are and see them as equal human beings, I know my background has shaped where I am. I remember a letter in 8th grade from Stanford inviting me to apply to a summer program and throwing the letter out, since there was no way that we could come up with the (nominal) application fee. Who knows where those roads (and others) would have taken me? I am grateful for where I am and what I have figured out, but it is not a level playing field, which makes me help those in my workplace clue in to some of the things I have figured out.

    Thanks for raising this issue, Allison!

    1. JT*

      “We talk a lot in the US of disadvantage based on race, but not a lot of the disadvantages that class tags you with.”

      For sure. That, said, i don’t think most people know how profoundly different black people are, on average, than non-latino white people in terms of wealth.

      (Difference in income distribution are not as sharp).

      I’m only talking averages – there are plenty of poor white people, and poor Asian people – who face tremendous challenges too.

      I don’t think enough people who grow up with money realize what it’s like to be truly poor and how many choices are cut off.

      Someone in this very thread wrote about not understanding why some people don’t have checking accounts since free checking account are available with “reasonable” minimum balances. You know why? Because those people can’t hit those balances. There’s a lot of belief that most poor people are irrational or can’t plan long-term or don’t want to invest in themselves. No, they’re making rational choices consider they need to get through the next week or next month first.

  60. Tater B.*

    Before I comment again….

    WHOO-HOO!!!! I was quoted by AAM!!!!!!!
    *does the Cabbage Patch*

    Now let me go read the other comments. LOL

  61. doreen*

    My father did low-skilled manual labor and my mother was a bookkeeper. There was a certain amount of pressure on me (from my mother only) to go to college, but it wasn’t simply assumed. It was more like pressure to become a world -class athlete. Neighbors knew exactly when my three sisters and I graduated- I later realized that was because we were the only ones of our group who went to college.
    I did learn certain things from my parents – they both went to work every day, and my mother could not dress all that casually for work. A comment on the other post brought my biggest challenge into focus. Someone said that being forced to attend a seminar on meal etiquette would make them feel like a four year old. I would have loved something like that when I first started working. We didn’t go to restaurants when I was a child and family dinners were not “everyone eats at the same time around a dining table” . Once I started attending work related social functions (award luncheons, retirement parties, meals at out-of-town training, etc ) , I was very uncomfortable. I could and did read etiquette books, but I just don’t think it’s the same in terms of feeling comfortable as growing up knowing which fork to use and which water glass is yours. My children won’t have that problem, because eating in restaurants is second nature to them.

    The second difference is the advice. My parents couldn’t give me advice about a lot of work related issues, because either they didn’t know about the subject or because they assumed that whatever they were accustomed to at their jobs was required at every job. (like the time my mother swore to me that there was a legal requirement that every ladies room had to have a couch). My daughter recently told me that the management at her part-time job implemented a new policy- they were to punch their timecards when moving from one assignment to another. On the third instance of failing to do so, the employee wouldn’t be paid for the second assignment. Since she didn’t actually need the job, I advised her to let them know that she knew it was illegal not to pay for time she worked. ( She did, and they immediately claimed that they were misunderstood) My parents simply would have told me to make sure I punched the card.

  62. Anonymous*

    Growing up, my mom was not a white-collar professional — she didn’t work most of the time we were kids (or now), but when she did she worked in a tattoo shop. Her past experience was stuff like pet stores. My dad was military and then a truckdriver. My stepdad was military, then worked at Subway and 7/11, then finally managed to get into IT (but an underpaid low-level position IMO, not to dismiss him, because he’s definitely fantastic at his job and more knowledgable than most of those above him). None of them went to college at all (I think my mom didn’t even finish high school, but she’s never been very clear about that).

    When I was nearing high school graduation, I got zero support for college, financial OR emotional. I was really hurt because they knew nothing about college, couldn’t lend any financial support, and most times it seemed like they didn’t care whether I even went (mostly from my mom, who actually discouraged me from going). I did end up going and paying my own way, but the struggle meant I ended up taking a break after two years that I’m still on. It was so hard seeing kids whose parents helped pay, were glad they were there, and encouraged them there.

    I never really thought of it before, but out of five kids, I’m the only one to hold down a “white collar” industry job for more than a couple years. My older sister worked for the IRS for a couple years, but then quit to be a SAHM. My other siblings do stuff like retail and car shop work. I’m only a legal receptionist/secretary, but my dad loves bragging about me to his friends, telling them I’m a big-shot with a law firm job in the big city! Right now, at nearly-24, I make not much less than what my stepdad makes, and I know I’m REALLY lucky considering my lack of education and connections, etc.

    I think being a smart kid who was always very polite meant I didn’t have TOO many office missteps, even though I had no professional guidance. But when I think back to what I wore to my first interview (with no comment from my parents), I cringe. And I have no one in my family to turn to about resume or cover letter advice or that type of thing. Obviously, I also never had the luxury of taking unpaid internships while in college to build up my resume. Like other people have mentioned, I think I tend to be more passive at work than others, but I had never thought of my background as contributing to that before. I really feel out of place and awkward sometimes, working with highly-educated and generally well-off people like lawyers. I always feel like I’m going to make a huge, disastrous mistake and get fired. I think that’s probably the big thing, I feel like I don’t deserve it even though I guess, objectively, given the fact that I’m here, I do.

  63. Tater B.*

    Just wanted to point out that I think some people misconstrued the original comment thread. No one was saying “I’m better than you because my parents had white-collar jobs.” At least, I didn’t get that from any of the comments. I respect anyone who instills a strong work ethic in their children, period. We were just pointing out some differences.

    For example:

    Way before I ever heard of AAM, a friend came to me for help with her job search. She had YEARS of experience and was awesome at what she did; however, she did not know how to turn that into an effective cover letter and resume.

    Now, I’ve been writing resumes since 4th grade. Seriously. She sent me what she had and I went over it with her, explaining little differences that would yield better results. She was able to make a big career leap from associate to director in her field and she’s still doing a marvelous job. That’s what I meant.

    1. Jamie*

      “Now, I’ve been writing resumes since 4th grade.”

      That is one of the most fascinating sentences I’ve read in a while.

      You had to have had one competitive middle school! :)

      1. Tater B.*

        LOL! My mom used to “test” me on certain writing assignments. She made me write a resume and soon discovered I had a knack for it. I started helping other family members with theirs and voila–I became the go-to for resume help.

        Even though this got on my nerves at the time, I am so glad my mom taught me how to do so much. If my legacy is half as great as hers, I’ll be pleased.

  64. Student*

    My parents raised me and my brother just barely above the poverty line. My father was an independent info-tech contractor, my mother was a stay-at-home wife. My parents had a strong opinion that a woman’s primary “job” was to raise children, and this was the hardest hurtle to overcome. The constant pressure to produce grand-babies for them started once I hit puberty (yes, they started trying to fix me up at 10 years old) and hasn’t abated. I can’t imagine that I would’ve made it through college with a baby in tow. They wouldn’t support me going to college at all, and that was very frustrating, but I managed to get a scholarship.

    Another big job hurdle that I got from my parents was an inability to socialize correctly. I am a street rat, pretending to be a normal civilized person. I can’t sympathize with their problems, I can’t manage their small talk, and I occasionally scare them inadvertently if I talk about myself in any regard. My inability to connect to middle-class people on a personal level has really held me back. Up until I graduated from high school, I solved most problems with violence, and that just doesn’t work in the middle-class world, especially if you are a female.

  65. M*

    This is really interesting. My husbands dad didn’t go to college, and has worked as a painter his whole life, while his mom went to college and has a professional job and has been the clear breadwinner for most of their marriage. Our marriage now follows the same setup, although my husband has some college he didn’t finish and now works a blue collar job (which he loves!). I did finish college and work in the corporate world, making more money than he does.

  66. Heather*

    Speaking as someone who grew up working class and the first person in her family to go to college–it certainly did affect me!

    My parents couldn’t help with my homework past third grade, I was all on my own for figuring out how to apply to college, and then I didn’t know how to deal with a lot of things that middle+ people knew regarding finances, making connections, etc. They didn’t know quite what to do with a smart artistic child, but thankfully since I was a “good kid” I got to do whatever I want. Sometimes whatever I want meant going to punk rock shows on a school night, sometimes it meant that I got to pick out the four year private university over my parent’s protests that “if you go to college, wouldn’t a community college be enough?” (Not that community college can’t be great, but it was absolutely the wrong choice for me). I don’t know how I learned that a working class kid like me could pay less going to a private school than a state school, but I am very happy that it came into my knowledge because I got out of school with less debt than my younger brother who went to a public school. I will say though, I felt very alone at the fancy four year university partly because most people came from so much more money and I could just not relate to their lives. My roommates could just study for classes, do theater performances (our majors), and didn’t have to work. I can’t even imagine being in that situation.

    Even to this day I can’t imagine being in a position where I could take an unpaid internship in my field, and it hurts me that I can’t always take on an intern for pay where I work. I worked my ass off as a library assistant for years specifically so that I could get a graduate assistantship to pay for grad school. This gambit paid off as I’ve been successfully working as a librarian for the last five years. I think the way I had to figure everything out on my own made me go towards this field, but it also made me not want to ask questions (since no one around me knew the answers). That has been a hard habit to break.

    The trickiest part has not been “how to do the work,” but how to deal with the class change. Class change doesn’t happen that much in this country (although we like to believe it does) and it is hard and painful. I’m now a manager and I still am learning all the societal things about the middle class that I obviously didn’t learn growing up. I have to deal with wealthy people too–that’s the hardest. Now I feel like there must be a book on how to deal with people in classes above and below you. If not, someone should write that book.

    1. Jessica*

      Heather, I commented below before reading others, but this is very similar to my background. (I’m even in grad school for my MLIS right now!) People wonder why I work so hard and worry so much about my job, but I will always feel that having not even a crumb to eat is just one paycheck away (whether or not that’s actually true for my own household this is still very much the case for my parents, and I will probably always carry that feeling and stress to work my butt off with me no matter where I go). I, too, found that going to a private school was cheaper (three private schools offered me full-tuition scholarships, and I received nothing even remotely similar at any state schools), and I took advantage of that. I did have student loans for room/board (my parents couldn’t help with anything and the jobs I had didn’t cover everything, obviously), but I didn’t make out too badly there. I still also have issues with asking for help for things (although I absolutely love to help others and am known for being the go-to gal for finding info and tech questions), and I am insanely inquisitive about things (I am self-taught on all things tech, but I just love learning new, detailed things).

      Right now, I am working at a private elementary and secondary school, and sometimes I feel like I’m not “in” on some things that the kids and parents talk about there. Most (not all) are well off, and I understand your feeling the need to have a book or something that discusses class changes. I’m obviously not in the wealthy category (compared to those that I am around daily), but I’m not where my parents are and have been either. It’s a strange mix of three different worlds: the one I grew up in and am most comfortable in, the one I’m now residing in, and the one I’m brushing elbows with due to my work situation.

      I’ve never heard from someone else in a similar situation, so I’m actually excited to hear this from someone else, someone who understands the social nervousness surrounding things that I wasn’t brought up to know.

      1. Heather*

        I feel like we should start a club! I will say part of what made me want something different than what was around me growing up was partly not feeling comfortable in that space either. While I know people who grew up working class (and under) whose parents encouraged them academically, I was kind of an alien for being smart and artistic. I suppose the academic/artistic sphere that I’m in now is probably the closest I can get to a comfort. While I am sometimes frustrated in that sphere, I usually get on with people at the ideological level which is generally not true when it comes to my family or to those I have to deal with in the upper classes.

    2. Liz*

      That book is “New York Social Diary” plus the New Yorker (if you enjoy it – you sound like you would).

      I think the hardest thing for me to learn about class change – you put it so well – is that I will be punished by a variety of classes for not knowing their rules. I thought I just had to read a Miss Manners and follow the rules.

      It probably took longer than it should have for me to realize that some workplaces will ding me for wearing makeup, and others will ding me for “not looking pulled together.”

      So the only thing to do is watch closely to see what people value. If I can match that value I do. If I can’t, I try to find a way to relate it to something in my personality. For example, if a coworker criticizes me for not wearing makeup, I say I don’t like the way it feels, but ask for tips on looking polished without it.

      It is exhausting and I know not catching on to the hidden rules has denied me some opportunities (grad school was awful). But thanks for sharing your story. You seem adorable and I bet you fit in better than you think (the other secret I learned is that most people who look like they fit in still feel like they’re on the outside – it’s pretty much just the really sheltered types who feel totally comfortable in all their social and work circle, and that is partly because they don’t know any better).

      1. Heather*

        Hi Liz! Thank you for your reading recommendations and your compliments. I do think it looks like I fit in better than I feel, but I think most of that comes from everyone around me prioritizing knowledge and I am very good at the knowledge game. Thankfully I’ve been watching what my boss does and try to follow her example where I can. I do think I’ve grown in my understanding because of that.

  67. Tekoa*

    A bit of family history…

    My paternal grandfather had a grade 3 education. Worked as truck driver.
    My father dropped out of high school. Got his GED in his 4os. Occupation in the military
    My mother has college education in early childhood education, works in a day care. Both parents grew up in welfare families.
    I have bachelors degrees.
    My parents occupations influenced me by pointing out what I didn’t want to do. I’d say their jobs/education were a disadvantage to me in terms of guiding me or using my education. Simply put, they have no idea what they’re talking about. They think education is EVERYTHING and I’m automatically slated for a 90k a year job because I have a University Degree (awed music). Unfortunatly they can’t give me useful advice.

  68. former call center worker*

    I come from a working class family (poor/ghetto/what-have-you). I was always in gifted and advanced classes in school, but I never had anyone to follow up on my lessons at school. I never had anything to apply it to. My family could never afford camp, music lessons, etc. I never could volunteer or participate in after school activities until 12th grade because I had to be home to watch my little brother.
    I went to a pretty prestigious private university, but I still never knew how to participate, branch out, meet people, network, etc. I went to class and worked. That’s it. Nobody helped me. I had no idea what I was doing. When I graduated, I was the first one to do so in my family (still is the case 5 years later) and they acted like I won the lottery. Seriously. They couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t just waltz right the hell into anywhere I wanted and get a job. I worked at a call center for 3 years until just recently.
    I have a best friend who was always in the same school as me but not in advanced classes. Her GPA was lower, but her parents were professionals (educated, multiple degrees, career before kid types). She was in church, after school programs, summer programs, etc. She went to a school with a lesser ranking, but networked a ton. A family friend put her in touch with a hiring manager and she got a great job a year after she graduated making almost double what I make now. She also has no student loans or bills, where as I have been on my own for the past 3 years.
    My parents think I’m a ROCKSTAR, especially with my new job at a local university. I am happy I have done as well as I have on my own with no support, but I see how much farther someone can go and it sucks.

  69. Jessica*

    Interesting question. I’ve honestly never thought about this before. Everyone in my family (both sides) are manual laborers (factories, mechanics, etc.), and I was the first one in my entire family (both sides again) to go to college. I’ve never felt disadvantaged in the workplace, but I am a huge etiquette (Miss Manners) geek and always have been, reading etiquette books for fun. I do sometimes feel disadvantaged socially (in semi-posh social gatherings), but that has more to do with the people themselves than feeling out of place in the situation perhaps. My husband, whose parents are both professionals in different areas, doesn’t understand my social struggles and often feels that I “get” the professional life a bit more than he does. (I’m also a strong extrovert and he’s an introvert.)

    I did know from the beginning (as in 1st grade) that if I were going to college, it was up to me to get myself there. There would be no financial help from parents at all, and I worked my tail off to get a full ride somewhere. My sister didn’t care and didn’t go. I am actually now in graduate school, and I’ll definitely be the first (maybe the only one) to ever do this, even in my extended-extended family. College and professional jobs just aren’t things that happen in my family, in their minds. I’m kind of a weirdo for caring and continuing to do these things.

  70. Anonymous*

    I’m glad this came up because in the time since I finished college I learned a lot about how what I was taught was wrong, but more than that I realized that I have no one in my life at any point that could have ever guided me any better. My dad didn’t finish high school, my mom dropped out of college. They worked retail and manual labor jobs. They thought sending me to college would mean I could automatically do better, and it obviously does not work that way. I learned better on my own, obviously, but not enough. After many months of unemployment, the first job I had out of college was manual labor, and when I broke the news to my dad he got tears in his eyes and said “This isn’t the way the family was supposed to go.”

    And it isn’t an issue of upper vs lower class, but expectations and experience. My boyfriend’s family immigrated from China when he was a child, have always had very little, and I’m sure struggled even more than my parents did to make things work. But his father became a successful engineer, and it was clear his whole life that his child was going to go to the best university and get a great job immediately after. That’s what happened, too, despite the fact that my boyfriend is terrible at navigating professional relationships. My parents expected me to go to any college at all (any would be impressive to them) and study anything and get whatever grades and come out of school and make an hourly wage and struggle a lot, that was successful to them. My boyfriend’s parents are disappointed that, a year after his undergrad graduation, he does not own a house and is not yet enrolled in graduate school. He makes more than any one person I’ve ever met in my life, but they expect more, and he does more.

    1. Blinx*

      “My boyfriend’s parents are disappointed that, a year after his undergrad graduation, he does not own a house…”

      That’s just sad that your boyfriend’s parents are putting such pressure on him! To own property in your early 20’s is very hard to do, and he’s accomplished much just by getting his degree. Maybe he’s getting further in life because of some pressure, but there are limits!

      1. Anonymous*

        Yeah he does not appreciate the pressure, and I get that. But that is the difference between him (has everything he could ever need, makes more than anyone else I’ve ever known including his own father, paid off his student loan debt immediately after graduation) and everyone else our age, everyone else we know.

  71. ARM2008*

    I never really thought about it as an undergrad oh so many years ago, but after returning to grad school in statistics later in life it was pretty amazing to find out I was the only one in the department whose parents did not have advanced college degrees. My parents never finished high school and by the time I was in 7th grade they were no longer able to offer assistance, except in studying German, which my mom enjoyed learning vocabulary with me :-)

  72. AB*

    Wow. Big eye opener for me. Both my parents were professionals with postgraduate degrees, and it never crossed my mind, but that’s probably why things seemed to go so smoothly for me in my first job, while others struggled with etiquette, networking, knowing how to ask for things in the right way without ruffling any feathers, and things like that. It does seem to make a lot of sense, how that I think about it. You naturally learn how to hold a professional conversation, etc., just by seeing what your parents do.

    1. Tax Nerd*

      I just got this book from Amazon, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the recommendation! (My boss has a weakspot for hiring kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, so part of my job is helping them adjust to working in a WASP-y environment. I’ll probably end up loaning this out after I read it.)

  73. Lora*

    What Heather & Jessica said +1.

    My undergrad degree is science (biology & chemistry). My small liberal arts college was very undergrad-focused, and had independent research as a degree requirement and part of regular coursework. I did not appreciate that fully until I went to a big state U for grad school and saw all these undergrads who spent extra time doing summer and year-round volunteer research projects–and they didn’t have jobs or bills to worry about. Mom and Dad paid for all that. No way could I have stayed in science/engineering if I hadn’t been able to work full-time while in college. I would have switched to something like pre-dental or law, something viewed as more likely to get you a job after finishing professional school (this was 1995, law wasn’t quite so crowded as it is now).

    The way growing up working class affects me now: I’m Pennsylvania Dutch and when I’m tired or excited, agitated, the accent and speaking patterns show. Amongst fellow science/engineering types, who often speak English as a second language themselves, they are quite forgiving. The Finance and Marketing guys just think I must be some unusual kind of redneck and they assume that I must be stupid. They are not at all subtle about it either: we will be sitting in a meeting, someone will ask for an expert opinion about something on which I am expert. I present my findings, and they will all turn to either my boss or my non-expert colleague and ask, “Is that right?!?” incredulously. My boss will confirm that this is absolutely correct and that we are all on the same page on this topic. They sit back and ponder this, as if it is not possible for someone who pronounces their soft Js as CHs and their vowels nasally could ever know her behind from her elbow when it comes to engineering. Then they shrug as if this is completely inconsequential and move on, only to repeat my opinion as their own a few weeks later. They do not do this to my upper-middle class female colleagues.

    Lots of other things, especially about etiquette. I went to both a private high school and a private undergrad school on scholarships, and thank goodness both were rigid about making every single student go to etiquette lessons. We all knew how to dress professionally, how to make lame small talk, which fork to eat with and how to do a slide presentation by the time we graduated, because as it turned out there were loads of rich kids who didn’t know that either–they figured they didn’t have to, Mom and Dad would get them a job. I wish they’d taught us golf or sailing, that would’ve been a help too. So many business deals made on the golf course, but then again I am female. I do know how to ride a horse without looking totally graceless, something my upper-middle class colleagues say they envy a bit.

    If you haven’t read John Scalzi’s essay, “Being Poor,” I highly recommend it.

      1. JT*

        Very interesting.

        Look at the last five points. So many people who’ve never been poor just don’t get it and say “I don’t understand why they don’t just [save more][try harder][stop being lazy][make “better” choices][think longer term][etc]”

        I haven’t been poor so I’m not sure I really get it either, but I’m trying.

      2. Natalie*

        “Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.”

        Oof, that one hit me in the gut. I’ve been volunteering in a domestic violence shelter and before that I had no idea who actually goes into shelter.

        By and large, these women aren’t here just because they’re being abused – they’re here because they’re being abused and they’re also poor. Just providing them a secure place to stay for awhile isn’t enough. They also need a job, affordable daycare, low cost healthcare, transportation, a wardrobe of work-appropriate clothes, basic living skills, and an affordable place to live in a city where the Section 8 waiting list has been closed for two years and will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

        The primary reason most women stay in shelter for months is that they have no other place to go. If we make them leave, they will go back to their abuser rather than live on the street or in their car. They believe their children will be taken away if they are homeless, and they don’t want to lose their kids.

    1. Rana*

      I’ve seen that accent issue at work with my dad. Smart, smart guy (worked his way up to a PhD even though he’d been orphaned at a young age), but even now, so many years later, if he’s under stress, some of his childhood accent comes out, and it’s not the accent typically associated with being an “educated person.”

  74. Anonymous*

    How my parent’s lived showed me how I did NOT want to live. They had me young. My mother became a homemaker. My father was self-employed, then (probably realizing they needed $$ for me to go to college) got a union job. My father has now worked 20+ years in his profession. He currently makes more than I do.

    From them I realized what I did NOT want: get pregnant at a young age, own my own business, be dependent on someone else with a job, have to work for decades in a manual labor job just to make decent money. So I went to college, got a degree, and now have a salary job, so I’m not just stuck working 9-5 for the rest of my life. What I’m puzzled with is those who are the same generation in my family as I am, with parents who had/have the same kind of life as my parents, who then procede to not graduate high school or even attempt to apply to college, and who seem to be stuck then working a min. wage or trade job for the rest of their lives. How could they not learn from their parents that that is not an easy life and why don’t they want more?

    1. Lynne*

      It can be very difficult to change the trajectory you started out with. I did, but my older brother likely never will, and I expect there are a whole bunch of factors that go into that.

      I think it helps to both a) really dislike the life your parents have and b) really recognize that you don’t *have* to make the same choices.

      The talents you start out with make a big difference too, as does the help you get along the way. Or, conversely, the barriers put up to hinder you; in my brother’s case, I think for a long time he felt trapped because he was helping to support our family from a young age. And now I think he feels it’s too late to change anything; I think he’s wrong about that, but in the final analysis, it’s up to him whether or not he wants to try to make any changes in his life.

      (I’m sure there are lots of other possible factors I haven’t mentioned, too…)

  75. Emily*

    My dad worked a blue collar job requiring no education and my mom didn’t work at all. They did not encourage college (in fact discouraged it), would not pay for it, would not help us with it, and left me generally bewildered about what to do in the real world. I wish I could take the knowledge I’ve learned about life and go back to being 18 and put it in place. I dropped out of college after a year because I couldn’t afford it, didn’t know how to navigate any sort of financial aid, and they just shrugged and went on. My husband was the first one in his family to get a 4 year degree. We are already saving for our (hypothetical) children’s college funds. It has set me back years and I’m actually angry about it. I feel goofy and socially awkward and rough around the edges.

  76. Cassie*

    I think having parents in professional careers definitely impacts their kids’ careers. My mom had been a high school teacher and my dad was an accountant. When we moved to the US, my parents owned a small business (they considered their English “not good enough” for regular jobs – plus, who would hire an immigrant if there are US-schooled applicants?).

    My parents both had bachelor’s degrees, so I’ve always known that college was not optional. I wanted to be a teacher when I was little – my mom and her mom had both been teachers; teachers were pretty much the only adults I spent any time around (being immigrants, my parents didn’t have a large social network here); and I liked being bossy :)

    Fast forward to now – I do administrative work at a university, in a STEM department. I see 1st-year students who already know what they want to research before they get here, summer high school interns who are building stuff – I can tell most of them got introduced to science & tech early (I’ve seen their personal statements and frequently, their parents work in STEM fields).

    There are some kids who are naturally driven – like kids who take apart toasters to see how they work. They’ll end up being engineers or inventors regardless what their parents do for a living. For others like me (a bit lost, no direction, no major goals), I end up settling in whatever job is offered. Not that having a 40 hr/wk office job is bad, but I look at people making a difference particularly in the STEM fields and I can’t help but wonder “what if?”. Obviously, not all of the kids of our faculty go on to major in STEM fields (I know one guy whose daughter wants to write movie scripts, despite his efforts to direct her towards engineering), but at least it gives them options…

  77. Vanessa*

    It made a huge difference in my life to have parents that didn’t finish high school or go to college, but I can’t say that it was only a disadvantage. Growing up, there was never a question of whether I would go to college or not, because my parents could see how much easier the lives of their educated friends were than theirs. So their lack of success and lack of opportunity became my fuel, motivating me to do well in school and aim high.

    Not having anyone to help guide me through the administrative details like applications, FAFSA, loans, etc was challenging in college. Even now, after I’ve finished college and law school (both paid for by myself), the divide can be difficult: my parents try to give me job-search and career advice that doesn’t pertain to my industry and are put off when I don’t immediately take up their suggestions.

    Ultimately, although my parents couldn’t give me cultural advice or financial help, my experience gave me advantages that many of my peers did not have. After working throughout the entirety of my education the idea of JUST working without having to go to school at the same time still feels like a vacation, whereas for my friends who didn’t have jobs during school the transition to working was harder. I always felt more independent than my peers, in college and in law school, whose parents paid for their tuition and often dictated terms. I’m sure that having professional parents would have given me advantages, but making my own way has made me who I am and I’m happy with who I’ve become.

  78. Joe High School*

    As a high school teacher in an examination school where we get highly intelligent kids from a mix of socioeconomic backgrounds, I think I can add a different perspective. Most of you are talking based on your experiences, and you’re getting at a lot of this. Set aside the academics. People whose parents are professionals simply “get it”. They know how to behave in the country club, the off-color jokes that show they belong in the elite. They know that what you say about “equality” in the classroom goes out the window once you hit the world of fraternities, internships and professional jobs.

    I can’t say it explicitly at my school, but I focus my attention and best effort on who will promote my career and the school’s prominence (and thus, my career). Is that the young African-American kid whose Dad is a bus driver? Is it the girl whose Mom is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador (yeah, yeah, “refugee from the civil war there”, blah blah blah)? Or is it the Beverly Hills-type kid whose CEO Dad I charmed at the open house? The kid whose CEO Dad redirected what would have been tuition and donations to OUR PTA and to MY summer job???

    What do you think???

    At some point, if you’re going to promote your school’s best interests, you have to move beyond what’s “fair” according to your Horatio Alger-type Lifetime (for women) movie. A couple of years ago this African-American kid whose Dad is serving 20 to 30 in prison was running neck-and-neck with a BigLaw partner’s kid for a number of honors. One was a slot in a prestigious summer science and math program at a Top-Tier university. The type of program that sets someone up with terrific training and great credentials going forward.

    Now, who was the better candidate from a raw academic perspective? Yes, the felon’s kid. Who had the more engaging personality? Actually, the felon’s kid. Who is a kinder person? Well, turns out this is the felon’s kid as well.

    The Biglaw partner’s kid is an absolute punk. He’s smart, and he lets everyone know. He also mocks the felon’s kid mercilessly for just “not getting it” in terms of dress, cultural experiences, etc.

    Yet we have all-new laptops for our students to use because of that “punk’s” father. Indeed, the felon’s kid uses one of those laptops every day. We also get visits from prominent clients of the punk’s Dad, as well as entree into some wonderful development opportunities that allow us to generate TRUE independence from the oversite of our school district.

    So now, I’m going to throw that all away to write the recommendation for the kid who “deserves” it? Uh, that would be a “no”. Now that doesn’t mean I threw the felon’s kid under the bus? Of course not. I talked to him about his responsibility to pay society back for his Dad’s failures, and how service to our Country is the best way to do so. I wrote a glowing letter for this kid to enter any ROTC program in the country, emphasizing that while he MIGHT get scholarships otherwise, ROTC is a bird in the hand.

    And thus, all ended well. The BigLaw partner’s son had a great summer experience, and entered that university on a merit scholarship after being named Valedictorian at our school. Meanwhile, the other kid wound up taking my advice and going ROTC–thus not needing scholarships tied to our high school that could then go to other students. So really, it was a win-win for all. For each student. For our high school. And my career.

    1. Jamie*

      I really hope this was satirical in order to make a point.

      Otherwise this is f’ing heartbreaking.

      1. chica*

        agree with you, but sadly i don’t think this is satirical. the point they made was pretty clear, this is how people who should get picked for things get steered in a different direction, or don’t get picked for anything at all. sometimes the assholes (in this case, Big Law Partners son) win. *sigh*

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Heartbreaking indeed.

      And that kid has zero responsibility to “pay society back for his Dad’s failures.” Please tell us you didn’t really say that to him.

      1. K.*

        My jaw dropped at that. If you really said that to that boy, you shouldn’t teach kids.

        And you’ve just proved my point. This is exactly what I meant about being told as a young black kid (and I had an advantaged upbringing – a few ebbs and flows, but much more Cosby Show than Good Times) that you have to work twice as hard to get ahead.

        Uch. This made me really, really angry. I have to go watch a Simpsons rerun or something to calm down before bed.

        1. J.C.*

          I had a similar situation when I was growing up. My blue-collar parents (a mailman and a cleaning lady) by hook and by crook bought a little two-bedroom to raise all 6 of us. Thing is, they bought it just inside what was the best school district in the area. They did this because they wanted us to have the best chance to develop and thrive despite our limited resources.

          Indeed, my siblings and I did. I was the eldest, and so was the trailblazer so-to-speak. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college, but they valued education and wanted us to strive. They also somehow were able to recognize thatI had both native intelligence and an unparalleled work ethic. They also focused on effort rather than outcome–things might break against me sometimes but so long as I tried my best I understood that only our Maker is perfect, and that all was good if I took the opportunity to learn from the process.

          The one time they stepped in and really battled for me was in a situation similar to the one with this “examination” teacher. During my senior year of high school, I was competing with two other kids for a coveted merit scholarship that would cover my tuition in full plus allow for living expenses. Each school could nominate one student; that student would then compete with designees from other schools.

          A component of the application was an original essay (this before the time of Google search when the Internet was just getting started). We all submitted essays; mine was a scientific paper that after much revision and development I eventually published.

          I lost out, however, to a kid who did what was an amazing study that he said he conducted the summer before senior year on juvenile death rates during the Civil War. This kid paid for the kid and the exam teacher (as chaperone) to attend a special academic summer seminar in Palo Alto for three weeks. The exam teacher talked about how the other student worked in the library and “in the field” and networked incessantly in seminars over this time. Further, this showed the dedication one needs to succeed professionally, as opposed to simply working without direction. Note, this was while I was working days for a landscaper and evenings/weekends at an ice cream shop all summer to help my parents out. So, you know, yeah.

          This teacher, a “popular” one who I never really cared for anyway, published my rival’s paper as an insert in the school newspaper to “give an example” of how to produce top-notch work. He told me privately afterward that I just didn’t cut the mustard compared to this other kid’s work–and that maybe I should think about my summer work schedule when I wonder why I get beaten out for these types of honors. I was telling my folks about this, and I could see them start to stew. My Dad started asking questions about the other kid’s paper, and his eyebrows started to rise. He read the kid’s paper, and seemed to get particularly intense at one point. He was an amateur Civil War historian in his spare time, so he did was interested anyway in this kid’s paper, but something else was going on.

          He finished reading the kid’s paper, then immediately told my Mom he was going to need to take some time on Sunday at the University library, which was a bit unusual as he wasn’t one to just declare that he would be absent on a weekend (leaving everything to my Mom). He left early that Sunday morning, and didn’t get home until very late. When he got home, he had a smile on his face.

          A couple of days later, he drove with me to school and asks me to come with him to see the principal. The principal is kind enough to meet with us. My Dad starts off the meeting by asking me to discuss what I did over the summer with the principal. I do so, noting that I probably put in too much time on the jobs and needed more than a few evenings a week to work on my scientific paper. In the course of things, I learned that God helps those who help themselves, and that I hope I can do better in the future.

          The principal nods and agrees, and asks my Dad if there’s anything else. My Dad says: “Yes, in fact, there is”. I look at him crosswise, and he continues.

          He says, “As you know, my wife and I trust you and the rest of your colleagues to do right by our children. That’s why we bought our house here, and we’re thankful you’ve welcomed and affirmed our kids even though they don’t have the same status as so many others. But at some point, right is right and wrong is wrong. I don’t know that MY son should have been nominated for the scholarship, but I DO know that THAT kid CHEATED”.

          My jaw dropped as well as the principal’s. The principal’s because she would never dream of such a thing of that student. Me because while my rival certainly cheated from time to time, he was way too slick and too connected (also a BigLaw partner’s kid, natch) to have it ever stick.

          The principal says: “That’s quite an accusation. Have you heard of defamation? If EVER there were someone who could bring such a claim, it’s THIS student’s family. You better have BULLETPROOF proof”.

          My Dad looks her in the eye, pauses a moment, and says: “Indeed, I have proof that a NUCLEAR WARHEAD couldn’t bust”.

          Now I’m looking at Dad like “WHAT are you doing???” But Dad says to the Principal: “You might not know, but I actually do some Civil War research when I get a chance–I guess I’m a bit of a buff. Every so often when I get off work and my wife is OK with it I head over to the University Library to do some reading. I didn’t have much education, but I guess I’m self-taught in this one area”.

          At this the principal smiles patronizingly as my Dad continues. He says, “Anyway, I didn’t like the way the arrangement worked between this other student and the exam teacher–personally I’ve had a sense this teacher plays favorites. But when I read that paper, something stirred in me as I thought that I KNEW I had seen that research somewhere”.

          “Luckily, we’re getting into a time where we can start to use the computer to look up things or this would have been impossible. So I start up with this database that tracks publications in the humanities . Anyway, I started entering some of the phrases I found most suspicious into this program. I got a sense I was onto something, and a few hours later I hit paydirt.”

          “Turns out this paper was lifted almost word-for-word from an obscure historical education journal published across the country–I was finally able to locate a copy in a library at the University of Delaware. I had to wait until Monday to ask them to fax it, and they did so last night. TAKE A LOOK”.

          He hands copies of both my rival’s paper and this article to the principal and to me. And sure enough, my rival’s paper is a copy WORD-for-WORD. The principal reads this, and exclaims: “I’m going to have to call the School Department attorney. I don’t know how we’re going to handle this”.

          My Dad says: “I’ll tell you how you handle it. You declare this kid’s application to be disqualified for plagiarism. You then tell his Dad to back off or the paper will get a hold of it. You then investigate whether the teacher was complicit.”

          The principal says “I’ll take this under advisement, thank you for your time”. But sure enough, she does all those things. She also apologizes to me for what happened, and brings in an outside auditor of sorts to review the process. In doing so, the teacher who chaperoned winds up “resigning” so as to begin a doctoral progam. My rival pulls out of the school and starts attending prep school. Finally, after reopening the nomination process, the outside auditors do in fact nominate me for the scholarship. I wound up runner-up for that, but met a couple of mentors who helped me navigate the collegiate and graduate process toward a successful and fulfilling career (to this point, thank goodness).

          So, you know, there are bad apples out there. But there’s hope. It goes to show that if you’re going to hire someone, look past the accolades on paper. Try hard to look into the person’s heart, and be sure to control in your mind for the opportunities they may or may not have had and the obstacles they’ve overcome when you assess their potential to succeed in your organization.

          1. Jamie*

            I love your dad – he was amazing!

            You are very lucky – not just because he was able to ferret out the fraud but to have someone like that at your back while you were growing up.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s awesome. Your dad is awesome! And also, that principal was an ass for throwing around the word “defamation” in that situation, before even asking for more information.

          3. Rana*

            Your father is amazing! – and I’m so angry that he had to be, just for you to get decent treatment.

          4. Blinx*

            JC, your dad sounds like a really special person. I’m glad everything worked out for you, and the other guy got found out. Karma’s a great thing, but it’s not always speedy. Sometimes it takes decades for it to come back and bite someone.

            I guess the real satisfaction should come from knowing that you had what it took to really write an essay, whereas the other kid had no clue! So, what’s the followup? What happened to the other guy in the real (work) world?

      2. Jessica*

        Thanks for saying that! My jaw dropped when I read that line. I spend a lot of my time with students reminding them that they are NOT beholden to what their parents have or have not done. Egads.

    3. Another anon*

      I just threw up a little bit. BUT if the Biglaw’s son is truly a punk, how did he become valedictorian? I’m a skeptic.

      1. Jessica*

        This can happen. It almost became a legal issue at our school a few years back when someone “who didn’t deserve it” (in reality, someone who did) became valedictorian and a bigwig’s kid was upset. He had always thought since elementary school that he’d be valedictorian (so did his classmates), and his parents threatened to sue. The kid who WAS valedictorian actually did deserve it. He took a more rigorous class load, was top in many areas (academics, arts/music, athletics), and was just a plain nice kid. When he was told that he was the valedictorian, he said, “Are you sure it isn’t [bigwig’s kid]?!” He really thought politics would play into it, and we were afraid that the school head would break down and allow two valedictorians (never before allowed). Apparently, in the past, politics (money/donations) had at times played into things, so that explained why so many were surprised that it didn’t turn out that way this time. Luckily, everyone stood firm and the right, deserving kid got the distinction. (It doesn’t matter as much these days to colleges anyway, as many high schools aren’t even ranking students anymore. We don’t, but we do determine a valedictorian only.)

        Any teacher, counselor, or school administrator who doesn’t stand up for the kids who actually deserve the accolades (as opposed to those who are just getting them due to the dollar value their parents have) is in the wrong career and needs to step aside. If your concern is more about your “career track,” then you should get out of education and fast. Please, for everyone’s sake (but mostly for the sake of the kids you’re throwing under the bus and leading in the wrong direction for the sake of what you’re calling a “career”).

    4. doreen*

      For the first time, I’m almost happy my parents didn’t allow me to take specialized high school exams. There weren’t any families in my school wealthy enough to result in this.

    5. Anonymous*

      I’ve seen a variation of this – someone I went to school with, who now drives cars for a living skated through public high school. This persons’ parents certainly had the money for a private school, so why go public? It seems like with all the practice and racing this person did during high school, they didn’t have the time to do anything outside class like homework, so how did this person make it through high school with such good grades?

      1. H*

        I’m assuming the way they got into this program – influence and others bending the rules for them due to either their status or money.

    6. Tater B.*

      Oh, I’ve met your type countless times. You probably the same one who believes Affirmative Actions just helps out Blacks and Hispanics, right?

      You probably sit around after work, commiserating with your pals about how you’re still stuck teaching high school–because you truly sound like one of those people who only took the job for the summer break–because Obama simply won’t let you be great. I’d say more, but it’s so unnecessary. Like I said, I know your type too well.

      Way to ruin the tone of the comment section, pal. I urge you to get a life. Please.

    7. M*

      How is it that kid’s responsibility to pay society back for the mistakes his father made? It’s really not okay that you said that to a student.

    8. Anonymous*

      you should be ashamed of yourself–your attitudes about race & class are abhorrent. did you really just dismiss someone’s refugee status with “blah blah blah”?!

      & the situation you describe is not a win/win. you outright admitted that you privileged a white kid who already had everything going for him over a black kid who was more deserving of your support–& that you made this choice for your own personal gain.

      white people in the United States benefit from their institutional privilege every day, & sometimes there’s nothing we can do to change that. if you’d written this from a perspective of, “my hands are tied; this is just the way it is,” I still would be pretty disgusted with your actions, but I’d begrudgingly concede that maybe you felt you had no other options. but you don’t even seem to realize what’s going on here–you’re actually congratulating yourself for actively perpetuating the racist socioeconomic system that continues to plague our country.

      also, “African American” isn’t hyphenated.

    9. H*

      So non-connected non-punky non-nasty non-white kid had to go through the Army route* because a person who is thinking of his future wallet couldn’t bring himself to turn away from an effective backhander? And you told the kid he wasn’t good enough due to something he has no control over – his father?

      That kid is now on a much different path than he could have been thanks to you. You have no idea of what that kid was capable of if he had been given that chance rather than the punk I hope you realise that.

      *which will divert his time from personal development to being a soldier/officer. Oh, and might put him in a war zone at some point.

    10. Liz*

      You directed the “felon’s kid” away from opportunities and into a situation where he might get shot (or worse) because someone else’s father gave you free laptops?

      Class act.

  79. Summer Camper*

    I wonder how this works in reverse, too…. how would upper-middle class white-collar workers respond to a child who really, truly wants a blue collar job?

    My family is blue-collar through and through, and when I went for a college degree they (mostly) supported it. However, they would have also supported me entirely if I decided I wanted to go to a trade school and become an auctioneer, a welder, a mechanic, or even a cake decorator. I was free to pick a career – any career – that I felt I’d enjoy and be good at.

    Statistically speaking, it seems like there’s got to be some kids from wealthier households that aren’t as “bookish” as their parents and would be most happy and successful working with their hands rather than in a white-collar office job. It seems to me, though, that a lot of parents would freak out at that notion. Parents, in general, want their kids to have a better, more affluent life than their own. But at some point you wonder if that’s sustainable generation after generation.

    1. GeekChic*

      My dad was very white collar (president at an oil company) and he was very supportive of my decision to enter the military rather than go to university right out of high school. His colleagues were a bit startled…. but neither of us cared much what they thought.

      I was eventually discharged for health reasons and went on to university. But he would have been truly happy for me if I had stayed in the military if that is what I wanted to do.

    2. Blinx*

      Yes, it’s true, there are a lot of kids “forced” to go to college who would really rather do something else. But there are also enlightened parents who are really in tune with what is best for their child. There’s one family that I know, the father and older brothers have very advanced degrees and high level jobs. But the younger brother? He was allowed to skip college and apprentice to be a plumber.

  80. K.*

    Both my parents have advanced degrees. My mom has a Ph.D, my dad a master’s. My dad’s a COO, my mom an academic. My dad has managed people his entire career, starting in his mid-20s after grad school. Going to college was what you did after high school. I also went to a high school with a 99% matriculation rate – every single one of my classmates went to college. I suppose my brother and I could have gotten away with going to college if we had presented a cogent plan for what we were going to do instead – and “find myself” would not have cut it.

    My parents had mothers who married young, stayed home with kids, and then went back to school when the kids were grown. My maternal grandmother had a middle management job at a big insurance company (and those were the days where you could graduate from high school, be a secretary, and work your way up) and my paternal grandmother got an MLS and had a career as a librarian. My grandparents grew up in the Depression, though, so they were very miserly. (My paternal grandmother, who was one of ten kids – actually 13 but three died in childhood – re-used aluminum foil.) And my paternal grandfather had a steady blue-collar job , so he didn’t understand my dad’s career at all, although he was proud.

    Race is a factor too – I’m black, and it was definitely drilled into my head that I have to work twice as hard as my white counterpart to be noticed and taken seriously. That means taking every advantage: going to the best school that would take us, working for the most prestigious companies that would hire us, “dress for the job you want,” etc.

  81. Vicki*

    Both of my parents have MS degrees – Mom in Education, Dad in Architecture. So, my sister and I juist basically assumed we’d go for the Masters. And we both did. Hers is in Arts Admin, mine is in Science (I’m the weird one in the family).

    Parents helped us through school by quizzing us for tests, and helping with homework, etc (but never by _doing_ our homework for us). We grew up in a College town where easily 90% or better of the HS students are expected to go to College (and do).

    I grew up thinking that a good education was normal. I think it was a valuable belief/culture.

  82. chica*

    This is such a FANTASTIC topic! I’m bookmarking the links for future reading. I’ll try to add some new thoughts:
    1. there are disadvantages when there’s a lack of money. many things people mention (skipping free internships, general lack of financial support for college) fall into this category.
    1a. the emotional bittersweet pain of making more than your parents falls into this.
    2. totally not to gloss over the impact of 1, but I think what AAM was getting at are the things that are not solvable by having money. If you won the lottery, you would have the money to go out and buy the right clothes and go to a tailor and blah blah. But would you know that you need different clothes? would you know that a custom suit might be the best for your field? Things that jump out for me:
    – making lame small talk (kudos to who first said this)
    – eating etiquette, what cup is yours, waiting until everyone is seated, which fork to use
    – physical violence is not allowed/appropriate in an office (someone else already mentioned this)
    3. a related topic some people have brought up, which i think would be great for another open thread topic: how has your parents/family network helped you in your career? sometimes this is a class issue (all the examples where people were the first/only in their family to have a white collar job) but sometimes it’s not. if your parents were in a different field, and weren’t super rich/connected, then their network of job contacts probably didn’t help you squat if you didn’t follow them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I love your lottery explanation. And you’re right — the stuff that money won’t solve is its own category of challenge. (And in that vein, the office physical violence thing is so interesting to me. I really hadn’t understood that might not be a given.)

  83. Valery*

    I am loving this post & the comments so far. For me, my parents immigrated to the US so they have a different perspective on workplace etiquette, culture, etc. My mom works as a hospital aide and although my dad has a professional job in IT, I can remember editing his resume & cover letters in high school going off how-to guides from the library. I think I found this blog when searching for resources on acting appropriately in workplace settings- especially with workplace functions, and figuring out the job search process- like salary negotiation. I definitely think having professional parents can be an advantage.

  84. LadyTL*

    I think alot of the privileged boost from having white-collar parents is from the time they have to spend on their kids and that they want to spend it on them. I come from a family that is the exception from that boost simply because my parents were massive selfish jerks. Both of my parents are 9 to 5 white collar office workers but you wouldn’t know it by how they raised me. The majority of their money went back to them. They got fancy new wardrobes every so often of really nice expensive clothes. I got thift store or hand made outfits. I went to public school and got lucky that I got into the gifted program and everything that had to be bought for school was begrudged. I wasn’t taught how to mange money, act in a office or shown any kind of behavior that would help me later beyond doing my own laundry and cooking. They never said for my college and barely contributed only because family members guilted them into it. Even then they were very clear that it was only for the first year and then I was on my own with school. They gave me no help with finical aid and the FASFA. They wouldn’t even give me the tax records for me to fill it out in my second year so I couldn’t afford to keep going.

    Just go to show, it might be more parental attitudes about their kids than just the income level the parents are at.

    1. ANB*

      Wow. This experience seems to have left you with a lot of resentment.

      Just some alternative perspective: – As for ‘professionals’ having more time to spend with their children than ‘non-professionals’ I’m not sure that’s a direct correlation – My professional industry Mother often had to work early and late where as my non-pro/blue collar father didn’t.
      – Also ‘fancy wardrobes’ might have been necessary and work related dependant on their industries and the need to impress and meet certain standards.
      – Also the fact you went to public school shouldn’t hold you back as proved by other people who have also posted in this thread.

      For my own perspective/history: Personally I chose not to go to university (even though I had the funds if I wanted them) as I didn’t have a direct path I wanted to take. I’m now in the same career path as a lot of my friends who did spend time at university and no worse off than them (In fact better off as a lot of my money isn’t going on school payments). My mother became a professional through night school rather than a university path. My father did do school and failed to find a professional path afterwards.

      1. LadyTL*

        Exactly what attitude would you expect out of someone watching their parents buy themselves fancy clothes and dinners out, new computers and new cars every few years while saying there wasn’t enough to get you new clothes even from wal-mart once a year or even every other year and constantly complaining about how much you cost them to feed? My mother paid for herself to go to college twice, once for accounting and again for paralegal but claimed there wasn’t enough to even help me go to community college. Am I supposed to be all happy about seeing my parents care more about themselves then their daughter?

        Also there is levels of fancy, working in the office most of the time does not require suits that cost hundreds of dollars, custom shoes or over $1000 spent on a wardrobe each year. Yes my parents have both bragged about this to me.

        Also this is a comments about priveldge, pointing out my parents could have paid for private school and didn’t is relevant to point out there is exceptions.

  85. pgb*

    In a sea of comments, I throw in my own because this topic is so poignant for me! I’m an attorney and I grew up in one of the poorest communities in NYC (not too many people end up in college who come from there, save graduate school). My mother has worked for the same employer for my entire life, and has mostly worked in a customer service role (not as management, either – the same low level position for most of my life). I saw and felt the difference while in law school between me and my peers who were more “advantaged” either because of socioeconomic affluence or because their parents were also highly educated (these factors tended to be paired, but not always). I pushed through like any other law student, took the bar exam a couple of times before I passed – and statistically speaking, those with my background tend to have higher failure rates on the bar exam (at least in NY). Passed it… and find myself working as an attorney (thankful to be employed, I’ll note!) but in the kind of position that could lead to the same kind of complacency and lack of achievement exhibited by my mother. That dawned on me recently and it scared me a little. It has taken/still is taking a LOT of mental work to move beyond the image of adulthood I grew up with. Nothing wrong with working a menial 9-5 and getting a regular paycheck – it pays bills, keeps food on the table – but I know that my career is to be something more than a safety net and hefty loan repayments. I am meant to do amazing things with my life – in my career – and moving upward means creating a vision of my life that is different than what I saw growing up. It’s takes work and commitment and faith… I think growing up with a particular “advantaged” view of adulthood makes it easier to be a high-achiever.

    Your vision of your life definitely matters and what you see as a child influences that vision.

    1. pgb*

      I’ll also add that while I saw my mother work that same low-level job for so many years, I also saw her work very hard and with a lot of dedication at that position. I also saw her hustle with other projects and acts of service…I know these things definitely influenced my choice to become an attorney and my drive to make it to college/law school and beyond despite the circumstances of my upbringing.

    2. Natalie*

      If you are employed as an attorney in this market, you are head a shoulders above a number of your classmates!

      I want to point something out, not to be snarky, but because I was genuinely confused:

      “not too many people end up in college who come from there, save graduate school”

      In this context, “save” means “except for”. I think you meant “much less graduate school” or “let alone graduate school”.

      1. pgb*

        You’re right about both! I saw my mistake afterwards regarding the “save for.” I always appreciate grammar/idiom checks. :) And yes, very blessed to be employed in this market.

  86. HH*

    Wow all these stories are impressive and so interesting! Thanks for launching that topic.

    I don’t have much to add, I guess. I’m also one of the first in my family to have achieved long studies, and I remember that from junior high school I pretty much had to navigate the education system by myself – which, in France, ain’t too easy with all the choices one has to make from a young age.

    I was lucky that money wasn’t too much an issue (even though they are 1st generation immigrants, my parents are pretty successful entrepreneurs, although not in a office setting, and they worked their a***s off). I was also lucky that I was pretty good at school too. I struggled with cultural issues at first (having been raised in an immigrant family), then cultural issues again (having been raised in a middle-class environment and entering a competitive, elite kind of program in college with more upper class kids that the national average), and today I still feel like I don’t really fit in the kind of environment that my career path will take me in. But I’m learning.

    I also struggled to convince my parents that studying for an engineering degree (in France, it’s a master’s degree), although it takes quite a long time, can be worth it. My father almost ruined it when he decided to throw away all my lecture notes one day, in the middle of the competitive entrance exams to grad school (which last for months), and then yell at me for wasting his money on college education. Oh well.

    Most difficult for me right now is small details like how to behave at a networking or any kind of professional or polished event, and what to wear in a professional setting. I’m not too bad at small talk (parents were in business after all), but I have confidence issues, due to the fact that I always feel like I’m missing some kind of secret memo about how I’m supposed to behave and such. But that’s overthinking.

    In any case, from my experience and my friends’, I strongly believe that your upbringing, and your childhood experiences, influence you a lot in the workplace. But nothing’s set in stone and you can always learn, although I agree with Ivy’s comment quoted in your post: you may be labeled as someone who didn’t quite belong, and it might hold you back for a while.

  87. Charlie*

    I’m the first woman in my family to go to university. My dad ran his own business (a bar) and my mum was a housewife. I also did postgraduate study ad I did it with bank and student loans. I did have a really good education (my dad thought it was important and mum was bullied at her school and wanted better for us) but although my school expected me to go to uni I seriously doubted myself. I think my friends with professionals for parents had a better idea of what they had to achieve and what to look for. However I am proud I did it though and have been lucky enough to have a great career so far. I may have been the first but I am sure I won’t be the last.

  88. Mike Lewis*

    I grew up with professional parents. I helped my father in the office over weekends so I knew what to expect for my first job.

  89. Anonymous*

    I’m 25, and my husband is 26. We met while attending a private Jesuit university.

    And honestly of all of our friends from college, the friends of ours who have the most successful, professionally recognized parents… ALL LIVE IN THEIR PARENTS HOUSES STILL (or have parents who are renting them apartments in NY City.. and these are 25-27 yr olds I’m talking about). The jobs they have were given to them through their parents connections or are within their parents companies, or their parents are paying for them to go to graduate school (all inclusive of food, living arrangements, spending money— these people have NEVER had a job before. Oh wait, 2 did, but they both quit after 1-2 months because the pay wasn’t adequate for their hard work, ha).

    Neither of my parents have college degrees and I’m young and have lived independently since college. I’ve worked to get where I am, and I think that makes all the difference. I think because my parents wanted the world for me, but could not hand it to me on a silver platter, led them to be really great parents and led me to incredibly driven, hard-working, and focused.

    I honestly think having professional parents allows people to slack in having clear professional aspirations, because they assume success will come to them eventually (and until then, their parents can help them float along) and they do not feel it is something they have to work for (which is completely false). However, if you’ve never really had to work for anything your entire life, I can see why they think this way.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree with what you said. My family is not the most weathy and when I earned the grades to attend a Jesuit University, I never met so many rich, snobby white kids before. I am more of an independent person because of it, and I know aa few of my former college classmates who are without jobs or have jobs b/c of their parents and living at home.

  90. LuckyDog*

    If I can bare my soul…

    My dad was a very successful MD, and mom was the happy homemaker. My dad instilled the notion to us 3 kids that a professional life as an doctor or lawyer is the only way to go through life, but I know neither my sis or bro are very happy with the course they’ve taken (READ were given).

    But he did always say, which contradicted his actions, that if you work at something you love, then it seem as play rather than work, and you’ll enjoy making a living every day.

    Now, dad certainly had the best of intentions, and he treated the three of us to a privileged life that none of my grade school classmates ever did (Public school through 9th grade). But I refused the “professional/academic/scholarly” life and career, dropped out of college (which was stupid, I know) and went to work in restaurants.

    Today, mom is a widow of 2 years. My brother is divorced, no longer practicing medicine and has turned to religion (for all the wrong reasons IMHO). My sister is going through a painful divorce as well, but she really is very level headed and will get through it. I moved 1000 miles away and although I’m not as crazy financially successful as my father, I am VERY happy with my personal and professional life.

    Strangely enough, all my childhood friends – all doctors’ kids – never went into the medical field either. And most are very happy as well.

    I credit my wife – she supported herself through college and grad school with absolutely NO help from her parents. She taught me it’s your character that gets you through life, not what your parents can do for you. I’m sure she gladly would have taken all the perks I was given growing up (who wouldn’t), but in the end, she’ll say someone can give you a road map to life, but YOU have to drive. And she wasn’t given a road map.

    Thanks for letting me ramble on.

  91. Katherine*

    I know I’m a little late to the conversation, but I still think it’s a worthy discussion. My parents divorced when I was very little, and even when remarried, both sides of the family were struggling to make ends meat. None of my 4 parents had college degrees, and they were all blue collar. Yet, what they couldn’t give my sisters and me in monetary gains, they made up for in raising us with values: Work hard. Respect is earned, not given. Help others whenever you can. Manners are important. Respect your elders and your leaders.

    With these values and the push to go to college, my sisters and I became the first in our families to earn degrees and get professional jobs. We certainly weren’t taught the ins and outs of navigating a professional environment, but we were taught manners, courtesy and respect. Now, as a manager myself, those are three basic fundamentals I see missing in several of my employees.

    All that to say, I believe values are far more important than money or background.

  92. PAU*

    Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I have a Bachelor of Social Work and am have been employed in a position that’s a mix of investigator/auditor/mediator/law-enforcement for about 8 years.

    I am 31, and spent the ages of about 6-18 in foster care. My birth family only knew how to navigate the welfare system (and less well), the judicial & child protection systems here in Canada. Although by all accounts bright, my birth mother eventually succumbed to her addictions via suicide over a decade ago (not looking for sympathy, just stating facts).

    My foster family (mom in particular), though supportive enough of me in high school, was not AT ALL supportive of me going to university. A university education was something I decided as a child of about 5- literally- that was necessary to keep me from living the life my birthmother was living at the time. I distinctly remember my foster mother saying “I don’t see why you’re going to university. If you stay at [the window factory], you get a Christmas party, and you can pick out your own gifts, maybe one day, you might even work in the office”. What a career aspiration. No thanks.

    My foster sister tried to discourage me while I was learning how to register for first-year courses by saying her friend tried to take an Intro to Psychology course, and had to drop out, because it was too hard [Seriously? I could have aced that class hungover. What I’m saying is, I did.].

    I have been fortunate to be employee of a government branch that has taken the time to slllowwwly polish me into a professional. I was rough around the edges for years because I simply had no clue about how to be around normal people.

    I carefully chose my life path to avoid becoming like my birth family or my foster family. I believe this will enable my two fantastic daughters, ages 6 and 9, to continue on their own paths of self-actualization. They both already understand that not going to university is not an option. They both understand that they need to find or create a job for themselves that is something they will love to do. I will encourage them every step of the way, all of us knowing that I expect nothing less than their very best effort to lead to fantastic grades in university, and a fulfilling career when they have attained a satisfactory number of degrees [this mom says at least 2 degrees- the kids say ‘but you don’t have two!’- I say ‘just wait until you’re old enough to stay home alone, I’ll have a Master of something in a year!].

    I think that kids growing up in a home where one or both parents are professionals, have a distinct advantage: it’s much easier to behave like a professional and dedicate yourself to education and work if you’ve seen it modelled in your home for your entire life. Those of us who have to learn it on our own are at a disadvantage because overcoming less than desireable behaviours, traits, and coping mechanisms takes a lot of time and holds us back in our careers if we can’t be honest with ourselves and make those changes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wonder a lot about kids in the foster system and what happens after they age out of the system. Thank you for sharing this! You sound pretty impressive.

  93. PAU*

    OMG! AAM said I sound impressive! I can feel my head growing.

    Not professional, I know.

    Thanks so much for your replies. Sometimes I feel like George Costanza when he says ‘You know, if you take everything I’ve done in my life and condense it down to a week- it’s pretty impressive’.

    I have done my best to kill the abuse/substance abuse/sexual exploitation/teen mother/welfare/poverty/violence cycle that has been the story of my birth family’s life ever since the First Nations were colonized up here in Canada.

    I’m so damn far from perfection, but I’m happy to know that the worst issues in my life are about me not eating healthy and my child who bites her nails due to anxiety – both issues we’re working on every day.

    Please know, Alison, that since discovering you through Evil HR Lady, you are one of my top daily reads. Your advice and E-book help me every day at work. You’ve got a life-long reader in me.

  94. Katie*

    There are lots of great thoughts and comments here, and I’m glad AAM has served up this question to all of us. It’s so important that we consider, both socially and economically, where we come from, where that has taken us, and what kind of advantages or disadvantages these circumstances may have granted us. But one crucial factor has been left out of these comments: fear.

    For those who have suffered poverty or economic setbacks, fear can be tangible, terrifying, and persistent. Financial insecurity can drive people to severely devalue their skills, shy away from worthwhile career risks, and set low standards. Fear can make a valuable yet unpaid internship seem like just about the stupidest, lame-brained thing you could do when you could start at $10/hour at In-N-Out. Fear can make you choose a conservative, uninspiring, yet proven career path that will be eliminated in 10 years because of a changing marketplace and new technology. But for the fearer, any of those circumstances are better than finding yourself once again facing homelessness, hunger, or the other hobgoblins of the poor.

    And it can last. I think about my dad, college educated twice over with a highly technical skill set, who regularly did things like deliver pizzas or work at Radio Shack throughout my young life, just because he was terrified he would never find suitable work again (and this attitude, I imagine, severely inhibited his ability to find and keep suitable work). Much like those who survived the depression, he never forgot the sound of the wolves howling at the door, and it’s haunted his career ever since.

    Here’s the tricky part for me, as I’ve inherited much of my father’s anxiety – distinguishing fears that are founded and fears that are not. We’ve had a pretty scary economy since 2008, and the US has increasingly limited intergenerational mobility, as many other posters have discussed. How do we keep from selling ourselves short without flying too close to the sun and melting our wings?

      1. Katie*

        Thanks! I’d definitely be interested in hearing more thoughts on how to approach one’s career strategically based on one’s background. We’ve heard a lot of success stories here, but more practical advice as to how to keep our family history from controlling our career choices would be great for future posts.

  95. Dave*

    I’m going to chime in with a somewhat different point of view.

    Son of the first white-collar generation in my family, my mother died when I was 10, dad remarried four years later. Step-mom resigned her job when she married, ’cause that was what you did then.

    I was smart, with a good memory, and did poorly in school; I now know that it was undiagnosed ADD and borderline/non-diagnosable Asperger’s syndrome. Smart, unable to finish anything, and unable to play politics, that’s me. Oh, and raised Irish Catholic, so I had major inhibitions about discussing things like my feelings with family.

    My father was always disappointed that I didn’t follow his lead and go into finance/commerce (he was a senior something in the Canadian government). My major memory of my father’s work life was him coming home night after night with massive headaches. I really didn’t want that. So a series of menial jobs led to high-tech, then layoffs, then work that I love in an artistic field.

    I realize now that I could have done things differently. However, I’ve got a long-term wonderful life partner, great friends, a paid-for home, and almost enough income to survive. And, I think, an idea for a book!

  96. ChristineH*

    WAY too many comments to read and jump right in (like they say: you snooze, you lose! lol).

    I’ve never really thought about this before, but it’s a good topic. My dad is a well-respected oral surgeon, and my mom was a department store model up until a few years ago. She also helps at my dad’s office from time to time. My dad came from a pretty well-educated family, with physicians being a very common career path. My brother and two sisters are also in good careers. I can’t speak for them, but I think deep down, the success on my dad’s side perhaps influenced our own endeavors. College definitely seemed to be a natural progression from high school for us.

    As I’m writing and thinking about this, I think it’s also a strong contributing factor for me. In addition to the vision limitations, I also had some learning disabilities; yet, I still did well in school, college, and even grad school. I can’t speak of any specific instances that influenced me; I think the value of a good education was instilled in us, and I think my parents just knew the right resources to reach out to in getting help for me. No, I’m not where I’d like to be at this point career-wise, but I have a hunch that I might not have even gotten this far if it weren’t for my upbringing.

    I think there are multiple factors for all of us in answering this question.

    *You could probably tell I was literally formulating my thoughts as I was writing this! LOL, sorry if it made no sense.

  97. Liz*

    This is completely unscientific, and geared toward women (because that is what I am) but personal observation has the work world contrast as:
    – Dressed up, sometimes with a “signature” look v. Very low-key, and prone to saying “I hate heels.”
    – “I was here sooooo late” v. “I work smarter not harder.”
    – Visible makeup and an emphasis on looking pulled together v. Barefaced or fake-barefaced and humble brags about never caring.
    – Prone to punishing behaviors if disappointed v. NEVER displays emotion of any kind, just cuts out and arranges not to deal with anyone who is disliked.
    – Asks questions about money and compliments other people’s possessions v. NEVER mentions money or other people’s things (Not even, I like your outfit – it would be, “Such an unusual pin – does it have sentimental value?”)
    – Brags about work ethic v. Brags about “passions.”
    – Punishes people who attempt to network v. VERY smooth about inserting self into groups.
    – Criticizes people for not knowing things v. Criticizes people for being attention-getting. (Well, really raises eyebrows and avoids rather than criticizes).
    – Brags openly about what they will buy v. Lights up when talking about expensive vacations and experiences but NEVER talks about things.
    – Waits turns v. Assumes entree until actually prevented.
    – Asks permission and gets very into framing requests “respectfully” v. Frames “what I want” as “You should want to give this to me because…”
    – Tattles frequently and expects to be rewarded v. Prizes loyalty and will never openly criticize (might hint or trap target in an awkward position, but not directly).
    – “You have to earn my trust” v. “I don’t take myself seriously.” (But you will never earn trust, really, that’s what childhood friends are for).
    – Women seem most successful when able to compete/pushy/demanding (I’m trying to frame it positively because it is considered a good thing and there is a very distinct personality type that fits it) v. Women seem most successful when reserved, polished, and uber-competent.
    – Women who act “girly” are cute v. Women who act “girly” need to grow up.

    That’s basically just off the top of my head and obviously doesn’t fit everyone’s experience. But I have moved around in a lot of different environments, including some of the most Waspy and some of the most blue collar, so that’s just how it looks to me.

  98. Anonymous*

    I think that having parents with a professional background does help to help their children with the ropes of working in business, particularly in the office. This is not to say that having parents without a professional background does not help. For instance, just hearing about or watching parents at work provides for valuable advice to the children about how to behave or communicate in the “little things” at work.

  99. Micky*

    I think this plays a HUGE part: my parents were a secretary (HS grad) and produce guy at supermarket chain (GED). They were surprised I wanted to go to college (third child, 1st attended major university, 2nd went to work in HS and con’t on, did some community college later on), and tried to bribe me with a car if I went to work, or if I had to, go to community college. Never supportive in my efforts, no one is impressed with my academic/ professional accomplishments, only concerned with the grandkids, none of whom are mine. I always have been and remain the ‘baby’ who knows nothing, even though I hold two Masters degrees, speak a second language and have traveled in Europe and the Middle-East – more than anyone one in even the extended family.

  100. Beth*

    I’m not sure if it is the career that matters, as much as your parent’s understanding of how to save money, and their willingness to work hard.

    My parents work in a grocery store and only have high school degrees. (My father tried going to community college for a bit, but found the math too hard for what he wanted to do). However, they were an example to my sister and I of smart saving and hard work. Even though they weren’t well educated and didn’t do too good in school, my mother home-schooled us for the first few years of our education, leading us to each skip 1-3 grades.

    They never told us we had to go to college (although graduating high school and getting good grades was a must). For a while we didn’t necessarily want to. They were proof that you can work a low-level job and still have plenty.

    I knew I wasn’t going to college unless I got a full scholarship, so I tried my best – and got one. My sister also got scholarships, plus took a year off and worked to save money. Now we both have degrees, and right after graduating, I began working at a museum and my sister began teaching at a community college.

  101. Anon*

    A bit late to the party but I’ve had a very positive outcome from parents who didn’t go to college.

    My parents are determined people who made sure that their kids would get something they never had-a college education, a choice in career and independence. My mom was not allowed to leave the house till she married my dad. My dad’s family was on free school lunches and the kids had to work just to buy basic needs (shampoo, detergent). Both my parents are intelligent but had to self educate (you’d never know that they don’t have college degrees).

    They not only valued education but good manners, independence and healthy assertion. They wanted us to go to college but didn’t pressure us into certain career paths. They both worked in offices enough to know how it worked but they really encouraged us to be seekers of information.

    As a result, I got my own apartment while still in school. I paid for my groceries, learned how to navigate bills, kept a job I didn’t like to maintain my living and learned how to save money. I was able to take a couple of once in a lifetime opportunities because I saved diligently and I also had fun with my friends without spending hundreds of dollars on a party habit. I learned how to budget my cash and my time and I developed both good people skills and survival skills. I also maintained a pretty respectable GPA and took on a challenging minor. In addition, I had two unpaid internships, one for credit, the other at a well known and respected organization where I still have good relationships with my former colleagues. My grandfather, who dropped out of high school due to learning disabilities, cried at my graduation and, though he’s shocked that his young granddaughter is so independent, he’s very proud.

    My partner, whose parents didn’t want him to work in school and who see no problem with giving him a lot of money because they don’t want him eating rice and beans all the time, is just starting to develop those skills. He didn’t know how to get an apartment, doesn’t have any credit (not even loans-his parents didn’t want him taking loans for school). He just got his first part time menial job (we’re both currently applying for full time work and I’m temping) and he’s built up real confidence because of it. It’s sad, my partner’s family pities me a bit because I “had to” work but they don’t see the good it’s given me. The survival skills I developed help me travel alone in an unstable country, enabled me to evaluate people and pushed me to be assertive.

    I don’t think a lot of affluent families did their kids any favors by paying for school completely, encouraging their kids to not work and then just having their kids come home. After a generation of self esteem parenting, coupled by a bad economy, I see a lot of depression and disappointment in a lot of my contemporaries. I think having parents who came from blue collar backgrounds but who entered into the professional world really helped me because I learned what I was made of and had developed some skills that enabled me to function in both environments.

  102. Melissa*

    Neither of my parents or anyone in my family went to college. I’m the first – and to date, still the only – person in my family with a bachelor’s. I recently earned my master’s and am about a year away from my PhD right now.

    I can definitely see how it matters, especially because currently I’m earning my PhD at an Ivy League school and I work with undergraduates, 50% of whom don’t get any financial aid (which means their families have a combined income of $180K or more). When I was applying to college, my parents were ambivalent – they were happy I had made the choice to go, but it definitely wasn’t a default choice or anything, more like a curiosity. I was completely on my own in finding out about schools and money and scholarships – and in paying for it. My parents certainly didn’t see the point of paying for what they considered an adult’s education; for all they thought, my formal education was finished, and anything after that was my choice, my dime. So I couldn’t apply for schools like Harvard or Wellesley because this was in the days before you got an automatic no-loan package if you made underneath a certain amount (which my parents were under). I applied only to schools where I knew I could get a large merit scholarship or where I could completely cover the cost with federal loans – so my state’s public schools and some liberal arts colleges in the middle of the top 100. And that was only because I was a top student who graduated in the top 5% of my class, had high SAT scores, and came from an underrepresented group. I ended up getting a full merit scholarship to a great LAC, and I loved it, but I sometimes wonder how different my experience would’ve been if I could’ve attended Wellesley or Mount Holyoke instead of the college I went to.

    And from a professional standpoint, my parents think I can do literally anything because I have an MA and soon enough, a PhD. I remember after my first year in graduate school, my mother asked me if I was coming home for the summer. They don’t understand my research, and they definitely don’t understand the vagaries of the academic market. But even if I decided to take a non-academic job…like I said, they think I can do *anything*. I once asked my mom if she thought I could be a hospital administrator with my PhD in public health and she said totally yes. I later found out that without an actual administration degree that was actually probably inaccurate. And my dad keeps pressuring me to drop out of my PhD program, saying that I could become a high school principal with my MA in public health. Um…even if I wanted to be a principal, no! They think that having an advanced degree is a magic ticket to a guaranteed job and a high salary.

    There are some positives, though. My working-class background taught me an industrious spirit and not to expect too much, honestly. When I first started my PhD at $30K I was just thrilled with little things like being able to replace things before they ran out and eating out occasionally. When I decided I needed more money, I worked – I was working two additional jobs at one point. When I was growing up most of the adults around me (including my parents) were working 2 or 3 jobs, so that didn’t seem odd or different to me. And although most PhD candidates moan about the low pay of assistant professors, the idea of making $50-60K in my first job (even after spending 6 years getting the PhD) is great to me. My dad makes that now, after 30 years in his career.

  103. mel*

    I’m sure privilege can shape a person in all sorts of ways. I don’t really know what category my parents would fit in (I didn’t really know what they did at work and they never talked much). My mom was some kind of secretary, but she also measured a LOT of roofing plans. I imagine that the latter was something she took on herself. She took home a lot of work and stuck with that job for a very long time.

    My stepdad was unemployed for a long while until he took up a trade. He would definitely be considered the “rough around the edges” type. Not so good with people. He was out of the house a lot which I considered a blessing, heh.

    Me. I have the lowest rung jobs possible with a high tolerence of crap. The retail job offered me “promotions” but I never wanted them because I hated retail.
    My current kitchen job gave me fake promotions (saying I’m promoted, training me, then dumping me down again with some excuse – first time they couldn’t replace me, second time – they needed to give my job to a forced hire they imported from overseas). I’m still at this one and mostly hate it.

    And I guess that’s pretty much it. I finished a pastry arts program to find out it only gets me another bottom rung job so that was kind of pointless. I’d love a simple clerical job – even if it’s only data entry – because I feel like I’d be really good at it. But they don’t want food service workers, that’s for sure.

  104. Anonymous*

    Super-late comment – but I just happened across this thread while searching on this blog for advice (again)!

    My parents were upper middle-class professionals in their home country, but got stuck in menial jobs after they immigrated. So when I applied to university, they had no idea what a 99th percentile SAT meant, and told me not to respond to the notices from Harvard, Yale, etc. because there was no way we could ever afford it even if I got in. They also didn’t discuss the career ramifications of any particular major, co-op v.s. non-co-op, or any particular school…so I sort of fell into the cheapest option.

    Growing up, all my conversations with adults at meals were over chopsticks, not in English, and rather limited, especially since my parents’ friends are all immigrants from their home country. So when I started law school, I had to figure out dining etiquette (e.g. where the napkin goes, how to hold a wine flask, how to eat the bread), how to pronounce menu items, how to dress for a nice restaurant, and how to make small talk with non-peers.

    On every internship, I had to figure out office politics, dress codes (yes – they vary from country to country more than you might think), and try my best to avoid mispronouncing words. My parents didn’t speak English at home, and people in their teens and 20s don’t exactly use sophisticated vocabulary with their peers – so I only learned how to pronounce certain words (the meanings of which I knew from reading on my own) after hearing my boss or a professor.

    Now that I’m job-hunting, I have to figure out cover letters and get over my aversion to networking…

    I love my parents, but I’m extremely grateful for blogs like this one!

  105. Anon*

    Also a super late comment, just discovered this thread and its awesomeness (and I’ll admit I didn’t read through everything above so this may have already been said). I think there’s something to be said for the disadvantage of an advantaged background as well, especially when it comes to expectations.

    My parents are both college educated (as am I) and hold graduate degrees. I grew up with a good educational foundation and the assumption that I would attend college. I’m currently working in an office with people and a mission that I love but a job I hate. I’m planning to leave my job sometime soon and become a farmer, something that I never would have thought I wanted to do until I had an internship a few years ago.

    It’s been a long and difficult process for me to come to terms with the fact that it’s OK for me to take my college educated brain and go do something that has very little to do with what I studied. My parents don’t support my choice and when I chose to take my current job to save some money for a while my parents were hugely relived. When I finally decided I was wasting my time thinking about graduate school and asked my (generally extremely supportive and wonderful) girlfriend if she’d judge me for that her first instinct was to say “yes”, because education is just seen as that valuable.

    Point being, for people who learn differently or who can’t function as well in an office setting coming from an educated background can cause challenges as well. (Also I do value my college degree – I learned a LOT, but I don’t value the 20k+ I have in loans enough to justify it)

Comments are closed.