I ended last week’s post with a question about the responsibility of parents to provide the resources necessary for their children’s success, particularly schooling. Having spent a significant amount of time volunteering in the public school systems of both Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, I have first-hand knowledge of the deficiencies of urban public education. The private alternative for elementary, middle and high schools can easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, before taking into account the skyrocketing cost of college and graduate school. Even with significant financial aid, the private alternative is therefore essentially out of reach for the vast majority of families.

Fortunately, caring, attentive parents can supply an educational environment as rich and nourishing as a private school – but only if the parents devote the time necessary for that care and attention. However, family therapist and author David Cole cautions moderation in that regard: “By killing ourselves to provide a perfect, trauma-free childhood for our children, we’re wasting our energy. The greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself.” Perhaps the second greatest gift is to work in a fulfilling, but not all-consuming, career. A job that consumes so much time and energy that it interferes significantly with spouse and family time needs to be reexamined.

That is not to say that material abundance is unimportant to a child’s intellectual growth: it can provide such vital educational tools as computers and travel, each of which open’s children’s eyes to a wider world than their own. But research tends to suggest that once a family’s income rises to between$80 K and $100K (depending on geographic location and family size) there is little gain in educational attainment at income rises. For example, according to an article published August 27, 2009 in the New York Times, math and reading SAT scores are only 5% higher for a family earning $160K – $200K versus a family earning half of that.

I was struck recently by a dialogue in the Oscar nominated picture “Up In The Air” between George Clooney and a long-time employee (played by J.K. Simmons) whom he has just fired. Simmons admits to having hated his job for many years, but bemoans the fact that his son will no longer be able to take pride in his father, who feels disgraced. Clooney, who has investigated the employee’s past, asks rhetorically whether the son might not respect his father more for pursuing his life-long dream to be a chef. If you are working primarily for the benefit of your children, think again – you may not be perceiving your child’s best interest as accurately as you think. Certainly you would want your children to pursue careers from which they could derive satisfaction and accomplishment. Take a close look at yours and make sure it fits that bill at least to some degree.