Privileges Earned

I didn’t grow up privileged. We didn’t have a lot. My family immigrated to Canada from Chile when I was 3, leaving behind a country taken over by a military dictatorship. We had little; we weren’t impoverished but we came empty-handed. We rented a tiny furnished apartment on Décarie in Montréal, arriving to the shock of freezing December temperatures. My mom bought my older brother and me snowsuits from a thrift store and fed us Oscar Meyer sandwich meat. The snowsuits gave us lice and she chopped our hair off. I don’t have a memory of it but I’ve seen the pictures of me looking like a little boy, and I do remember raiding the fridge with my brother so we could bite circle shapes out of processed bologna to look like a face, and having such giggles. Years later, when I moved back to Chile, a country rich with fresh fruit & vegetables, meat and seafood affordable to all, I realized how hard it must have been for my mom to feed us food that came in wrappers, boxes or cans.

My dad went off to work every day at SNC Lavalin and my mother, in her mid-twenties with 3 children under 5 (my younger brother was an infant) found ways to entertain us, none of us in school yet, in a new country where she didn’t speak either of the languages, having left behind all her friends and family. Not the future she’d envisioned for herself when she received her degree in Biology, no doubt.

But she learned English. We had a tv set and she started watching soap operas. We often kid around that the first phrase she learned in English was, “You slept with my husband!” – ironic, and the topic for another post. She got herself a sewing machine, and made us clothes. She knitted us sweaters. She sewed me a Holly Hobby doll, and I was so confused when I got it from Santa at Christmas, because I’d seen her making it. I think she told me something like Santa asked her to make it for me because he was understaffed, a perfectly reasonable explanation for me.

One of our jokes is that when we were little, we’d get a sock at Christmas, and the other on our birthdays. It was never quite that bad of course, and you have to know that in our family, we use humour as a solution for everything. This great country allowed my parents to give us a comfortable life, but it was never indulgent, and my brothers and I have never taken anything for granted, never felt entitled, know the value of a dollar, and don’t have anything we didn’t earn for ourselves.

I ended up marrying a man who grew up with everything, in a very privileged house, with trampolines, swimming pools, a motorbike when he turned 12, a car on his 16th birthday, you know – like that. This boy held out his hand growing up and got whatever he wanted. All he had to do to get it was want it. When I once asked him how he couldn’t consider himself indulged growing up, citing the car on his 16th birthday, he said, “excuse ME, it was USED”. Yeah. It’s not a competition for who had it harder, what a sad reason for a competition. But it illustrates our differences, and neither of us has a real comprehension of how the other grew up.

I feel like this post should be a 2-parter but I’ll wrap it up today.

We had 2 beautiful children, and you can imagine we have differing opinions on how they should be raised. This is made all the harder now that they’re raised in 2 separate households, with different sets of values. I want to scream when the kids come home with new toys every time they come back home after being with him, adding to the pile of neglected gadgets and plastic. I had my frigging Holly Hobby doll for years and never tired of it. I want my children to have what I didn’t have, but I want to raise them to be respectful and grateful. The kids and I sponsor 2 children, a boy and a girl my kids’ ages, in Africa. When I try to tell the kids about them, they try to wrap their brains around it but can’t. When they ask me for things I make deals with them; if they bring home a good report card, if they do all their chores, if they behave, etc., I’ll ask them for a list for their birthdays and they can choose their favorite item from it. Make them wait, make them want it, make them earn it and treasure it. They always get it from their dad though, and mom’s way requires too much effort.

These kids are not spoiled brats, they’re sweet and well-mannered but do not know which way is up sometimes. They spend 2 weeknights a week with their father and are confused when they can stock up on everything they wish for at his house, and come home to be told, “do your homework, wash your hands, get ready for dinner. Elbows off the table, eat with your mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full”. Always the bad guy.

This post is inspired by my little girl asking me for a new game for her Nintendo DS. I just got her a Hello Kitty doll last week for her perfect report card – I ask why she wants something new when she just got a new special toy that just last week she couldn’t live without. Answer: it’s boring! She’s all right with me saying no, because after all she’ll ask her dad for it when she sees him. And she’ll get it. And she’ll be bored with it in a week, ask for something else, and get it…do you think it will make a difference if I tell her I used to play with bologna slices and had lice as a kid?

I’ve got faith that these bright kids will learn the right lessons eventually, though. I have to! Maybe, in the words of my mother, “when they have kids of their own”. But I fervently hope it doesn’t take that long.



  1. Great post Veronica. What’s really important in life is so clouded with materialism and the pursuit of a fat portfolio.

    Great that you’re teaching values. I had toyed with the idea of bringing my daughter to do some volunteering at a soup kitchen maybe around christmas. Not sure, I might wait another year.

    Kids do get sick of stuff fast…. when I think back to my youth and look at my daughter, I have to think that helping a child develop their imagination must somehow involve letting them work out their “boredom”.

    I really agree with smalrus too, the ability to say no surely lacks in many parents.


  2. Here here! I think it also goes beyond the indulgence aspect of things — I think it also goes into the wanting also. I grew up more along the lines of you, and I think parental obligations seem to inform the way we’re raised toward materialism. For me, I watched a lot of television and what I always wanted, my parents couldn’t afford. It’s probably part of the reason I find what I’m doing now so interesting — I want to know how I was manipulated.

    But those values we’re raised with, I think they probably shape how we raise our own kids. When we have kids in a couple of years, I’d see myself doing similarly. It’s unfortunate that how you’re looking to parent is being undermined in terms of privilege.

    The ability to say “no” — a quality that seems to be lacking in many parents today.


  3. Good on ya mate! Great blog. Great values. Great gal.


  4. Don Marco del Zorro says:

    Eres increible!
    Tienes novio? Donde trabajas? Que opinas de Pinochet? Cual es tu color preferido?
    PS: escribes muy bien, Chilena.


  5. I very much admire your efforts to instill the right values in your children. I was raised in much the same way and I appreciate my parents much more now than I did as a kid who was denied things because of expense.


  6. You guys, thanks for taking the time to read this and for your comments. I sincerely appreciate it! I’m glad that someone gets where I’m coming from!


  7. Hey it’s Me Rob…a.k.a. @robertptome.
    Just wanted to say that this was afected me very much because my parents raised me the same way that you are trying to raise your own kids.
    I also lived the first few years of my life the way you did, my parents having arived here from Venezuela….
    So ya….it went deep within me this post…


  8. That was very heartfelt & genuine. Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself & your family values. I understand where you are coming from & I like your attitude! My parents had raised us to value had work & appreciate what we had too, so we weren’t spoiled rotten like your ex. And I think it worked: my sister & I are responsible adults now!



  1. […] do if we won the lottery (i.e., get a DOG…or two), as well as the virtues and benefits of saying NO to your children (and may have bragged that I am pret-ty good at […]


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