On one of the last days of our trip to Thailand, Tom turned to me and asked, “Mum are we rich and famous?” My gut response was something like, “OMG! Where on earth did you hear that?” (turns out it was his cousins), and then “Holy s**t (stomach flipping over)! How do I respond to this!?”
So I sat down to give my 6-year-old the lay of the land, feeling slightly unsettled and so I decided to deal with it in the simplest terms I could. “No, mummy and daddy aren’t famous, but you know how Auntie Nadia is really famous (sorry Nads, good luck explaining this one day!), sometimes people recognise us because of the businesses we’ve built.”. This seemed to briefly satisfy Tom, who then turned back around with the (and I should’ve seen this one coming!), “then, why would people say that?”.
So, I told him the truth; “there are lots of really famous people in the world – think of the Queen, for example! That’s real fame. We’re not famous – it’s more that people might recognise us because they buy My Food Bag or have heard of one of our businesses. After all, New Zealand is a pretty small country!”
Fame – or infamy – for me, is a very difficult thing. I simply don’t like the idea of people feeling as if they know someone based on their public persona. One of my current pet-peeves is the amount of hate/dislike people have for Meghan the Duchess of Sussex (formerly Markle); I just find it embarrassing that people claim to not like her, solely based on media reports, but not having actually met her (note, I definitely make exceptions to this rule to accommodate for the Trumps and Hitlers of this world).
I think that fame quite possibly has one of the highest prices one could possibly pay as an individual, and while it all might seem great on the surface, you’ve got to be clear on the benefits and how meaningful they are to you. I told Tom, “ yes, it’s true people may recognise us, but that doesn’t mean they know us, in particular not who we are on the inside.”
In terms of the “rich” comment, I was pretty stunned. On the one hand I was happy that we’d achieved not having Tom feel different; we have done our best to provide him with a grounded and steady footing among his peers. OK yes, I’m not going to pretend he doesn’t get a ride to school in a Tesla (but where we live there are lots of nice cars), and it doesn’t define who he is.
So, I told him truthfully, “Mummy and daddy have worked incredibly hard and taken a huge amount of risk for many years, and for that reason, we’re lucky enough to have financial freedom. But, Tom, with financial freedom and privilege comes huge responsibility.” We talked for a long time, I then asked Tom to promise to always contribute to society, to be a good citizen and never take his privileges for granted. The rest of our night was spent talking about how we’d make the world a better place for everyone, and how that’s our real job as citizens of the world.
At bedtime, Tom looked at me, wide-eyed, and closed with, “I’m glad I’m not famous, mummy, think how embarrassing it would be if someone cared about me picking my nose! And I promise that when I start a business I will always do good”. Boom. Kid gold!