We want to make sure our kids have opportunities in life. We want to make sure that they’re not excluded or kept out. We work hard—try to make money, try to invest, try to get ahead in our careers and life so our kids can have a head start.
But sometimes, for all this hustle and ambition, we neglect one of the easiest ways to help them get ahead. As Doris Kearns Goodwin writes, Theodore Roosevelt certainly came from a privileged family. They were rich, they were social elites, they had a mansion in Manhattan. Yet his main advantage, she says, was actually pretty simple:
Few young children read as broadly or had such access to books as young Roosevelt. He had only to pick a volume on the shelves of the vast library in his family’s home or express interest in a particular book and it would magically materialize. During one family vacation Teedie proudly reported that he and his younger brother and sister, Elliot and Corinne, had devoured fifty novels! Thee [TR’s father] read aloud to his children in the evenings after dinner… Above all he sought to impact didactic principles of duty, ethics, and morality through stories, fables, and maxims.
So yeah, it would be wonderful to be able to hand your kids a famous last name, a legacy admission to Harvard, or a trust fund, but that is difficult to do. What you can do—must do—is give them access to a library. To unlimited amounts of books. Bring them up in a house that, if without a rich heritage of fame or noble lineage—is at least rich in a love of reading.
The best thing we can do is pass them those didactic principles: the ability to learn, to have a sense of duty, a clear understanding of right and wrong. It doesn’t matter what we do for a living, we can all afford to give them access to books and to allow them to read widely. And in doing that, we’ll be giving them a far greater head start than many much richer and more powerful parents are giving to their kids.