You’ve been working hard for years to get where you are today. You remember all the sweat and tears that went into every single promotion and each salary bump. The ensuing praise from your colleagues and the cheers from friends made each step up the career ladder more glorious. Your family, too, has been proud of your success. Except, with each new salary grade you reach, you’ve noticed something else. The hoorahsstart fading from those around you. Your own feelings become muddled as you reflect on how much you can spend, compared to those in your circle and in your family.
Then, the day comes when you realize something you hadn’t given much thought to before. You now earn more than your parents. And what follows is, well, a complicated cocktail of emotions.
Making more money than your parents can elicit a wide range of feelings. Maybe you’re proud of your achievements, but you also feel a certain sense of guilt, responsibility and even embarrassment about the situation. It’s not easy, but the mixed feelings about making more money than your parents is perfectly normal. To better understand how complex the situation can be, we reached out to mental health experts for their take on how to handle making more money than your parents. Here’s what you need to know.
Understand the basic emotions you might feel
Guilt is probably one of the main things that people would feel in this situation, the mental health experts Girlboss spoke to explained. Consider, for instance, how the lifestyles between an upper-middle and a lower-middle-class person can be so different. This can be especially difficult to wrap your head around in day-to-day life matters when you make more money than your parents. “A person could feel very confused and almost alienated when they go back home because they spend on a shampoo what their parents might have spent on a food for a couple days,” Justin Shubert, clinical psychologist and founder of Silver Lake Psychotherapy, said.
You might also feel embarrassment about how much you spend on something. Or, you might feel like you need to explain to your richer friends that your family’s background and income levels aren’t as… robust as yours are. When you’re unsure how to process the complicated emotions around the differences in income can also lead to secrecy, Rebekah Tayebi, a clinical therapist and family coach explained. “[There’s] this desire to kind of dance around something and hold back, or wanting to hold back rather than share,” she said.
Pay attention to how your family raised you
So much of it depends, too, on how your family positioned you or how your family deals with class and class differences. “If you come from a family that always put down rich people and then all of a sudden you’re one of those people, I think that you can feel undermined, you can feel ashamed, and you may try to minimize your success when you’re around them and maybe even when you’re not around them,” Shubert said.
Vulnerability can help elicit compassion
It’s one thing to recognize that you might be experiencing some complicated emotions about making more money than your parents. It’s another thing to keep those realizations to yourself. Let your family and inner circle know how difficult it is for your process these feelings. You’re unsure how to react, how much to share, when it’s OK to pick up the tab, and so much more. When you open up that conversation, your vulnerability can elicit compassion. People don’t know what you’re going through until you let them know.
Talk to others who have a shared experience
The big takeaway, though, is finding a way to connect with others who’ve experienced a similar situation. That might mean connecting with another first-generation friend. It might mean seeking the counsel and confidence of somebody you trust who maybe has jumped in class and is experiencing what you’re going through. Having someone who understands, just so you don’t feel so alone can help improve your mood by reminding you you’re not alone.
Set boundaries to help you process your emotions
It’s also important to understand who your parents are and what relationships you have with them, Tayebi said. Ask yourself, she advises, “How do you continue to kind of take care of yourself and honor the place that you’re at?”
“[Doing so], I think requires a lot of reflection and communication and just understanding for your family’s culture and the other cultural mores that go into money and the ways we take care of each other,” Tayebi said. You’ll gain clarity when you understand the cultural practices and history behind money, along with the expectations placed on individuals and communities.
Embrace quiet moments
Realize, too, that his is one of those things for you to really be reflective with. “I don’t know that there are easy fixes for this,” Shubert said. “These are hard feelings that you got to kind of tolerate, try to acknowledge, understand, work through, pretty much just be with.”
Take a moment, instead, to sit and simply be without allowing the pressures of what you should or shouldn’t be doing. Then, when you’re ready to approach the subject anew, you can come at it from a clearer vantage point.