Old Money: In Their Own Words

I grew up in the Middleburg, Virginia, area and now live and work in DC. Given that it’s the nation’s capital, I see tourists every weekend from every part of the country. The parents and their children are pretty obvious giveaways, to me, anyway. They’ve either taken the time to raise their children or they haven’t.

When you ask me what the defining characteristic of old money is, that’s what I think of. Not the low key behavior or style of clothing, which of course you mostly always get, and the college education that’s a part of each generation. Those are taken for granted, I think.

Of course an affluent family has the option of the mother not working in a job when the child is born and when it’s growing up. This gives bonding time, I believe, and gives the child a sense of security that someone’s there to answer questions, calm fears, and create trust.

The child that gets this is okay more often, and I’m just speaking from my personal experience. If my parents had a conversation between themselves when I was a child, I didn’t feel left out or abandoned because I had quality time spent with me. I was fine with a book or drawing. My questions were answered and my parents required me to participate in conversations when adults were around.

In DC, I see parents who haven’t spent time with their children and the children just act out now because they’re starved for attention. They’ve also been exposed to a lot of television and internet content that’s told them how to behave, what’s important, and what they should buy.

The parents are on their own phones much of the time and a real divide is driven, isolation almost. And nobody’s happy.

The way I was raised, my father didn’t care what was popular, what my friends were doing, or what I just “had to have” in the way of stuff. Before he gave me a horse, I had to spend a summer at the stables taking care of a neighbor’s horse. I got paid, just barely, and money wasn’t even the point. I loved it, and I did it, so I got the horse, but only after he knew I’d take care of it.

He was hard core and a little distant, but my mother was really involved, from reading lists to French, to how I was dressed and who I was hanging out with. They’re their own people with their own rules, their own marriage, and their own issues but I never had any doubt I was loved and that I could be okay telling them anything.

My dad traveled a lot, but if I had a meet or recital and he missed it, he was on the phone that same night asking me how it went. If it was public or competitive, he was there. The private, woman’s stuff was more mother’s domain.

There’s just no substitute for time with parents and children. I can still remember my dad sitting in his armchair with his feet up, reading, and I’d go in, grab a book off the shelf and lie down on the floor and read, too. We wouldn’t say anything for an hour or maybe more. Then I’d get up to leave and he’d reach his hand out and I’d hug his neck. And everything was okay.

If parents aren’t okay with themselves then how can they give everything that a child needs? I don’t put it down to technology with cell phones and the internet as much as other people do. I put it down to psychology. Are you okay with yourself and can you set yourself to one side so you can pay attention and invest in this little creature you brought into the world?

My mother’s family has been in this area for 5 generations now. That helped her have a sense of comfort and a sense of place. So when I came along, she could focus on me. My dad was raised in DC with ambassadors and diplomats, and I think that gave him a perspective of the world that was larger.

So, yes, there’s tweed, loafers, pearls and sweaters, but it’s really how the kids turn out. That’s old money.

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20 thoughts on “Old Money: In Their Own Words

  1. Mr. Tully,
    Your thoughts here are lovely. We enjoy your work and are delighted with the centering and focus your writing is able to provide. Thank you.
    We are curious:
    We happily use inherited table linens, bathroom towels, and flannel robes, but will need to supplement for our growing family. Any recommendations for purchasing these types of household goods/quality products made from natural fabrics? Also, any ideas about integrating new products into a heritage collection of pieces no longer available?
    We are having difficulty finding products that hold up as well as the older versions, in terms of comfort, durability, etc.
    Many thanks and best wishes!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Rachel. My suggestion is to search vintage stores and flea markets for old table cloths and napkins. Three reasons: first, the quality endures; second, many times the items have been used rarely, if at all; and third, the price to acquire them if often minimal.

      A story: when we lived in the states, we would occasionally attend a dinner party held by a slightly eccentric friend. She would purchase vintage cotton napkins that were monogrammed…but not with her initials. Then she’d have a contest at the dinner table, asking each guest to come up with the best fictitious ‘name’ that matched the initials on the napkins. Great fun. Then she’d instruct each dinner guest to take their napkin home with them and bring it back the next time they came for dinner. Great fun.

      – BGT

  2. Re Amy, My mother was known to frequently comment that TV rots your brain! She severely limited our allocated viewing time.

    I find this contribution particularly poignant in connection with your previous post on awareness. I am currently raising 3 young children and we are fortunate that I am able to stay home with them. I had recently commented to my husband that our children do better when I am fully present in the moment. My example was, we went to a sit-down restaurant with my grandfather for lunch and my older two children ages 3&1/2 and 1&1/2 were well-behaved until I unfortunately answered a phone call from my sister… during the 30 seconds it took to inform her I would call her back they left their seats and generally ignored my grandfather correcting their behavior. Prior to that I had not been doing anything in particular to encourage their cooperation with civilization, but my in attention allowed them to throw themselves into the ring. A minute later had them successfully corralled, but I have resolved not to allow myself to become distracted in such a way again. In hindsight, taking the phone call while at lunch is quite rude, but even more importantly checking out from the present moment is detrimental to our relationships and to the growth of my children.

    I don’t always comment, but I do read every post. Thank you for maintaining this blog, Byron.

    – Kathleen

    1. Thank you, Kathleen. And ‘bon courage’ as they say here in Paris. I have heard expats here talk about a book ‘Bringing Up Bebe’ about a woman who came to live here, married a Frenchman, and raised her child here. I have not read it, but apparently her experiences with French parents and their children were enlightening. A different way of doing it. – BGT

  3. Just love the comments here Byron. My wife stays home with our two little ones. Some coworkers make nasty comments, but I know it’s because they wish they could afford such a luxury. My children are admittedly not the most well behaved, (for now anyway they are toddlers) but they are the most loving of children. My grandmother stayed home to raise her kids, so did my mother and my wife is continuing the tradition. My wife did not have this luxury and still recounts her daily sadness. I may be old fashioned, I may be conceited on this issue, but I firmly believe that children need parents and not strangers to raise them. If you think it’s too expensive it is… but only to a point. A graduate degree and a frugal lifestyle generally make it work. A helping hand from the elders goes a long way too.

  4. Wonderfully said and I agree. Home-makers are the missing element in the world as we know it. My wife also stayed home to raise our four children and it didn’t seem like a luxury then, but wow has it paid massive dividends. More gratitude should be given to the stay at home mentor’s of the world (that are teaching the principles of love, gratefulness, and gratitude) as they truly are the bridge to get to where we need to go as a people.

  5. I love this blog entry. I’m an older Dad and I love spending time with my 10 year old. Though I had to breakdown and get cable/internet since the antenna couldn’t pull in any channels; we still emphasis reading. My son and I will read in the front room and talk about the books we read. I highly recommend The New York Review of books, book clubs for both children and adults. No screen can replace swimming at the beach or tossing a football in the crisp autumn air. Last year to my surprise he took on a little job at school where he cleared cafeteria tables and he told me it’s hard work and I feel like I’m serving others but I enjoy it. I thought mission accomplished humility and a work ethic.

  6. This is very well put. I think it was Jackie Kennedy who said that if one makes a mess of raising one’s own children, then it really doesn’t matter what else one excelled at.

  7. We have one television and it is tucked away upstairs, we watch it very rarely. I gave up my career to stay home with him and I believe it was the right decision. He is an amazing young man! He is polite, respectful, warm, caring, and very hard working. He prefers his books and home over going out, he does not “party” as they say.

    He has a year left in college and plans to go into Government service once done. I’m glad I stayed home with him, it was some of the best years of my life. We love to travel and were able to travel all over the world, Italy was a favorite! Seeing him walk through Pompeii carrying Charley bear is one of my favorite memories! Ahhhh what a life!
    Thank you again for a fantastic post!
    Jane Keller

  8. I was born in the mid 60’s and raised by frugal, conservative parents. Mom stayed home with me and my younger brother, dad went to work. We were taught things, we had fun, and were disciplined when necessary.
    We didn’t have lavish vacations or tons of “things,” but we had quality time and learned what’s important. Today’s style of parenting with some of the parents I’ve seen, is that they overindulge the children to the point where they become bratty and entitled. The parents seem to be trying to make up for, or replace, something they did not have as children. I always enjoy seeing a nice family with polite, well-behaved children. At 100 yards, you can spot parents who have taken the time to raise their children properly.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Holly. That is the trick in parenting: to make sure you pass on not just what you didn’t have as a child, but also what you did have. It’s just the investment of time, like you say. Good for you. – BGT

  9. Beautifully said, and as a new-ish first time mother, I appreciate and enjoy these words. Well done, and thank you for the insight.

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