I’m neither a wife nor a mother but I hope to someday be both. Sure there are lots of books and older women to give me advice on how to be good at both of these roles. But sometimes the best way to learn how to do something right is to see how its done oh so wrong.
A lot has been written about the documentary The Queen of Versailles (2012), a film that follows the wealthy David and Jackie Siegel as they start to build the largest single-family private residence in the United States, only to have their livelihood threatened by the Great Recession. They start the film living an opulent lifestyle and end with their homes in foreclosure, their housekeepers and nannies gone and the company in numerous lawsuits. The previously written articles* about the film perfectly sum up the cavalier attitudes of the uber wealthy and the lack of any real world perspective this class of people has. For a look at the selfishness and foolishness that got many individuals, and corporations, into the great decline, this film is superb. It should be required viewing every 7 years or so, just enough time for people to start getting comfortable and lax in judgment once again.
Watching this film as I am on the cusp of really becoming an adult, whatever that means, I came away from this film with another lesson learned. The Queen of Versailles has provided me with some amazing perspective on what it takes to be a strong woman, have a good marriage and raise respectful children.
Jackie’s back-story was the most interesting and layered part of the film. Unsatisfied with the idea of being a receptionist, Jackie became an engineer and worked at IBM until she realized she wanted more from life. Her move from engineer to beauty queen to Mrs. Siegel is fascinating enough for its own film. Here was a woman who was ambitious, intelligent and resourceful. She got out of an abusive first marriage and then met David Siegel. I applaud her drive not to settle and her desire to live life to the fullest. The problem I have with her is how seemingly easy it was for her to shut off her brain and inner motivation once she got married. Following are the lessons I learned from watching her. Thanks for these, Jackie!
Maybe some will say that David Siegel already owned the successful Westgate Resorts when they met so it wasn’t Jackie’s place to get involved. My response to that would be that when you are married your spouse’s job security and success is always your business. Perhaps if she had been an active participant they would not have gotten in such a bad situation or at least had a contingency plan for their family and future.
I can assume right now that I will always have to work. I’m never going to live off someone else’s income. But even if that were to happen someday, you can bet that I would still be involved in how we were investing our money and understanding where our money went each month.
Lesson 2: There Is No Such Thing As Asking Too Many Questions
Jackie not only had no idea how her husband’s company was run but she didn’t know anything about their homes or possessions. She never asked about bills or the day-to-day household issues because she assumed her husband was handling them. Sure, the idea of passing off responsibility to someone else sounds nice. But just because she didn’t know didn’t make her any less responsible. It just made her ill prepared for the reality when it got bad.
I’ll say again that I’m not currently married. However, my boyfriend and I discuss everything that could possible effect our financial future together. Sometimes, I think I go overboard (what with all the spreadsheets and to do lists) but Kevin assures me that he’s glad I’m prepared for every situation. Like my mom always said, “Better to be safe than sorry.” I doubt I will regret that I consider every outcome, positive and negative, before making important decisions.
Lesson 3: Children Should Be Raised To Be Appreciative Not Entitled
Children of wealthy parents somehow always seem to be under the impression they themselves are wealthy. This is false. Giving children that sense of entitlement does not have to come from a place of extreme wealth either. There are plenty of entitled brats in the middle class of this country too. Children should learn to manage their own money and be pleasantly surprised and eternally grateful if their parents do something like buy them a car or pay for college. Neither of which is (surprising to some) mandatory of parents. These are not guarantees.
The most depressing moment in the film comes when Jackie says they will probably not be able to afford college for their children. Their eldest was 16 at the time and money was never a factor in her choice of college. A big financial decision like college tuition should always warrant a conversation, even if it could be paid for in cash.
Lesson 4: Children Can And Should Handle Responsibility
The most disturbing moment in the film comes after all the house staff has been laid off due to lack of money. Jackie’s eight children all have pets and some of animals end up being neglected and die. How is one supposed to know animals need food and water to survive when the maid isn’t there to do it?
My best friend has two of the most thoughtful and considerate children I know. I believe a big part of that is that they are responsible, even at 7 and 8, for using their own money to buy each other birthday presents. When they ask why they can’t have something at a store, my friend will take out her checkbook and go over the budget with them. They have pets that they are completely responsible for and they understand that their chores are their responsibility, without reminders or punishment if they don’t do them. They should be taking responsibility for their actions without being nagged to do so. I hope I can raise children half as honorably as my friend has.
Lesson 5: Just Because You Can Have Children Doesn’t Mean You Should
At one point in the film Jackie mentions that she just kept having children because she could and they could afford the nannies and to help raise them. After the nannies and cooks and cleaners are gone she realizes that taking care of eight children is a lot of work and time and admits that if she had known she’d have to take care of them herself she wouldn’t have had so many.
I don’t know how many kids I’ll end up parenting. But I can tell you I won’t have any under the assumption that someone else will be taking care of them.
Bonus Lesson: Just Because You Have Money Doesn’t Mean You Have to Spend It
The other part of this lesson would be that just because you want something doesn’t mean you should get/buy it. Imagine how much less debt this country would be in if we all just followed that rule a little more often.
Have any marriage or parenting advice you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it!
Other Articles about The Queen of Versailles
‘The Queen of Versailles’: the best film on the Great Recession
Ezra Klein, The Washington Post
Film Review: The Queen of Versailles
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
‘Queen of Versailles’ Director Lauren Greenfield on the Biggest House in America and the Recession and the Rich
Alyssa Rosenberg, Think Progress