17 People Who Grew Up Poor Share the Unwritten Rules of Their Childhood

The first step to understanding is knowledge, I think, and that’s one reason why, if you’ve never been poor, it’s important to listen to what it’s really like from people who have been there.

When you live in a world without certainty, there’s more to it than constantly worrying about money. Here are 17 other things that, for these people, goes part and parcel with growing up poor.

17. There are plenty of valuable lessons.

Not really a societal expectation, but more of a familial one. I never once knew how closely my family toed the poverty line, thanks to how my parents ran things. My dad, though, he would volunteer me all the time to help friends, family, coworkers in need, if I was able to at all. Never let me ask for a single dollar from them, unless it was explicitly “a job” and for, say, a friend of a friend. I helped his coworker move a handful of times. I cut my elderly neighbor’s grass. I helped so-and-so connect their internet, or a friend of his to replace their carpet.

I had no idea what my old man was fostering in both me and them. When I moved out on my own, his coworker called, offered to help. Showed up with antiques from his late mother as a housewarming gift for my wife and I. The man who’s grass I cut? He passed away, and left me his piano, since he knew I liked to play. The friend with the carpet? Hooked me up with a decent paying job right out of college. The internet-illiterate ones? Solid mechanics, and know my vehicle inside and out.

He was teaching me something so much more than just an exchange of goods and services. These weren’t I.O.U.s coming due. The man knew the value of community and friendship, and just how far people would go for someone else if they just cared, even an ounce.

It bleeds over in my day to day, now, too. I may see someone at the grocery store struggling to find a product, so I take the time to help them out. It costs me only a few minutes, and I may never see them again. Or, I find out the person I helped is the very same one standing behind the counter at the DMV, and makes my time just a little bit shorter as a thanks.

16. Just act like they didn’t exist.

You never brought the field trip permission slips home because you knew better than to make your mom feel guilty she couldn’t pay the $5-20 fee to let you go.

15. They’ll look at you differently.

Never tell your friends that you couldn’t afford food or give them any clue about what it’s like at home. My mother used to ask me if I told anyone how we live and that’s when I started questioning our situation.

14. That’s just sad.

Hide money or it will be “borrowed.” Also, don’t get attached to anything because if it’s any good it’ll be sold in a yard sale, and if it has any value it will be pawned.

I got the same CD player for three Christmases and birthdays in a row…out of pawn for birthday, pawned again a month later, out of pawn for Christmas, pawned again by March, etc.

13. How awful.

I was talking to a friend and she stopped me and said, “you don’t tell people what goes on inside of this house, do you?” No of course not, I lied, because if I’d said yes, she’d manipulate my father into beating my ass within an inch of my life. She pretty much got my father to beat me whenever she wanted it.

12. You don’t get any say on what they spend it on, though.

I am the second of 8 kids of high school dropout parents.

“It doesn’t matter of you don’t like the (food, clothes, shoes, toys etc) take it, say thank you and be appreciative.”

“You can do anything you want, as long as it’s free.”

“You will survive. If someone needs it more, let it go.”

“Never tell anyone you are hungry or need something, it makes you seem weak and needy.”

“The second you become working age, 10+. You will help with bills. You have no choice. Your money is everyone’s money.” Which is fine, until you realize the new tattoo mom has and dads new tv.

11. Other people aren’t kind.

I grew up in a trailer. In fourth grade, a girl was having a birthday party and needed addresses for invitations. The next day she told me her parents uninvited me because I lived in the trailer. That was a new thing I learned I was supposed to be embarrassed about.

I guess just expecting to have to deal with other people’s shitty parents sometimes.

10. Dream in silence.

Keep your aspirations to yourself. Telling anyone in your household/social strata about your plans to get out and do better may be met with bitterness and downright ridicule.

People will call you uppity for wanting to go to school or stupid for having a career goal that isn’t modest and local and vaguely dead-end. People will tell you that you have no common sense simply because you refuse to see the world in terms of pure survival.

9. Parents like this should be ashamed.

I remember other kids parents not wanting me over because I was always hungry. I remember the same parents being upset when I started going to the gifted program with their kids too. Bitch I’m fuckin 9. You’re a doctor. I just want to cut down trees with your son and split a pop tart.

8. How dare you.

I was ridiculed for “daring” to go to college.

Me going to school and not keeping that “good” $8.25 retail job (of which they took all the pay for bills) would lead to their (my parents and two younger brothers) eviction.

I was told I was never welcome back if I left. But I had to. I haven’t seen or heard from the four of them in fifteen years. I’m closer to my 12th grade English teacher who made my depressed ass apply for the scholarship that eventually paid for my college.

Wow, sorry for the long post. Just brought back memories.

7. You get good at lying.

Not eating lunch because it you either “just ate breakfast” or “dinners only a few hours away you’ll be fine”

6. Doctors cost money.

You’re not hurt unless you’re bleeding.

If you are bleeding, don’t bleed on the carpet.

5. It still costs money.

Going to the doctor isn’t an option until your fever is sustained at 104, a bone is broken, or the tooth rotted and won’t fall out on it’s own.

I am in my late 30’s with full insurance and still have a hangup about going for medical care.

4. Something about this breaks my heart.

Stand up straight and speak with confidence. It was so easy for people to look down on the poor kids, so we made it just a bit harder for them.

3. An entirely different world.

In my family, the youngest bathed first then siblings in order of age. Same bath water. Once/week. In the summer, bathing took place in the creek behind our house. The neighbour kids joined in. Only Ivory soap because it floats.

Lots of foraging for food and lots of home grown food. I started working summers doing farm labour at 10 or 11 and hid my money in my room. As a young adult when I had a steady job, having money leftover after paying bills was super uncomfortable and foreign to me. I always got rid of it as quickly as possible, sending it to my sister and cousin who also struggled.

They, in turn, would send me their extra money when they happened to have any. I still remember the panic of having a positive bank account balance. My comfort zone was living paycheque to paycheque because it’s all I’d known. Funny how poverty as a child can shape your entire life.

2. No kid should struggle with this.

It sucked to have to have a computer for school but not be able to afford it.

1. Most moms are doing their best.

Nothing wasted! Mum had a dish called mixed-up stew which was basically a little mince beef, mashed potatoes and any leftovers from the fridge.

Good menu planning – she never called it that but one meal led to the next with last’s night leftovers included. Failing that, she always had a soup on the go using bones from chicken, dried barley and, yet again, leftovers.

Thing is they were all delicious, but that could be me just remembering her fondly.

I would never have equated some of these.

If you grew up poor, what other social expectations colored your childhood? Tell us about it in the comments.