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24 Heartbreaking Rules Parents Have Had To Make For Their Children When They Were Poor

"When Mom has a seizure, make sure no one gets an ambulance."

Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world. And when your family is living in poverty, the job gets even harder.

a stressed out mother and son

A massively viral Reddit thread recently had people sharing their "unwritten rules" of being poor. But many commenters took the opportunity to share their parents' rules instead — the things their mothers and fathers made them do as kids in order to survive.

a dad reading bills holding his baby daughter

Here are some of the rules that families living in poverty have abided by:

1. "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."

an empty grocery cart

2. "We weren't allowed to do any kind of extracurricular activities. So no instruments, no joining any kind of sports or Girl Scouts or anything that required an upfront investment... My dad once said I didn't really need glasses, that I just wanted to look like all my four-eyed friends. (Spoiler alert: I totally needed them.)"


3. "Air conditioning was only for company. I lived in Florida and didn’t know I could use the AC without having someone over until I moved out of my parents' home."


4. "When Mom is not eating dinner with you and your brother, it is not because she’s not hungry — she’s making sure there’s enough for us to eat. We always cut our food in half and gave it to her."


5. "When Mom has a seizure in public, make sure no one loads her into an ambulance. Two bankruptcies before that rule came about. She would much rather die."

a woman being rushed into an ambulance

6. "If the phone rings and Mom doesn’t answer it, it’s probably the bill collectors. Same with the front door, and why the curtains aren’t open."


7. "Do not answer the door. Do not answer the phone. When the man is looking through the window, make sure you can't be seen. Do not tell anyone who knocks on the door where the parents work."


8. "If someone buys you food at a restaurant, order as cheaply as possible, even if they tell you to order whatever you want. I used to get death glares from my parents if I ordered something $10 or over at a place where the average price was $10. If you can get a burger and fries for $8, you better be eating a burger."

a kid ordering off a menu

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


10. "You are perpetually young. Going to a movie? Only during matinee showings AND you are 12 years old until you’re 16. At a restaurant, you’re also 9 forever."


11. "I was the scholarship kid at a wealthy private school. So I was never allowed to invite people home because we didn't have a mansion like everyone else did. I could make playdates for the mall or the movies...but don't invite them home. And if you're getting dropped off, any excuse for them not to come inside."


12. "You ate what was made or you didn't eat at all. There was no extra food in the fridge to pick from... As if my parents would've given me that option anyway, LOL."

a container of leftovers

13. "No garments were thrown away until they were impossible to fix. When they were, they were turned into rags or similar. I learned from a young age to fix holes in my clothes, upcycle clothes, and such."


14. "My mom wouldn’t buy me pads when I had my period because they were too expensive. Sometimes I would just have to stuff toilet paper in my underwear."


15. "The oldest kids babysat the youngest kids."


16. "Bath water was shared, one kid at a time. The youngest was last and could add one minute of hot water. The amount of baths I took while crying because I was freezing and the water was gray... I couldn't even count. I love baths now and I'll stay in for hours, refreshing the water every 20 minutes."

a tub faucet

17. "I remember my dad always getting really excited about very cheap, mundane foods like puffed rice cereal (plain), bologna sandwiches, and unflavored steel cut oats. He would get us all amped up because of how much he talked it up. Now that I am older (and a father myself), I don’t think he actually loved those things that much, but just didn’t have the money to buy expensive food to feed three growing boys. Sure made the best of it, though."


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


19. "Allowance? That’s for rich kids with trust funds. You need to complete all your assigned chores first, and then if there’s any extra work you can think of, you can earn some pocket money."


20. "Don't talk to anyone about being poor. It's shameful. My sibling and I weren't allowed to enjoy free breakfast programs for kids living in poverty that our schools hosted because it embarrassed my family."

a girl walking a tray through a cafeteria

21. "Don't ask for seconds until Dad has had his fill and has lunch for work put away."


22. "Being raised by a single mother, she instilled the belief that school went elementary, middle, high, then college. There wasn’t a question as to whether college was optional. She did everything in her power to raise two boys to live more successful lives. My brother and I both graduated, and our starting jobs had salaries that were more than double what my mom made."


23. "Never look dirty or have ripped clothes. My mom was super scared of having us taken by Child Protective Services — but also of people realizing how poor we really were."


And finally...

24. "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."

a mother holding her son's hand

You can read the full thread of responses on Reddit.

Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

If you or someone you know is experiencing food insecurity, check out Feeding America, where you can find a food local bank and learn more about federal programs that may be available to you.