Monday, December 05, 2005

How I Climbed Out of Poverty

In Michelle's blog there's a discussion going on right now about poverty, and it's been implied by a couple of people that living in poverty excuses raising children badly. Yeah, Michelle's blog was started by me and we're both technically moderators but I turned the reigns over to her for the most part and rarely participate because I have so much on my plate. But this subject got me going.

I pointed out that being poor doesn't excuse bad parenting, and I used myself as an example. I was living in abject poverty at one time, and yet my son never took a gun or knife to school, never beat up other kids, never spit on a teacher or acted up on a bus. Schools cannot replace parenting, and bad parenting cannot be blamed on income levels.

So, someone asked me (perhaps in an effort to prove me wrong) what did *I* consider to be abject poverty?

Here was my answer:

Anon of 4:26,

Not knowing where my next meal was coming from.

Barely scraping enough money together to pay the rent on a one room hovel of an apartment in a bad area of town.

Buying my child's Christmas presents at The Dollar Tree, and happy that I could even do that.

Not being able to afford to buy a TV for a year, and then being able to only buy one that was 20 years old in a garage sale.

Not having cable for 3 years.

Going without insurance on my car at times because I couldn't scrape together the payments, and hoping to god the cops wouldn't catch me.

Trying to make a meal of dry cheerios and a small glass of orange juice into an exciting 'tea party' so my son didn't know that it was all we had.

How's that? Want more examples?

I didn't really expect the next question, which was "Saur, How long did you live like this? And what did you do to pull yourself out of poverty?"

Climbing Out of Poverty

If you don't have a lot of time and don't wish to read any further, I'll sum it up for you: hard work and persistance.

Do you know how many women who've known my story have come up to me and said "I want to be just like you, how do you do it?" I don't make any secret of it. I tell them it's simple:

Show up to work on time. Work hard. Be kind to others and help them when they're in need so that they'll help you when you're in need. Be consistent. Treat your customers well. Follow up on whatever you say you'll do. Return all phone calls as soon as possible. Be pleasant no matter how you feel. Don't talk too much about yourself, let the customer talk. Admit when you're wrong, and fix it. These rules are valuable no matter what profession you're in.

I even recommend books if they want to read them (although they're not necessary, they're helpful).

But here's what's shocking: There isn't a single woman who told me that she wanted to be like me that stuck with it.

Why? Because most people don't have that inner backbone and the strength that they need to do it. And it's by choice.

I know, because I see them wrestle with themselves. They think to themselves "I've made it all these years without having to work hard or rise above anyone else. In the end, I'm relatively happy with the status quo."

You see, they don't really want it! Sure, they want it if it's easy. But if it takes any work, well... they've grown up in an entitlement-minded society which has taught them that Uncle Sam will be there for them, from cradle-to-grave. And as long as you have a safety net, you don't have to be too careful or work too hard. It becomes a choice, and not many people will willingly make the choice to work hard and struggle for years for the chance to make it big.

Did I have times where I cried myself to sleep at night? Of course! Did I ever know how I was going to drag myself out of poverty? Of course not! But what I did at the time was follow these basic rules because those are the right things to do.

You see, it really all boils down to this: Do you do the right thing, when others around you don't? Or do you believe that what they do justifies your actions? And, are you content to live like they do all your life?

As my mother once told me: "If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you go with them?" I chose to set my own path in life and not be a lemming.

I'll give you more details tomorrow. This wears me out, as I don't talk of it much and would willingly forget it. But, to forget your past is to repeat it, and perhaps I need the reminder right now as much as anyone else does.


Fred said...

Bad parenting knows no boundaries. I love when I get a phone call from a parent asking what they can do to help. I'll tell them that they need to help their child complete several pages in a notebbok. Well, several days later, the child comes in without the work. Huh?

Unfortunately, the childeren I most often have a probelm with come from lower income homes. I'm not an expert in the issue, but I'm sure we can list many reasons why this happens.

But, you're right, there is no excuse.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Fred, I know. I've seen it too, because I have a kid that goes to school with kids like the ones you mention.

But the correlation isn't poverty. The reason that most of them are living in poverty is because they lack the will to do otherwise. And this lack of will is what creates their bad parenting skills.

Jessica said...


Because most people don't have that inner backbone and the strength that they need to do it.

For a usually kind-hearted person, I think you're being unnecessarily cruel. Yes, personal will goes a long way. No, it is not the "safety net" of Uncle Sam (as you put it) that we should blame.

Call me radical, but poverty is not always a choice. Especially for children. Putting aside the issue of parents who don't, kids in generational poverty are taught a different set of rules. They aren't taught that hard work and honesty will pay off.

Here's an example from Ruby Payne, an educator who writes a lot about teaching kids in poverty: In middle-class families, children are taught to learn from their mistakes. If you did something wrong, you must suffer the consequences and learn how not to do it again. In poor families, mistakes teach children about unconditional love and forgiveness. If you did something wrong, it was because of a moment of weakness. You are punished from the outside for being weak, but because families love each other they forgive the child.

Translate this to school, and kids see mean teachers who punish them instead of teachers enforcing consequences. Instead of learning from their mistakes, they learn that they do not have unconditional love at school. This is overly simplified, but see the problem?

Jessica said...

Oh yeah & Fred,
Maybe they don't have a place in their home to do the homework. Maybe they don't have the materials. Most likely, the parents themselves stopped being able to understand the child's homework after about second grade. Instead of humiliating themselves and pointing out their own ignorance, they leave kids alone to do it themselves. My suggestion: Instead of asking parents to help with homework, ask them to talk to their kids about homework. Give them a checklist for the kid to fill out that they can monitor. Encourage them to have their child read for 20 minutes every day. These are things all parents can do, in any language.

mal said...

My brothers and I grew up below the poverty line. Dad, bless his heart, is a wonderful human being but was a lousey provider. One thing we did learn from him was hard work. Whether the lesson was intentional or not, if we wanted something we worked for it and all of us held paying jobs from our early teens on.

Today, two of us have upper middle class life styles and the the other two are lower upper class. We ended up funding our parents retirement.

When I was hiring and training sales people, I discovered that those who worked hard overcame LOTS of short comings and were ALWAYS successful.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Jessica, you're right. I am a kind-hearted person. But since when does speaking the truth = being unkind?

You see, it isn't a pleasant truth. I would love to say "You're right. You're here through no fault of your own." And you know what? That can sometimes be true. But what we choose to do with our state in life is our own choice, and our own fault.

And no one is saying it's the child's fault. Of course they happened into it! But it's up to the parents to teach the children how to behave, whether they have money or not. And, incidentally, it used to be that poor people often raised the better children because they were taught the value and hope of hard work.

And Ruby Payne makes the usual mistake: she is getting cause and effect confused. In other words: poor people are often poor because of a mindset that also creates badly behaved and badly performing children and the cycle is repeated.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Re: Jessica's comment to Fred

Maybe they don't have a place in their home to do the homework. Then they must find a quiet place elsewhere to do it, if they are motivated. Abraham Lincoln lived in a small home with many brothers and sisters (that couldn't have been quiet!) but chose a different path in life.

Maybe they don't have the materials. They do. The schools provide them to needy families. And the Dollar Store is a wonderful resource that everyone can use.

Most likely, the parents themselves stopped being able to understand the child's homework after about second grade. That's why schools have teachers.

Instead of humiliating themselves and pointing out their own ignorance, they leave kids alone to do it themselves. And thus the cycle of ignorance is perpetuated, and children also learn to cover up and not deal with problems within a family. But this is when a parent can rise above the situation and tell the children honestly that they don't know, but they expect performance nonetheless.

Your final suggestions are excellent and should be mandatory. Bravo!!!

Saur♥Kraut said...

Mallory, exactly. And my own parents were lower middle class because they both were teachers. Sad, isn't it, that some of society's finest are paid so poorly, when the dregs of society (such as overindulged athletes) can be paid millions?

michelle said...

My stepson has a mother that basically says, "just try do to do better next time", or "don't do that again". His only punishment ever at her house has been to be grounded, aka no computer or PS2 time. Hence at our house when my husband gives my stepson chores or extra chores, tell him to write a letter of apology, etc our home becomes the bad home. The teacher become the bad teachers etc.

Neither household is poor, although our household has been darn close. So we have one household with the same mentality that Jessica described when she mentions the poor and one household with the same mentality Saurkraut describes. It is a difficult situation to raise a child. Of course his choice to to be like his mom for the most part. It is an easier lifestyle. Bless his heart though, he has more of his dad in him than he'd like to admit. So, there is hope and a parent to look up to when/if he chooses as he get older.

Fred said...

Jessica: Good point. I misspoke when I said that I actually wanted a parent to do their child's homework. For instance, there's no way I can help my child in Geometry. Thirty years ago, maybe...

Great suggestion.

Tabasamu said...

Oh Saur, you are incredibly wise beyond your years.

It's very easy for the poor to whine so that they can get more 'stuff.' It's very easy for the rich to indulge the poor...after all, what do THEY have to lose?

But to truly HELP the poor, we must be honest with them, with ourselves, and with others.

It's so easy to pity the poor and make it easier for them. I know, because I see it all the time. And so many poor blacks who hate white people are... at the same time... dependent on them and their pity.

It's disgusting, and it's the reason we, as a race, are declining.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: everyone should read Thomas' Sowell's book "Black Rednecks / White Liberals."

United We Lay said...

This is an excellent post. Backbone is the key and I've often seen many parents who do not have it and unfortunately, students who learn from that BAD example.

Lee Ann said...

Very good advice. Very attainable if driven to do so.
Good post!

dddragon said...

The worst kids I've ever had when I was teaching cartooning were the ones with money to spare. Privileged status includes acting badly, right?

In my education class, there was a reading where a teacher suggested that if a student was consistent in tardiness or incomplete/poorly done homework to quietly find out what the home environment was like. Sometimes a child has to fend for themselves (dinner and more), take care of younger children and fend off boyfriends and worse.

In cases if mulitple-generation poor, they don't have the examples of what it means or involves to rise above poverty - but obviously they can. Sometimes they just need directions and encouragement.

And good for you, Saurkraut, for overcoming your difficulties!

FTS said...

I couldn't agree more.

What I see today is a total lack of anyone wanting to take responsibility for themselves and their own actions. Instead, they'd rather whine that others (and their government) owes them something they didn't earn. People want to live off the state and play the role of the victim.

This isn't to say there are legitimate cases where assistance is needed; it speaks more to those who take advantage of it, who claim it as a birthright.

If I got in trouble in school and received licks, I usually was in equal trouble when I got home. Nowadays the parent goes screaming "how dare you" to the administrators instead of asking what their child did to deserve punishment. What are we teaching those kids? That they can do as they wish and their parents will rescue them -- without regard for accepting the consequences of their actions.

And, at the same time, these same parents have the audacity to question why their kids aren't learning anything. It's because a lack of character is no longer a mainstay of the American family.



FTS said...

[ahem] Not "a lack of" character. My typing cannot keep up with my thoughts... ;)

Saur♥Kraut said...

FTS, ;o) That's OK, I do it myself. That darned keyboard, it's all Microsoft's fault! My childhood sounds a lot like yours. We were held responsible for our actions, not excused.

Dddragon, Privileged status includes acting badly, right? Yup, the spoiled rich kid syndrome! ;o)

In cases if mulitple-generation poor, they don't have the examples of what it means or involves to rise above poverty - but obviously they can. Sometimes they just need directions and encouragement. I agree.

Lee Ann, glad you liked it!

Polanco, glad you liked it. You're another strong-willed stubborn female. I thought you might identify! ;o)

TC, thanks, hon! I read the book and loved it.

Michelle, I was thinking of your Other Mom when I was writing some of this. She truly is an enabler.

~Deb said...

Hmmm.... well I do sort of agree with Jessica on some parts. Some people 'do' have the backbone to work hard and have persistance, however some people aren't as fortunate with opportunities. It depends on each individual and it's more of a personal thing.

As far as bad parenting, I'm not sure ---there's bad parenting while being wealthy as well.

I'm sorry you went through all that--but I am happy to see that you came through--and doing well. That's the important thing. Keeping focused to get from point A---to point B.

Great post- very well written! Thanks for sharing this with us, ...I'm sure it was a hard topic to bring to the table.

All the best!

michelle said...

I was thinking after we are done with The Shame of the Nation over on sweet n'saur we should discuss your recommended boook, Thomas' Sowell's book "Black Rednecks / White Liberals."

The book we are discussing now was what the Pinellas County School's Choice Task Force was given as suggested reading.

Would you be willing to help out with that discussion? How about you Saurkraut?

OldHorsetailSnake said...

That one paragraph of "instruction" says it all. I haven't been quite that good a person, but I have tried to live this way: "It doesn't hurt to be kind."

Saur♥Kraut said...

Michelle, I'm up for it!

Old Hoss, Ohhh, I've not always practiced what I preached. But I've tried, for the most part. And I sense you're the same way.

Kathleen said...

Great post!

TC, I love the book! I am halfway through. I picked it up at your suggestion. He is just brilliant and honest beyond belief. I so respect him.

Michelle: I think it would be an excellent book to discuss, but I am not sure how it will be received by some who want to keep the status quo. TC, maybe you would be best to advise. As a white woman in business, I have experienced some pretty awful moments when an employee I was reprimanding threw the race card. I am still horrified at learning the power of that card in the face of truth. Chilling. This book, while I completely agree with him, is very controversial, especially with the majority of the black community. On the other hand, it is an opportunity to open up this narrow (politically correct) dialog we have regarding race, achievment gaps and poverty.

Saur, TC, Mallory, Fred, All? Thoughts?

Ellen said...

Terrific post, Saurkraut! It's refreshing to see someone who decides that life is not a weapon to get you down, but rather a golden egg that just needs cracking the right way. Kudos to you for rising above the status quo of poverty.
I've been close myself, and remember the cheerios meal that I would have so my child could have a somewhat decent dinner of mac & cheese and a hotdog.
It certainly does take a lot of hard work, and many hours of it to rise out of the pit... and no, it ain't easy!

Love your blog!

Jamie Dawn said...

Kids need good parenting so desperately. I think your Dollar Tree Store gifts were probably appreciated, even though they weren't the newfangled toys that holiday season. I bet your kid learned a lot about hard work and determination just from watching you. Well done!

The Zombieslayer said...

Show up to work on time. Work hard. Be kind to others and help them when they're in need so that they'll help you when you're in need. Be consistent. Treat your customers well. Follow up on whatever you say you'll do. Return all phone calls as soon as possible. Be pleasant no matter how you feel. Don't talk too much about yourself, let the customer talk. Admit when you're wrong, and fix it.

You just described the way for anyone to succeed financially, no matter what profession they're in.

Very nice post.

See, this is why I love America so much. Or at least one of the reasons.

Most countries, if you have the will, you still have things in your way. In Europe, it's the socialistic safety nets to pay for all the lazy *sses who refuse to work. In some countries, it's corruption, be it the government, the mob, drug dealers, worthlessness of their currency, or what have you.

America really does offer a shot. I've already climbed two classes in only nine years. Got one more to go. I've never been poor though, so I have to give you props for pulling it off.

Geez, everything you write, I get more and more respect for you.

Saur♥Kraut said...

ZombieSlayer, thanks, hon. Likewise, I'm sure! You're right, only in America do people really have the chance of "making it"... if they really wish to.

Jamie Dawn, well, the nice thing is that my Christmas presents weren't all he received since he had a father. And I got to wrap each individual toy so that it looked like a lot of presents, and then played with him with all of his toys afterwards. One of his favorite toys was a little Lego chuckwagon with a couple scruffy looking cowboys. I would do all the weird voices that I could remember out of the Dukes of Hazzard and it was highly entertaining, but I'd die before I'd let anyone else hear us. ;o)

Ellen, thank you! From one survivor to another: I congratulate you.

Kathleen, thank you! I think the book is excellent. And if it's controversial, the author can certainly not be accused of racism. I would enjoy discussing it. It's refreshing to have someone willing to tell (and publish) the truth. Wasn't it Martin Luther King who said "The truth shall set you free"? If only his successors practiced what he preached.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

As you will no doubt guess Saur, I feel a little like the outsider looking in on a weird dinner party.

You see, someone could follow your GOOD OLD AMERICAN guide to getting out of poverty and helping yourself (because in GOOD OLD AMERICA YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT AND BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE. GOD BLESS THIS LAND...excuse me while I wipe the spittle from the corners of my mouth...) and still be in poverty.

That's life, there are no easy answers or formulas for success, that's only for the self-help books to sell more to people with low self-esteem and I don't like the idea that anyone who is poor is just a lazy ass who needs inspiring and working harder.

Things aren't as easy as that, even in the GOOD OLD US of A.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Well, Daniel, you're wrong.

But to read more about why you're wrong, read my response to you in my sequel.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I've read it and I still believe that what worked for you ain't gonna work for us all.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I never was in that kind of poverty, my dad was a railroad worker and until they laid him off (about every two years for awhile, then permanently at about 55) we did all right, but we never had money to spare. My dad told me before I was 12 that if I wanted money, I earned it. From that time to the present (retirement, wherein I do theatre and puppetry workshops in schools and community centers and make one-of-a-kind dolls)I have never been without a job. Although I have never felt "poor", I confess that I recognize all the symptoms on your list. I had five children by the time I finished grad school (no parental support, and no student loans) and six by the time I had a steady job, and we went through a period where chicken necks and backs were the primary source of protein. I found, while working on my PhD, that with my number of children and my graduate assistant's salary my family qualified for "government surplus commodities" (the predecessor to food stamps) and when we got in line at the warehouse and collected them we got four pounds of real butter. It was the first real butter I had tasted since I was in high school.
I know whereof you speak. I have a family member who floats (with her family) from tragedy to tragedy, trailer home to trailer home, and never quite can get it together. I gave her a car(elderly but functional) and it was dead within six months. Ultimately it is always someone elses fault. The victim mentality or the "somebody has got to do it for me" mentality is a crusher. I told my students that the first rule of success was get there on time ready to do what is needed, and usually someone laughed. Scary.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I read my post, and am not happy with the effect. DHG ticked me off a little, and what I was really trying to say was to echo what Saur said. There is an opportunity for almost everyone who is williing to do what is necessary to take advantage of it. The greatest hindrance to taking that advantage is to expect someone else to do it to/for you, and, frankly a government that encourages that sort of expectation. The difference between the richest and the poorest in America is not as significant as the difference between the poorest in America, and the poorest everywhere else. As far as not giving advantages to the illegal immigrant, what in the world do you think creates the illegal immigrant but the possiblility and even the likelihood of a better situation. I picked potatoes with a lot of "Illegals" most of them worked their butts off and a surprising of them now own potato farms in Idaho. (and hire illegals to pick potatoes)

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I'm glad I ticked you off because it is never as simple as working hard.

Tell that to the 37 millions Americans living in poverty.

Instead of taking it against the system you make targets out of the poor.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Daniel, First, you need to honestly define poverty. Poverty here is better than what most people have elsewhere.

And my prescription isn't easy. It's hard, which is why it isn't popular.

And are most of the people on welfare lazy? Yes. Are they all lazy? No. Do some deserve to be poor? Yes. Do all deserve to be? No. But that's why I like the modern welfare system we have. You can only stay on it for so long, and you are trained in some skills which force you to be self-sufficient.

LordX19 said...

I absolutely agree with initial post. Poverty does not excuse poor parenting. I recently blogged a bit about it myself. My children attend a school that consists of mostly middle to upper middle class families, but you can find examples of 'parent apathy' even there. Parenting is a responsibility that most parents do not see as of critical importance. Parenting is more than playing catch with your kids or taking them to Disney World. Parenting is about giving them the life skills, work ethic, and values that will enable them to be successful in life. Notice I did not say rich or popular. Success has different measures and each child will have different standards for success that will fit within their families values. The level of poverty or luxury a family lives in has little to do with the values that are instilled in their children. It does not cost anyone one orange cent to say "please" or "thank you". Nor does it ensure that if you give a sixteen year-old three hundred dollars that he won't go out and buy a rock, a bottle of Mad Dog, and cruise the Heights looking to go gay-bashing.

EmmaSometimes said...

I haven't read all the comments but I found this post (12-05-05) from your best of list this week (5-29-06)

Obviously poverty and parenting skills do not go hand in hand. If so, you would never find a teen from a wealthy family in jail or a prison. Ehmm, I think not. It boils down to parents not wanting to take responsibility for their own actions. That scares me to death because THIS is what they are teaching their children.

You nailed this on the head Saur. Fabulous post and definitely one of your tops.