I recently received the following message via our website:

Hi! I’m new to aha! Process, but I have a personal question about generational poverty. Both of my parents came from a long line of generational poverty. I turn 30 next week. I am a full-time registered nurse, and my husband is about to start a career as a nurse practitioner.

We are financially stable (other than student loans) and very cautious with how we spend money.

I recently read Dr. Payne’s list of generational poverty characteristics and strongly identify many of these in my parents. They have been making comments about “all the money” my husband and I are “about to make,” and saying things like, “Don’t think you’re better than everyone else or forget where you came from.”

My question is: How can I positively encourage/respond to my parents while still “rising above” the poverty trap?

My response:

You are facing one of the biggest issues that occurs when a person transitions out of poverty. In your parents’ eyes, you now are one of “them.” As a friend of mine said when he moved out of poverty, “I can go back into their world, but they can’t come into mine.” That is the issue. You don’t think like they do anymore, and they don’t understand the world you live in, but you want to keep the emotional ties because they’re important to you. I recommend the following for your consideration:

  1. Ask your parents questions about their lives. Take an interest in their lives, but say very little about your life.
  2. If they ask for money, explain that you’re saving it for your children or paying off college debt. Although it’s very tempting, don’t get into the game of buying and giving them things because in the end it will be a vicious triangle of rescuer, bully, and victim. What you do will never be enough.
  3. Remember their birthdays and Christmas with gifts.
  4. Spend time with the younger members of your family so they realize by your example that they can make different choices.
  5. Find new friends for yourself who you enjoy and who share your interests. Find mentors for yourself.
  6. Make a list of what you desire in life. Not goals and objectives, but desires. For example, on my own list, I had that I desired to live free from institutional constraints. I desired to live in a home that was full of light and windows. Ask God/the divine to bring it to you. That way you can stay focused on your own story.
  7. Please don’t be guilted into feeling badly for your choices. Remember that you can either write your own story or let someone else write it for you. But either way you are going to live a story with your life. The question always is this: Will you live your own life story?