Waking up White Chapter 2: Family Values

Today, I delve into chapter two of Waking up White, and explore the values I absorbed growing up. If you’re interested in reading from the beginning, check out this post. If you’d like to read two other writers’ reflections on this chapter, click here for Stephen and here for Diana. Finally, if you’re a writer looking for ideas on how to write cross-culturally, you might want to take a look at this. Meanwhile, let’s get started…

What values and admonitions did you learn in your family? Try making a list of ten principles/values/unspoken beliefs. Now consider what conclusions you drew about people who did not appear to follow your family’s belief system.

My parents were young, broke, and stressed. My mom was 21 when I was born, my step-dad only 17. He became a father to two preschoolers before he turned 24. (He lived with us since I was four and I therefore call him “Dad”; sorry for the confusion but trust me: there are a lot of families like ours.) Nothing had prepared my parents; they were just kids themselves. My dad was in college for the first five years we were all together, and needed the house quiet so he could study. Plus, let’s face it: I don’t think he actually liked kids. He fell in love with my mom—we kids were a sort of penalty clause. Anyway, I grew up in a house where I had to contain all my energy and youth unless I wanted to risk getting in trouble.

I didn’t find out until I was an adult that our home environment was almost as oppressive to my mom as it was to us kids, and I would like to say that it has been fun watching her grow into her own skin, redefining her own life principles, as a single older adult.

Here are the ten values I absorbed:

  1. The world of kids needs to stay entirely separate from the world of adults
  2. No complaining or arguing or showing emotion
  3. There is never enough money so don’t ask
  4. Be grateful for what you have
  5. You must earn respect
  6. Love is for wimps; respect is better
  7. Keep the house calm and quiet
  8. Take care of your own problems
  9. Reading is a way to escape and have fun without making noise
  10. The oldest sibling is always responsible and always wrong

What conclusions did I draw about people whose family values were different? What any kid would have done.

I adored them.


7 thoughts on “Waking up White Chapter 2: Family Values

  1. Kids never tell their parents everything 😉 Did you?

    Dawn, the thing I see there the most – the commonalities with us – seem to come down to the knowledge that our home wasn’t “normal”, wasn’t “comfortable” and that “other people” didn’t live like us.

    Were you the oldest? I was the youngest – and my older sister was the perpetual babysitter. Gave up a lot of her childhood so that mom wouldn’t have to be bothered with the responsibility of her other kids….


    • Haha, so true! And I too see our similarities. Yes, I was the oldest. My parents were very responsible though. Time we spent alone was because they were at work or school.


  2. Wow. The worlds we inhabit now are so different from the worlds that went into our creation. I appreciate your story. It seems that so many kids were survivors, and yet for me, I think “Oh, I did a *great* job with *my* kids.”

    Makes me realize that maybe my kids don’t tell me everything…

    Anyway, thanks so much for sharing the stories.


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