Tell Me About Your Unconventional Childhood

I grew up in a small town and lived in the same house until I went to college. Later on, I did an above-average amount of traveling and partook of many new experiences, and I came to realize that a very stable childhood has its pluses and minuses. The pluses are the security and sense of belonging, while the minuses are the lack of exposure to other ways of thinking and novel experiences.

For various mostly career-related reasons, my kids have moved around a bit and probably will continue to do so. My 6-year-old is in his third city and it looks likely that we’ll be on to number four before long. I don’t feel altogether positive about moving them around so much.

But, a lot of really bright and successful people have had totally unconventional childhoods. By unconventional, I mean frequent moves, possibly to foreign locales, and educational experiences that are outside the American public school norm. I’m always slightly surprised when I hear some normal everyday person talking about how he lived in Saudi Arabia when he was 10 years old and went to school with a tutor or in a private compound or some wacky thing like that.

So…tell me about your unconventional childhood and how it affected you. Do you think you came out better or worse than you would have if you’d followed the conventional track?


  • Born in Scotland. 0 - 3 years old.
  • Northern Ireland. 3 - 6 years old.
  • South-Western Ontario. 6 - 23 years old.
  • Eastern Ontario. 23 - present (46 years old).

I left home at 23 and only make it back there maybe once a year. (7 hour drive.)

OK, so not totally unconventional, but growing up without grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. was strange compared to other kids my age.

I have no idea what a family reunion would be like. I’ve seen some of my relatives, sporadically, but don’t really know them at all. I don’t even really see my siblings or Mum much at all anymore. My kids are in the same situation: no extended family at all to speak of.

I seem to have survived OK. You don’t really miss what you don’t have.

Born in New York City, lived there until age 5, moved to Long Island, lived there until age 9, from 9 to 17 moved every year or two (about 1/2 the time in Mexico, rest in various parts of the US). We lived in a small town in rural Mexico from 17 to 20, when I decided I had to go to college now or it wasn’t going to happen.

Fun part: our house in said town (where Mom still lives) has no electricity and no indoor plumbing, so we get to live like the local peasant farmers. :slight_smile: Unfun part: our house has no electricity and no indoor plumbing, so we have to live like the local peasant farmers. :frowning: I haven’t visited her for about three years now (18 hours of travel time for a two-week visit is just too much), although we exchange email when she gets out of the house (Internet cafes FTW!).

I have no siblings, Dad dropped out of the picture early and we don’t get along with Mom’s parents and siblings (Dad was black and they couldn’t cope - this was the 60’s), so family = Mom. Since we mostly ended up in rather isolated places where there were few kids my age and no-one who shared my interests (I’ve been a nerd and proud of it since childhood), Mom was pretty much the only person I interacted with frequently. As a result, I have no social skills… I get along well with people but I prefer them in small doses, and all of my leisure activities are solitary (reading, drawing, singing, etc).

I never finished a year of school (my record is six months of grade 6) and dropped out completely after grade 9, so I’m mostly self-educated (I like to read and I liked math and science; I always tested at or above my grade level when the Department of Education came breathing down our necks). Mom supported me entirely in this (she did push me to enroll in school every year in the hopes I would make friends - fat chance). I didn’t have any tutoring (except the occasional foray into music lessons) or formal home-schooling; Mom just bought me a lot of books and let me work it out for myself.

When I decided I needed to go to college toot sweet, I spent one year at a Junior College in Texas to establish an academic record, transferred to MIT, went to Harvard for graduate school, got a PhD, and am now working as a research scientist. And a total antisocial nerd. But a happy antisocial nerd with a great book collection, so I don’t care. :smiley:


My oldest daughter was born in Thailand, then moved to Texas, Azores, South Carolina, Georgia, Guam, Texas, Iceland, and back to Texas.

The other kids lived in a few less places and they all turned out great. All have at least a BA and have successful careers.

Yeah, I’m proud! :stuck_out_tongue:

Born in Tokyo, Japan. Moved to Washington D.C. at age two, then Boston. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for first through third grade. Witnessed race riots between Malays and Chinese, saw dead people hung from trees. Back to Tokyo for grades 4-6. Canberra, Australia for 7-11 (first form to fifth form). Witnessed at close range the (possible) overthrow of the Aussie government by the CIA (has this been settled yet?)

As a result, my oldest friends are ones I met at age 17, and I don’t really know any of them very well. I live 2000 miles from my High School. I don’t make friends very easily due to the circumstances of my youth - I lost great friends every few years until I gave up on the BFF thing.

I wouldn’t have wished it any other way.


  • Parents divorced ~4 years old, moved to opposite coasts, flying back and forth unaccompanied for visitation from very early on.
  • Many moves, including to different states twice.
  • Combination of Waldorf schooling and public school.
  • Left conventional school after 8th grade and started college at 13.
  • Graduated college at 18, law school at 22.

It’s been a fun ride.

I had to grow up really fast, including for a number of reasons not listed here. My mind is a gift and now I use it to help people not as fortunate.

I lack a feeling of roots anywhere, and I wish I had the kind of childhood friends and connections some of my current friends have. However, this has nothing to do with skipping high school and everything to do with having been bounced around and having to make a clean break with the past so many times.

The most common question I get is “do you regret not having had a prom?” Not even the slightest bit.

Interesting, colourful, unique childhoods - but, no one will out do Dr. Evil’s unconventional childhood.

Operations against the Whitlam government.

From a military family, parents divorced early. I’d say that the most unconventional part of my childhood is that I never went to the same school for more than a year, from Kindergarden until graduating high school. Mainly it was because the parents woudl trade me back and forth, my dad was usually in at a new base, and my mom just had a wanderlust - sometimes we would move less than 10 miles away, just to be moving.

From my earliest memory to kindergarten we lived in a small town where my dad was a minister. I am 45 now and that place still feels like my home town even though I haven’t been back since I was 8 or so. My family was intact, my mom was home, my baby brother was born. But I realize even this chapter of my life was unconventional. First of all, my dad was a minister so his work life overlapped our home life quite a bit. In fact, at this house, our basement doubled as the church hall and our yard as the church yard so there were always non-family people around. Plus, and this is really unconventional, my parents brought an old lady from my dad’s last church to live with us. At 4 I felt like she was an old family friend. Now I know they probably only knew her for about a year when they moved from Brooklyn to Upstate New York, where we now lived. She was a sweet, sweet person, but it was still a strange thing for them to do. Margie, the old lady, dined with us, did dishes and we watched her stories with her in her room and she was our built in babysitter, but she spent a lot of time staying out of our way in her room. When we moved, Margie got a nice apartment nearby and stayed.

We moved to Bangor, ME so my parents could return to their seminary where the met, married and had twins way before they had a pot to piss in. Bangor is really a terrible place, you know. Cold, poor, heavily accented. Our first campus housing placement had a bathroom down the hall and only one bedroom, if you could call it that. We had come from a very large parsonage. Many weird people from the school flowed in and out of our lives, some even acting like they lived with us. Some even did at times! We kids became attached to some of them. Many of them were mean or unfriendly and our parents didn’t have our backs. They even allowed some man to spank my sister at a party and I know he did it for sexual reasons. We were 6 or 7 at the time. I know that my mother was becoming seriously depressed. 2 schools for kindergarten, 1 for 1st grade

My parents graduated. We moved to a horrible hideous stinky mill town. My parents separated and we were told we’d be moving back to Bangor with my mom. She went to find a job and home and lived in the “girl’s dorm” at the seminary. She got sick and stopped coming for visits for several weeks and so we went to see her. She was bedridden but why? We moved back and were very poor and lived in a condemned apartment for awhile. Then we moved to another apartment that our dog ruined. Then we impulsively moved to the Upstatest part of Upstate NY to be with my mom’s best friend from college. In the meantime my dad remarried a woman 16 years younger than him, 10 years older than us. She was very, very mean and eventually forbade him from seeing us. 3 schools for 4th grade.

The next seven years we lived in that upstate town - very, very much a backwater and relations with my mom’s friend and her family were uneasy. We lived in a trailer on their land which my mother didn’t take care of, we were very poor and neglected and I had really terrible social skills and was very shy so very few friends. My sister got sent to live with my dad, who had moved to Vermont, gotten dumped by his cunty 2nd wife and was now in full dating mode. He eventually married for a third time to a woman who really is very nice and to whom he is still married. She is the same age as my mom and brought 4 children into the mix. They have a child together, my sister Heather, who is now 28.

We moved to Albany when I was starting 11th grade. You can’t even imagine how depressed I was that first year. It got better though. I made some friends, graduated, went to college - the same one for 4 years - lived in NY like we all must for awhile, met my husband, moved to RI, had my son and plopped his butt in the lovely suburban town of Barrington when he was three months old and that’s where he will stay till he chooses to leave sometime after High School graduation. We have very few friends that we socialize with and that’s just fine because I don’t need adults roaming in and out his life like they did mine.

0-4 In India, in various households, sometimes on the brink of poverty or well into poverty, sometimes doing OK. I was illegitimate, my mother didn’t have money, my father wanted me in the street, so I was carted around to different people’s houses.
4-app. 11: In Michigan. But I can remember at least 6 moves in those few short years. I also had to learn English in the beginning of this time period, so…
11-12 Tennessee, and we hated it.
12-14 - Orange County, NY. Two moves during this time.
14-18: Poughkeepsie, NY - two more moves during this time.
18-21: College.

I don’t have “roots” and I am faintly envious and highly curious when I meet people who have always lived in the same place. My SO lived in the same place, hell, the same house, until he went to college. I don’t have long-term friends other than one or two from college. I just wasn’t raised in that kind of permanence. I have always felt like the outsider and always felt a little lonely, and always took it for granted that was just the way things are.

On the other hand I notice I am way more willing than my SO to try new things and to experiment and take chances. Whether that is a product of my upbringing, I’m not sure, but it seems likely.

Not as varied as others upthread, but I was illegitimate, so my grandmother adopted me, making my mother my sister. My father/grandfather died when I was 6, and our pastor’s wife was my nanny from about 3 - 6, so I spoke in a thick Louisiana accent in central Illinois. My grandparents/great-grandparents lived in a Mennonite community in southern Illinois, so we spent a lot of time in a house with no indoor plumbing or electricity, speaking a mix of English and Amish German. When we were at home, there were no neighbor kids, but plenty of animals, so I ended up a book nerd who loved animals. My biological mother had three other children, who would spend summers with us because she didn’t like taking care of them. So every summer my siblings/nieces and nephew and I would roam wild over the farm and nearby wildlife sanctuary. Interestingly, I knew all about the adoption, and when my bio mother would try to boss me around at family get-togethers, I instantly resented it and acted like a brat. I only mended that relationship as she was dying of breast cancer six years ago. Too little, too late, I think.

I would love it if you would start an “Ask the person who started college at 13” or whatever thread.

Hmmm. Born into a commune in Seattle. Various (not genetically related) siblings in the commune were removed due to the dim view that Child Protective Services took of a mixed-race group of gay men (and a few bi women) trying to raise children while running guns to kick-start the communist revolution in America. Distinctly remember the day when the barrel of honey we used to make granola (a nice cash-producing sideline) tipped over and every bee in Seattle stuffed themselves to the point that they couldn’t fly.

Of course, I was born after my mother had emerged from going underground after the FBI found out that her car and dorm room were storage rooms for explosives for the Black Panthers (she’s white).

When the commune broke up, I lived with different subsets of co-parents in various places until my Jewish (genetic) mother married and we moved (for the umpteenth time) to a small Mormon town. Naturally, we fit in well and I became both a complete social pariah and the underground sex ed teacher for the entire school, despite being a virgin. The school was so biased that they demanded that girls take “Understanding Children” (3 semesters), Basic Foods, Advanced Foods, and Household Economics - the career track girls were told to take typing. I was the only female student in Trigonometry, Calculus, and Physics, and one of three in Chemistry (the others wanted to be nurses), so naturally I made a point of setting the curve.

Turned into a goth chick before knowing that there was a word for it, have had purple hair ever since (I’m 35 now).

Ended up strong, brash, and fun, with a Ph.D. in genetics and a post-doctoral position at the NIH. So okay, really.

OK, I grew up during the Great Depression. My parents were divorced when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I lived with my mother, who kept moving trying to find a job, and survive somehow. From the age of three (no records before that) until I was 18 and went into the army, I lived in 32 different places in those 15 years. In 1933 at around 5 years old, we got on a Greyhound bus and went all the way to California, where we lived in three different places. That was quite a trip for a young kid (we went all the way straight through, only stopping for meals).

As throughout my childhood, I was always the “new kid on the block” and in a new school, it was somewhat confusing. OTOH, now that I look back on it, it was very interesting, as back in those days not many people moved at all, or if so, just a short distance.

Obviously, it affected me, possibly one reason have always been a loner, but all in all, I can’t say it was a bad thing. Impossible to make many friends. After a while, the most dreaded words I ever heard from my mother were, “We have to move again” which left a sinking feeling in my stomach. I have always been impressed with people who lived in the same neighborhood, or same house all their lives, but honestly, I would not have preferred that. FYI, here is the list of places where I lived:

8/1927-3/1930 No record
3-9/1930 Rutland, VT
9/1930 Morrisville, VT
9-12/1930 221 W 251 St, NYC
12/1930 925 West End Avenue, NYC
1-3/1931 88 Centre Street, Rutland, VT
4/1931 3 Linden Street, Brattleboro, VT
5-8/1931 92 Elliot St, Brattleboro, VT
9/1931 619 W 136 St, NYC
10/1931 307 W 79 St, NYC
10/1931 626 W 158 St, NYC
12/1931-2/1932 13 Allerton Ave, Brattleboro, VT
2-3/1932 481 Shelburne Rd, Burlington, VT
4-7/1932 3936 46 St, Long Island City, NY
8-9/1932 306 W 99 St, NYC
9/1932-1/1933 51 Oak Ave, Larchmont, NY
3-5/1933 30 Treadwell Ave, New Milford, CT
5-6/1933 511 South Union Ave, Los Angeles, CA
6/1933-2/1934 342 Carroll Park East, Long Beach, CA
2-5/1934 Victorville, CA
6/1934-7/1935 Weston, VT
7-8/1935 5 Pine St, Burlington, VT
8-10/1935 21W 18 St, NYC
10-12/1935 43 W 21 St, NYC
12/1935-9/1936 The Lynemore, 20 Irving Place, NYC
(9/1935-5/1936 Eaglebrook School, Deerfield, MA
9/1936-1/1937 4015 81st St, Jackson Heights, NY
2/1937-9/1938 37-41 79th St, Jackson Heights, NY
9/1938-6/1939 744 44th St, Brooklyn, NY
6-9/1939 40th St, Brooklyn, NY
9/1939-6/1940 24 Church St, Greenwich, NY
7/1940-8/1941 ? southern part of Greenwich, NY
/1941-8/1945 48 Hill St, Greenwich, NY

It’s likely to be a reference to the fall of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975. Some conspiracy theorists insist that the CIA worked to destablise the government and was to blame (at least partly) for its subsequent downfall.

Sorry for the mess the list of places was in in my post above, but when I tried to edit it so the dates and addresses were spaced apart, it took more than five minutes, and got a message that the limit to edit a post was five minutes. This does not seem fair, but there you are.

I moved a few times as a kid, not so big a deal, but my girlfriend lived under a rock up until the day that I met her. :smiley:

Not quite as unconventional as some I’ve read in this thread, but still…

I was born in El Salvador, and am the oldest of five children. Also, my parents raised my 8-years-older cousin (oldest son of my aunt, dad’s sister, who went on to have 4 more sons, whom she raised.) I consider him my big brother, to the point that his daughters are my nieces. He was a rather “wild” teenager, and was always bringing borrowed LPs home from school, so I was the only kid in my class who knew about the Beatles, the Stones, and Pink Floyd. (Hey, maybe this part should go into the “soundtrack of your life” thread.) Since both my parents worked, there was always a maid there to watch us and do the daily housework and cooking, because domestic labor was so cheap then, so my folks could afford it. This continued until 1980, when civil war broke out. We came to the States during the Xmas holidays that year, because my grandma had lived in L.A. since 1972 or so, and we lived with her for years. My uncle (mom’s brother), who had various addictions, would sometimes live with us when he wasn’t on the streets, till he was finally sent to state prison for possession or something, I’m not sure exactly what to this day. My cousin graduated high school, moved out, and found a girlfriend, now his wife. My folks started their business in the early 80s, and we spent a lot of time on our own. Actually my grandma was around, but no one paid her much attention. Since I had always had trouble making friends, and was a bully magnet since kindergarten, I spent my spare time either at the library down the street or in the room I shared with my sisters, reading library books. Even now, when I have nothing to do, the first thing I do is look for something to read, because it’s what makes me comfortable and settles my nerves.