Parenting

Ask Scary Mommy: My Parents Are Religious Fanatics, And We Are Not

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Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week: What do you do when your parents are super-religious, and disappointed that you’re not raising your own family in the faith? Have your own question? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

I was raised in a very religious household. We went to church multiple times throughout the week, not just on Sundays. My parents lead Bible studies and read devotionals together each day. It was just part of my upbringing as a kid, but now that I’m an adult raising my own family, I see my parents’ religion as almost fanatical and have chosen not to raise my own kids in the same way. In fact, we don’t go to church at all, and my husband and I consider ourselves agnostic. This did not go over well with my folks, but what really pisses them off is that we’re not bringing up our children in the church. They have literally told me that I’m condemning my kids to eternal damnation if they aren’t “saved.” My parents are loving grandparents and adore their grandkids, but I feel like every time they’re together, they try to cram religious dogma down my children’s throats. Easter is coming up and I dread getting together because of the inevitable dig at us not attending services (I’d feel like a total hypocrite if I did), and the dinner-table sermon preaching to my kids about the “real” meaning of the holiday. Help!

To play devil’s advocate here (no pun intended — well, okay, maybe a little), your parents aren’t trying to be judgy assholes. Clearly their faith is so deep that they genuinely worry about your family’s spiritual wellbeing; to them, it’s probably a lot like seeing someone they love refuse to help themselves, and I’m sure that’s unsettling.

That being said, though, your adult spirituality – and the upbringing of your kids — is none of their business.

It’s time to have a heart to heart with your well-meaning-but-misguided parents. Your approach here is going to be key; instead of being accusatory or acting fed up (even if you are), be gentle and open. Let them know first of all that you realize they’re doing it out of love and concern, and you appreciate the intent behind it. But their attempts to force their beliefs into your life are only pushing you further away from them, and that isn’t the outcome that any of you want … especially since they’re caring and attentive grandparents otherwise, and that’s valuable for your kids.

Tell them that you admire their devotion to their faith, and while you feel that it just isn’t the right fit for your family, the acts of service and faith within their own lives are a role model to your kids — including, and this is important, their ability to love your family and accept your beliefs even if they aren’t aligned with theirs.

Of course, if this approach doesn’t work, and there’s no guarantees that it will, you’ll have to set some clear boundaries. Let them know that you would love for them to be a part of your family’s life, but not if they continue to bring up religious topics. Tell them you’re firm in your beliefs, and that you expect them to respect that.

In the meantime, explain to your kids that people have different beliefs, and that’s okay. You don’t want them to feel shame because Grandma and Grandpa are warning them of their wicked ways (and if shaming and/or threatening is your parents’ usual approach, skip the gentle heart to heart and go straight to the boundaries, because that is most definitely not okay). Be honest about their grandparents’ beliefs being on one end of a very big spectrum, and that they don’t have to feel the same way Grandma and Grandpa do in order to love and be loved by them.