Agreeable, Vol. II

11Welcome to Agreeable, a bimonthly advice column in which I will tell you, dear Reader, as to whether your planned course of action is “agreeable” or “hmph”. Direct your questions (max 200 words, please!) to the admin address (see ‘About’, above) with the subject line “Agreeable”.

I stopped attending church more than five years ago because of concerns over some doctrines and policy. I still consider myself “ethnically Mormon,” have fond memories of my Mormon upbringing, and have taken great pains to demonstrate to my family that I love them as much as ever and support their activity in the church. (i.e. attending baptisms, missionary farewells, participating in family prayer, etc.) My problem is that my mom is still grieving over my choice to the point that it consumes her life. Despite my own happiness, successful career, and generally good life choices, she considers me a tragedy and failure. Most recently, she has taken to trying to enlist my friends in a campaign to “soften” my “hard heart”–every single one of my Mormon friends, whether she knows them well or not. Whenever I leave the room, I hear her start up on them. My friends come to me and tell me about this and tell me it makes them uncomfortable. When I asked her to please stop because it hurts me and makes my friends uncomfortable, she acted like she didn’t know what I was talking about. I’m at my wits end. It’s starting to make me feel like an orphan because it feels like she thinks she has to choose between being my mother and being a Mormon, and she’s chosen being a Mormon. I’m considering saying something really rude about her in front of her friends or family and then later saying “how did you feel when I did that? can you see that I feel that way too?” I know this is rude, but I’ve just had it. What do you think?

6

Hmph. Most parents would be over the moon to have an adult child with a successful career and who is happy in her life. Your mother, however, thinks your inactivity in the church makes everything else you’ve achieved moot. Naturally you find this hurtful and now wonder if making your mother feel hurt or embarrassed she will back off. This isn’t a uniquely Mormon problem.

In my experience trying to provoke empathy by putting the shoe on the other foot rarely works. Your mother is likely to have a ready explanation as to why her behavior and yours are completely different. Instead you should recognize that just as your mother cannot control your convictions or behavior, you are unlikely to be able to convince your mother that she should think or act differently. If you hadn’t already approached her, I would advise you to sit your mother down and tell her in friendly but blunt terms that she is behaving badly and ask her to stop. Since this approach hasn’t been effective you need to decide to what extent you want to expose yourself to it.

You love your mother and presumably she played a role in making you the person you are today—for those reasons alone she is due honor. Also recognize that while your mother’s pain at your choices may be misguided, her pain is real. This may make it easier to make allowances. Still, when a child is an independent adult it is incumbent on a parent to allow them an adult life. That includes recognizing that a beloved child will make choices they disagree with. While your mother isn’t obligated to accept your choices, she ought to understand that the social lubricant that underpins family bonds requires that she muffle her differences. If she can’t or won’t understand that, then consider spending less time with her. Since this is a serious step check your feelings carefully. If you are limiting contact to punish your mother you are doing it wrong, but if to protect yourself, carry on.

BONUS ADVICE: One approach to difficult parents I’ve known to be effective is to mentally shift the parent/child framework from that of parents as caregivers of their children to that of children as caregivers to their parents. Disapproval and bad behavior are easier to endure if you can chalk them up to your parents’ dotage.

Comments

  1. In a way this is my life, but from a different angle. I have a lovely, intelligent, incredibly kind, hard-working (A-student) college student daughter who has decided she doesn’t need religion. She is kind enough to come to RS when I teach, and she attends baptisms and is supportive of family members’ Church activities and does service projects with us. She still lives her YW standards. She loves and believes in Jesus. And any non-LDS parent would be turning somersaults over this wonderful human being. And yet I have a vague feeling of failure. And it makes me angry that our Mormon culture basically supports this feeling (“No success can compensate for failure in the home” etc etc). I THINK she knows we love her for HER and we don’t push on the religion at this point. She seems very happy and looks for opportunities to be with us and her siblings. What kind of twisted world do I inhabit that won’t accept a truly good kid as “successful”?

  2. Jesus said, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

  3. ji,
    Do you believe that ceasing full activity in the Mormon church is synonymous with losing one’s soul?

  4. kerbearrn, I can see myself in your shoes in the next 5-10 years. Our kids are really good kids and my inactive husband has been very supportive of my choice to raise them in the church. But, I know there’s a decent chance some of my kids will choose to leave the church when they’re adults and on their own. And even though I know that’s a realistic view and I’ll love them no matter what, I also know I’ll be wondering if I could/should have done something different – been more diligent about FHE, better about scripture reading, set a better example, etc. It’s hard to reconcile the idea that people have their agency with “train up a child in the way they should go…”

  5. Stubborn Mom who Loves, loves, loves says:

    I stumbled across your blog by accident but this post caught my attention perhaps because of our common elements. I am a Mom that has a child that has made a similar choice regarding religion. My parents were converts to the church with 4 children already of age to be baptized then my brother and I were born under the covenant. I often look at my family and it seems as though we were raised in different households …maybe different planets. We are very different adults with very different opinions. We lost our Mother a few years ago to cancer, that experience completely changed the way I look at all things. I give you this autobiography of my life to show you that I may have experiences and circumstances that gives me a perspective of diversity. I mentioned above that I stumbled across your blog. I am the Primary President of our ward and I was looking for Priesthood Preview ideas, when one click and a read lead to another and here I am. My comments not intended to seem condescending but it may so I apologize for that. Truly I recognize I am not a good writer, that’s why I don’t have my own blog. I believe your primary goal in your blog as well as in others within this blogging community is trying to express TOLERANCE, in all things, understanding, choice, perspective… That is a word that has taken on a whole new meaning since my Mom passed. As I read your post my initial reaction was for your Mom, because I am a Mom and I have a son who is “wayward.” Then I considered your perspective, my sons’ perspective and I can also understand why you find this hurtful and troublesome. Let’s start with your Mom. She was raised in a different home and had different life experiences than you. You are different genders and you play different roles in your familial relationship. She has a different personality than you so she behaves and responds to things differently than you. You may not understand why she behaves the way she does, you don’t need to, part of it may be that she has to “deal” with her peers because of your choices. Right or wrong, (wrong) people tend to be “judgy”. Let your Mom be who she is and just love her. When your friends tell you her approach makes them uncomfortable tell them you are sorry…”she just loves me like crazy and she doesn’t know any other way, she has good intentions.” You are who you are because of all the life experiences you had combined with your personality. It is what makes you act or react the way you do. You love your family and they love you, let everyone be who they are. You cannot expect the same from your Mom because she is not you. You can try to open her mind with discussion and I think you should, but she will only change when she is ready to. You are only in control of you so control you. Don’t get mad at her or withhold your attentions. Laugh at your differences and be happy that she loves you so much. You know what her perspective is on Eternal Families and you know what she believes so you do know why she does it. If you know her intent is for good than let her be who she is. My son got upset with me for acting similar to your Mom and I told him just that. I will never give up on what I believe is best for you, I love you too much! So warn your friends, do what you need to do, because it pains me to think that you may not be with me for all eternity. Whether you believe that or not, I do… and I love you!! I actually behave this way with conscious knowledge. I can’t let him forget what he was taught. Now I do not believe that some people in the church behave the way Christ would like them to behave but they have not yet learned what Christlike love truly is yet. So what!! For me, the Gospel is true, I do interpret things slightly different sometimes but that’s precisely why Christ taught in parables. …Tolerance; isn’t it?

  6. kerbearrn: I’d redefine “failure in the home.” Any home where my children are happy and welcome is a success. I’d much rather have children who share their lives with me and their siblings, who feel support and learn emotional intimacy than a house full of strict religious observers. I believe the church is in place to support and develop a happy family home, not the other way around.

    As far as the original question, I think distance is wise advice. This mother sounds immature.

  7. When my wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, our physician and my social worker advised me that it is not possible to win an argument with a person with Alzheimer’s. That the best strategy is to “agree, apologize, defer (or change the subject)”. I have found that was excellent advice. I have come to believe that it is not a bad strategy for life generally, in dealing with others who see things differently. Here, the parent feels what she feels, and the child feels what s/he feels. Neither is going to change the other. Any change and eventually healing of the relationship will come as each is open, authentic, patient and kind (much easier said than done).

  8. Dear Reader,
    You are not alone, not by any stretch. And the advice to limit contact is wise. I was out of contact for about 9 years for reasons likely close to your own. In due time and on my own calendar, I “came back” finding that the reasons I left had not changed much, but I had. I found it important to return and contribute as best I could to seeing those reasons got changed. So far, very little progress has occurred. But the direction is correct. So, when you are ready, “Welcome Back” into the fold. Things are not any better on the outside. But reading the scriptures does support my concerns and teaching with this new found understanding is rewarding to the sole.

  9. I really relate to the letter-writer’s predicament. I recently read “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better” by Gary Lundberg. The book has a chapter on dealing with parents. I think he would suggest that you validate your mom’s feelings (shaming rarely works), express your appreciation for her concern, but also let her know that what she is doing is affecting your relationship. Let her know that you want to continue to have a relationship. Then set a clear boundary. Something like this, “Mom, please stop talking to my friends about me. It’s putting a strain on our relationship and I don’t want to lose it.” After the conversation treat your mom normally, and see how she responds. If it doesn’t work, then it might be time for more distance from your mom. However, let her know that your relationship is in jeopardy before distancing yourself.

  10. Wheat Woman says:

    My two oldest sons (who are adults) haven’t attended church in nearly two years. Sometimes it makes me sad, but I only have to spend a few moments talking with them to feel good again. I raised them right, They’re more than decent people; they’re kind, thoughtful young men on a beautiful journey. I gave everything I had in raising them – I read and sang to them every night, hugged them often and encouraged them to think for themselves. We had regular FHE, scripture study and family prayers, too, although to be completely honest I don’t think those things are as important as the other things I mention. Strangely, it’s taken me some time to come to this, but I’m the one who taught them about free agency. I don’t get to stamp my feet when they make choices I disagree with. I get to cheer their triumphs and hold up their hands when they hang down.

  11. Obviously none of you people are Italian. Such boring, counterproductive, “correct” guidance – which all but insures the problem goes onnnnnnnn and onnnnnnnn and onnnnnnnn…….

    BONUS bonus advice: Sometimes a little yelling & screaming is not a bad thing. Draw your line in the sand and duke it out, buddy. Mom will survive. She may even gain a little respect.

  12. Instead of distancing yourself from your mother, maybe you can distance your friends from your mother (and just try to avoid getting them in the same room….)

  13. Stubborn Mom- you seen to have given the case study a sex change. How is a female adult child a different gender from her mother? The reply clearly states “her.”

  14. Meldrum the Less says:

    Problem with the Italian option is that righteous mom is not Italian. Going Italian on her will not have the same meaning to her as it would to an Italian mother. It is completely unpredictable how she will respond. Most scenarios are probably not desirable. When in Rome ….. but when in Mormonia….

  15. Frankly, Meldrum, this mom sounds suspiciously Mediterranean: “Whenever I leave the room, I hear her start up on them. My friends come to me and tell me about this and tell me it makes them uncomfortable. When I asked her to please stop because it hurts me and makes my friends uncomfortable, she acted like she didn’t know what I was talking about.”

    Operative phrase: “When I ask her to PLEASE stop …”

    “Please”? Really?!?!?! “Please” is not how you deal with a problem like this. Trust me.

  16. The Mother, here, has the daughter in a classic double bind. If the daughter goes back to Church she will hate it, if she stays away, the mother makes her mad. Neither option will result in happiness.

    To break the double bind, a third option must present itself. Our young friend must find a way of reacting which is not either of these two choices. By doing that she will change the rules of the game and the double binder will be left without a weapon. Like join another church and come home praising the new congregation, how loving and inclusive they are, how non-judgmental.

  17. John Harrison says:

    Why are your friends hanging out with your mom? Are you 12?

  18. I often find myself treating people like puppies or small children. I present the options, the consequences for each option, and then follow through with said consequences. I let them decide the outcome. I give them as many chances as they want. Things usually go my way.

    If it were me, I would simply say, “Mom, this behavior is hurting our relationship. If I hear you doing it again, I will leave immediately.” As soon as she does it again, leave the situation. Next time, tell her the same thing. Follow through. Give her as many chances as it takes. Don’t withdraw your love or yourself, so that she knows you’re going to be there. Keep on normally, but follow through with the stated consequence every time.

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