In the family in which I’m a son, my mother, my oldest sister and I are all active in church. I have two sisters and two brothers who are out of the church. And so far as I can tell in our family dynamics, that particular status plays no role whatsoever. My family has a culture whereby one’s participation in the Church or not is essentially irrelevant to that person’s place in the family. If you’re an active, engaged member, great. If you’re an inactive (urgh, less active) member, fine. If you’ve left the reservation entirely, peachy. You’re still part of the family and we still love you without distinction.
Admittedly, this would not be the case if my father were still alive. Like a lot of Mormon parents, he would go to the mattresses if someone in the family started to withdraw from active engagement in church. But he died over 30 years ago, so at the head of our family stands my mother. And she is a saint beyond being merely the latter-day kind; she is love personified. And it would never occur to her to slap down one of her children or grandchildren or, now, great grandchildren based on their relationship to the Church.
My own two children are also out of the church. And while that was definitely an adjustment at first, now I don’t give it a second thought, I guess in some measure following in my mother’s example. What I care about is that they are great human beings, which they indeed are. (I actually take a certain pride that they felt free to come to their own conclusions about the Church.)
I often see situations where parents perceive their children or other family members slipping away from the Church, and they panic and push–really hard–to keep their kids in the fold. And so without realizing it, they often push so hard that they turn their kids into little anti-Mormons, because they are putting them in a position where they feel they have to justify their decisions about their relationship with the Church, and so they spend time trolling the internet and building their case. This is a fairly common dynamic that shows the unintended consequences of an overly strong parental desire to keep the kids within the religious fold. (My kids may be out of the church, but they respect both the church and my involvement in it. They’ve simply come to the conclusion that it’s not for them, a conclusion which I in turn respect.)
I acknowledge that when the kids are still minors living in your home, it can be very difficult figuring out how much to push and how much to stand back. But once they become adults living outside your home, my sense is that a lot of pushing doesn’t do any good, and simply has the effect of fracturing the relationship.
I’m curious about what your experiences are. How do these dynamics play out in the culture of your own family? Are you satisfied with that situation, or would you like it to change, and if so, in what way? Is it possible to change such a family dynamic, and if so, how would one go about doing that? Your thoughts and experiences appreciated.