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Captain_Tetanus's avatar

I have trouble dealing with my uber-religious parents, advice please?

Asked by Captain_Tetanus (205points) November 16th, 2009

I am 31 years old. I live very far from my parents and generally visit them once a year, at Christmas. Everyone’s parents drive them nuts, but mine, especially my step-mom is REALLY religious. The whole area (Aiken, South Carolina) is super Chrisitian. I was raised Chrisitian, sent to Lutheran school up to 8th grade, but my folks got extra religious after I left home. I am now agnostic and have been since I was 20 or so. I made the mistake of telling them I wasn’t Chrisitian, which I’d undo if I could. It has really caused a rift between us. My dad is okay, we get along alright. My mom is the problem. She’s extra mega super religious. She’s also very emotional and overly sensitive. She is extrememly evangelisitic, and will proselytize as much as she can. Sometimes she tries to be subtle, which is annoying because she’s not subtle. She refuses to listen to me about anything even non-religious stuff. She opposes me whenever possible, despite usually being wrong. I have tried everything, talking to her about it,not talking to her about it. Trying to explain my side only makes her try harder to get me to go to her church. We used to be a fairly close family, I’d like to at least be able to spend one week a year with them and be happy. Am I foolish for even trying to have a decent relationship with these people? Any advice would be helpful. Oh yeah, on top of the rest I am unmarried and uninterested in getting married. I’m not gay but I’m pretty sure they think I am. My mom thinks marriage and babies are everything. She also thinks women are supposed to obey men and not think much for themselves, and I’m very much my own independant woman. Luckily she’s not after me for grandchildren as I have step siblings who have provided the grandchildren.

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35 Answers

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Can you write her a letter about how you feel? Letters are sometimes better than trying to verbalize what you need to say, because the recipient has to hear you out without interrupting you. Also, you could ask your dad if your mom would rather you not come visit for Christmas. Explain it to him, and let him take it up with her. At the very least, perhaps he could help tone her down?

Harp's avatar

This is very tough stuff. To your mom’s mind, her child is in mortal peril and nothing else matters.

I went through a similar ordeal many years ago with my mom. Because we were geographically separated, much of it was hashed out by mail, which, as @PandoraBoxx suggested, is a useful way to give each party in turn a chance to express herself fully while providing a buffer for the emotions . After several back and forth volleys, neither of us had fundamentally changed position, but we had so thoroughly aired our views that when we were actually together (a rare event), neither of us felt that further discussion of the topic would be fruitful, which opened up a space for more “normal” interactions.

That said, our relationship is still scarred. There’s a quiet desperation in my mom’s demeanor that I don’t think will ever go away.

noraasnave's avatar

My situation is similar, but your situation sounds a bit worse.

You have given too much ground inside your boundaries and you have to get some back. You told her you were agnostic expecting her to care about why you switched, but now she uses the information against you. You have to walk her back out of your boundaries where she cannot do any more real harm to you.

You have to establish new boundaries. Tell her that you don’t want to talk about that subject anymore. Tell her that you don’t feel comfortable visiting home or talking to her when she is going to talk about X (whatever subject hurts your feelings). You have to set hard limits, perhaps staying at a friend’s house instead of at home when you visit, or leaving their house or hanging up the phone immediately if she brings the topics in question up.

Establish boundaries (tell her) and enforce them. It sounds simple, yet it feels mean. You are in this situation for two reasons: 1. You let her in closer than she deserved. 2. She used that information to disrespect you and harass you.

Any change in boundaries takes time and there is usually a price tag of pain and family strife involved but when the dust settles relationships will be happier and healthier than before.

Hope this helps.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

She’s your step-mom, so give her the old You’re not my real mom!

valdasta's avatar

I would be careful about the letter – deal; there will be a permanent record of what you said. Unless you can choose your words right. I know your step mom…not personally, but I am surrounded by Christians; I am one myself. I write a piece in our church bulletin every week on the subject of personal evangelism. I believe in reaching people with the gospel, but not driving them nuts. Your mom sounds like she is burdened for you, but a bit on the over-zealous/overbearing side…and no doubt, that is annoying.

Advice: Get tough and straight to the point. “Mom, back off with the Christian stuff! When I am ready, I will let you know. All you are doing is driving me away.”
Something to that affect.

Story-Time: I used to work at a lumber yard. Everyone knew I was a Christian, yet I didn’t go around preaching to everybody. I started to take a separate lunch from the rest of the guys so I could eat a sandwich and read a bit of my Bible and not have to listen to them trash talk their wives (and I didn’t make an announcement why I was eating later). Another guy started to join me. Apparently he saw something in my life that he desired. He began to ask advice about him and his girlfriend. He ended up coming to church with me. He rededicated his life to the Lord; his girlfriend became a Christian; they got married; the Lord called him to preach, and now he and his large family are on their way to Brazil as missionaries.

I never forced our conversation once in a spiritual direction; that’s my style.

filmfann's avatar

My first instinct is to fuck with people like that. Show up at Christmas with a big red dot on your forehead, like you suddenly went Hindu or something.
Suppressing that instinct, I would say to speak kindly of religion to them, but say it isn’t for you right now.
If you were raised in the Church, the chances are you will eventually return to it. They probably know that. Give them hope.

Psychedelic_Zebra's avatar

I had this problem when I told my mom I was atheist. Big mistake. Now I just nod and smile when she talks about God. Sure, she’s a loon, but she doesn’t have any control over me. She can preach all she wants, I just nod and smile and tell her what she wants to hear. If it’s a lie, well so be it. Sometimes, you have to lie to people to get them to leave you alone.

Good luck, parental units can be the hardest people in the world to deal with.

oratio's avatar

I assume she loves you and wants to save your soul. I don’t know if you can change that relationship pattern. Spontaneously, it feels like you’ll just have to bite it and endure; as she knows the truth.

Qingu's avatar

Don’t let her bully you. The way I see it, if a Christian tries to evangelize me, that means I get to evangelize them, criticize their beliefs, and explain why I live the way I live my life.

You don’t have anything to be ashamed of as an agnostic. Your step-mom, on the other hand, believes in mythology based on a holy book that commands slavery and genocide. If she wants to go there, then go there. Don’t be afraid of standing up for your beliefs.

JLeslie's avatar

Can you just lie to her so she stops worrying?

galileogirl's avatar

jeff and film-How mature, if you guys don’t want to go to family gatherings don’t, otherwise leave your passive aggressive adolescent issues at home.

@Captain Tetanus. Have you ever thought how easy it would be to give your stepmother the gift of peace at Christmas. When she first addresses you about religion, just say “Mom (or Marge or Mrs Tetanus) I would like to go to church with you ob Christmas this year” It will take an hour of your life and improve the family dynamic for the entire week. Christmas services are usually uplifting with lots of music and nice decorations. Just zone out if you want and think about world peace or something you do believe in.

I know some people will say why do I have to pretend something I don’t believe in or it’s against my principles. Well we do things that don’t matter to make other people happy lots of times. If someone is so stiffnecked about their religious beliefs that they have to rub them in others’ faces, I suspect it’s more about a need to convince themselves they are right than knowing they are right-for both sides.

JLeslie's avatar

I must have missed the part about attending Christmas service that @galileogirl mentions above. I agree, just do the Christmas thing if you are visiting them. I have been to Easter and Palm Sunday service with my mother-in-law and I am Jewish and an atheist. It is not like as an agnostic it is against your religion to step into a house of worship, just play along. The more of an issue you make it, the more of an issue it will become.

If you had children I might have a different answer.

galileogirl's avatar

@JLeslie I meant what you did. If you cut them off at the pass with more than what they expected, it might just shut them up.

JLeslie's avatar

@galileogirl Yeah, I was agreeing with you, reinforcing what you said.

blueknight73's avatar

tell her to piss up a rope. you are a grown up and pay your own way in life. if she dont like it, too bad

Judi's avatar

Tell her you will go to church with her on Christmas and Easter if she will trust God and let him “find you” the rest of the year.

tinyfaery's avatar

I had a similar situation with my mom. She used to tell me I was going to hell, that I should find Jesus, blah blah blah…

One Christmas she was saying something in front of my whole family. I just said something like, “hey, I am never going to be Christian so you might as well stop.” I have not heard anything since.

I agree with whomever talked about setting boundaries. You teach people how to treat you. Give them new lessons.

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t think she is a well woman, and I don’t think she has normal relationships with anyone. With you, it is probably even more problematic. I think all you can do is write her off, nod, and agree, and say “yes”, and try to maintain the relationship with your father.

Kraigmo's avatar

I dunno if you wanna make it hit home with her or not… but the bottom line is she’s so weak on faith, she needs everyone else to join her for validation.

augustlan's avatar

I whole-heartedly disagree with lying to one’s parents just to shut them up or make them happy. It’s one thing to keep some things to yourself to avoid unnecessary drama, but once the cat’s out of the bag… own it. Stand up for yourself and your boundaries. I would combine the advice of @PandoraBoxx and @noraasnave in order to achieve that.

JLeslie's avatar

@augustlan Hmmm. I guess once you have said it, the deed is done, and difficult to take back, but I am ok with never telling things like this when it involves parents who will never understand. I kind of feel the same about people who are gay and other things that would fall into this category. She can still go to church with them on the holidays though. I don’t think you can reason with the super-religious step-mom she is too terrified for her step-daughters soul.

@all I kind of got the feeling from the original question that Christmas is not the only problem, that this is probably a problem throughout the year.

dpworkin's avatar

I nearly always agree with @augustlan, but in this case I feel that A. She is not your parent, and B. She is not constituted to allow you any autonomy on these issues. Trying to get her to accept you as an autonomous individual with your own ideas is a losing proposition. It’s too bad, but I am afraid it is so.

Judi's avatar

You can tell her to stop stressing and take her own Bibles advice.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Not to you.) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

Her constant worrying about you shows a LACK of faith on her part. If she wants to be an example of faith, act faithfully, don’t panic over your salvation.

YARNLADY's avatar

It is not necessary to lie. Simply end the conversation by saying “Thank you for your concern.” and then shut up. You don’t have to convince anybody you are right and they are wrong. Don’t even talk about it at all.

cookieman's avatar

I agree with @YARNLADY. Simply don’t discuss it.

That being said, if she persists, and will simply not let the subject drop, you’ll have to draw a line in the sand.

I like @PandoraBoxx‘s idea of speaking to your dad about it. I would like to know how long she’s been your step-mom. If it’s since you were a child, she’s basically your “mom” – as such, her motivation is likely to “save” her “baby”. Trust me, nothing will change her mind.

My mother-in-law can be like this. So dogmatic on some subjects that it’s best to avoid the subject and limit contact.

Ultimately, it’s a shame, because in her attempts to bring you closer, she’s really driving you away.

YARNLADY's avatar

@cprevite I have found with my Father-in-Law, he insists on trying to get me involved in political discussions – and I hold exactly opposite views to his – every time he tries, I just look at him and every time he asks me for my opinion, I say “What do you think about that?” He just goes on and on.

augustlan's avatar

Just to clarify my earlier response, I don’t think you should talk/argue about it with her after you’ve said your piece. I’m saying, tell her that you’ll have to agree to disagree, and that you won’t talk about it anymore

dpworkin's avatar

@augustlan That sounds wise.

fundevogel's avatar

Part of that problem may be the word agnostic itself. I think that when most religious people hear it they think that you’re on the fence. They see the agnosticism as a temporary tottering between faith (invariably theirs) and atheism and for the preachy sort its game on to bombard you with information that they think will get you to fall over their side of the fence rather than the dreaded atheist side.

If you’re not interested in pursuing the nature or existence of God further you should let her know that there is no tottering and you can actually be an agnostic all your live long days without needing to find out anything more about whatever gods may or may not exist.

Technically I’m and agnostic atheist but I just call myself an atheist so religious people are less likely to mistake me for some that might be receptive to their proselytizing.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I think the only approach here is to fight fire with fire. John 12:32 says “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Tell her that by her own principles, it should be Jesus himself convincing you, not her. In my experience, Christians will respect atheists/agnostics much more if they have a proven knowledge of the Bible. When practical logic fails, it is often appropriate to show how the Bible is its own downfall.

As usual I have not read other posts before answering, so I apologise if I have repeated the words of others.

noraasnave's avatar

I would like to share a memory of my Mom abusing the fact that she was inside some of my boundaries and how I dealt with it in hopes that it will assist the question asker in her quest for knowledge and a healthy life:

I was sleeping on the floor in the front room after watching movies late into the night. I was a young Marine home on leave for Christmas. She comes into the front room at 6 AM, turns on the lights, and kicks me to wake me up. When I asked her why she did that she told me that i needed to get up and get ready for church (which was at least 3 hours away), so I go to take a shower to get ready, still obeying out of old habit and lingering respect for a parent, and my mother is now in the only bathroom for the next hour taking a shower and God knows what else for a good hour or so. The injustice of this encounter and a few more like it didn’t dawn on me until I went back to my barracks in California.

I was singing at a buddy’s wedding and I was put up for the night in a friend of the groom’s house. I was treated as a guest, waited on by the host and hostess, given options of fun activities, served a nice dinner with wine, the conversation was relaxed and respectful. Then it hit me, that my parents treated me worse than they would treat a homeless person. Their religious beliefs that they should treat people with grace, mercy, and love somehow skipped over me!

I wrote a letter to my Mom explaining this and setting a boundary that was a bit harsh. I told her that I would not be staying in her house again until I was sure I would be treated with the respect that an adult was deserving of.

Sidenote: I was protected and sheltered from alcohol, drugs, popularity, and other vices the whole time I grew up. Don’t worry i had other vices but they mostly resided in my mind. So I was not a wild child at the time. A wild night was staying up past midnight with popcorn and movies and that is not an exaggeration. (pause for effect) back to the story!

I delivered the ultimatum to my mom in the form of a letter. I didn’t hear anything back. I didn’t need to hear anything back. I didn’t stay in their house for 10 years. I came back to visit them but I stayed at friend’s house or at other relatives house. Now they treat me with respect and dignity when I stay with them. I am firm on this boundary. If I were treated in any other way that respect I would immediately pack my bags, load the car, and leave.

Hope this helps!

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@noraasnave, I’m so glad you’re back on Fluther!

noraasnave's avatar

@PandoraBoxx Well, thank you! I am glad to be back!

WilAthart's avatar

This is how I deal with my religious mom. She likes to quote scripture. I have nothing against that. But tell her/him that you don’t appreciate scripture used as a weapon of choice, and that you just need to figure things out for yourself. Tell them that you are willing to listen to their advice WHEN YOU ASK FOR IT. You are 31, tell them to start treating you like an adult with opinions of your own.

Captain_Tetanus's avatar

Turns out the answer to this was diversion. I recently discovered I have food allergies, and that diverted attention away from the Jesus pushing, so the trip went well, except that my well meaning mum insisted upon feeding me and upset my allergy because my folks are not good at reading labels, but honestly it was a small price to pay for peace.

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