Lots of details below the cut, but basically it boils down to a plea for "this is how I handled it" stories about confronting parents about religion and different lifestyles--particularly when my "different" lifestyle is not so different at all.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I was raised in a fringe Christian denomination in a very strict family (I'm the oldest of four kids). I was taught to view drinking, smoking, divorce, cursing, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, caffeine, jewelry, mustard and pepper, watching television on Saturdays and eating meat (among a slew of other things) as sinful. I was not allowed to date or attend school dances or football games for the few years I went to public school. I had no privacy, and any possession of mine was up for their search and seizure at any time, including my diary. The music I listened to and the movies I saw were carefully monitored and inappropiate things were prohibited (I was 16 when Titanic came out, and my mother forbade me from seeing it). I was sent to church-affiliated boarding school in high school, where things were even stricter than at home (I could literally be fined for wearing a spaghetti-strapped top--immodest!--in my own dormitory). I went to a church-affiliated university because my parents said if I went anywhere else I would be cut off and I didn't know what options I had in terms of loans--I had no idea they existed. I was about as shut off from the outside world as it's possible to be.
I quietly lost most of my faith in high school and college and now consider myself either a militant agnostic, an apatheist, or a regular old atheist, depending on the day. I'm a jewelry-wearing, liquor-drinking former smoker who is all for gay marriage and legalized pot and abortion and, most of all, living and letting live. I am not a rebellious person by nature so as I discovered where my beliefs differed from my parents or the deans of my dormitory, rather than challenge anyone on anything, I just slipped by under the rules. When my college dorm checked each room to verify that we were attending church and not sleeping in (and yes, they did this!) I hung out in my car. I hid my pierced ears from my mom with my long hair for years. I went to a local clinic for birth control instead of using their insurance. I moved across the country right after college in part to get away from their oversight. I'm sure I have outright lied at times to encourage them to continue believing whatever they want about me, and it's worked so well that I don't know how to dig my way out of it.
Fighting them on these things simply never seemed worth it. I would get tag-teamed and reamed out for not being a "good Christian girl". My mother would accuse me of being on drugs, or ask me what she'd done to deserve such a terrible daughter. These screaming matches would last all night, and could be over something as innocent as my wanting to pay my tithe to an animal shelter instead of to the church. So I scooted by under the radar and let them believe whatever they want to believe about my lifestyle. In truth, it's not wild. I drink occasionally but rarely to excess. I smoked for eight years but recently managed to quit (yay me!). I tried pot in college but didn't like it. I've slept with three people in my life, all in the framework of long term, monogamous relationships. I work full-time and support myself, go to graduate school, have never been in trouble with the law, don't forget birthdays or anniversaries, call and visit my parents frequently, have great friends and a close relationship with my sister--in short, pretty much any parent would be thrilled to have me for a kid, except for my parents, and if they knew the truth, all they would be able to focus on is how I've failed them by rejecting their religion and choosing the sinful world instead.
But I'm tired of letting them believe that I support their apocalyptic and closed-minded views. I'm tired of being silent when they denounce homosexuals and people who drink. I'm tired of being someone I'm not around them and cherry-picking the things about my life they know. I'm torn about confronting them with things from my childhood that in retrospect look very much like physical, emotional, or religious abuse. I don't know how to set appropriate boundaries with them, especially with my mom who will continue to treat me like a little girl until I'm married, regardless of my age.
I'm also more and more concerned about their escalated involvement in their religious community and some of the bizarre beliefs my mother seems to have picked up. I don't know how on earth to confront them with this.
Yes, I'm therapy and it's hard and frustrating and painful and the best thing I've ever done for myself. And yes, I've looked for support groups or other people who've been through this, but most of the sites I've found focus on minor points of doctrine rather than figuring out how to get my parents off my back about my secular lifestyle (which, by the way, has give me much more peace than religion ever did). Therapy has given me the courage to begin to face this, but not the actual words.
I guess my question is two-fold. I'm looking for been-there, done-that advice from people who have successfully left cultlike/high involvement religious upbringings and are "out" with their families about this (books, websites, personal anecdotes, whatever) and I'm also looking for advice in general on telling parents that my lifestyle is not up for their debate and scrutiny, or learning how to set boundaries. Specific ideas for how to bring up this conversation is most appreciated. Throwaway email: email@example.com