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Conversion Problems, Part 2
October 12, 2011 4:55 AM   Subscribe

My very religious parents have invited me back into their home for the first time since I declared my agnosticism. I don't want to go. Am I making a mistake?

Hi all, it's me again. Apologies for the length of this posting!

In my previous question, I asked you guys to help me overcome my guilt for not wanting to convert to Islam, despite a lot of pressure from my parents.

I feel like I've been doing pretty well with this. I haven't been in touch with my family much except for the occasional phonecall or email. The phonecalls always stress me out so much that I feel nauseous the whole day before one is planned, because I know my mum will pressure me and guilt me about accepting Islam, and I have to try and stay strong and change the subject while not hurting her feelings too much by outright rejecting her.

To briefly recap: I told my parents about my secret boyfriend in February of this year. My dad has told me he can only accept me as his daughter if we both convert to Islam, and we have been given some time to think about that before... well, no end point or ultimatum has been thrown down yet. My dad has not wanted me to come back for a visit (I live in a different country) during this time. But today I got the following email from my mum:

"This week I'm soo happy because Allah has granted my wishes and your dad says that you can come home for a visit, I thought that it would be really good if you came and we could meet up for your b-day as well as visiting your grandma. I know that you're going away over christmas, so I think now would be a really great time for you to come because I can say to everyone that you have a big project on over Xmas holidays and that's why you can't come."

And I'm feeling very stressed out. Because to be honest, I do not want to visit. I miss my mum and family very, very much, but what I miss are the fun, loving times we used to have with one another. I anticipate that this visit would be filled with discussion of Islam and why I really should become a Muslim, and the thought of having to deal with that makes me feel ill. My self-confidence and assertiveness has been slowly developing through therapy, but it feels so fragile still. I know I could ask my mum to promise we won't discuss it, but based on past experience I know that won't work. She can't talk to me about any other topic these days.

Also, my hyper-conservative extended family do not yet know that I am not a muslim, or that I have a boyfriend. If I come to visit, as my mum alludes to above, it will help the lie to continue for a while (my parents don't want to say anything to them in case I change my mind). I don't particularly care what these relatives think of me, and I really wish I could stop lying about this thing, full stop. But I know that to my parents it is very important to maintain the lie.

However, I have an uncle who is a bit crazypants, extremely religious, and known for his shady dealings. I may well be overreacting and I don't want to give in to paranoia, but I'm a little scared that I could go visit my parents and somehow my uncle finds out and tries to convince my dad to physically stop me from going back to my boyfriend. Another point is that it just irks me that now my dad has relented and 'summoned' me, and it's just expected that I will go back whenever they want me to and put up with their bullshit despite the many things they have said and done to hurt my feelings.

What I would like to do most of all is to tell my mum the truth about why I don't want to come back and visit just yet, and then plan a visit myself for sometime in the first half of next year, on my own terms, ideally even taking my boyfriend with me so he can meet my parents. My extended family will be suspicious, but maybe that is a good first step towards revealing the truth, and I will be safer abroad for now anyway. But I know that to say no to my parents at this point will hurt them very much and make them think I don't care to see them, so I'm worried at the damage this could do to our relationship.

Am I being selfish by not wanting to visit my parents, dear MeFites? Is it wrong to stay away even though I know that going would make them very happy? I want to maintain a relationship with them very much, and I know that this will take work. Am I doing irreparable damage to that relationship with this decision? Thanks so much for any insight you might have.
posted by guessthis to Human Relations (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do not go if they are setting you up to be manipulated and controlled. Do not fall into their trap.

However, you should make it clear to them how much you miss them. Tell your mother that you love her. Invite them to a neutral location - like going out to dinner at a local restaraunt.
posted by Flood at 5:01 AM on October 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


You're not ready to go back yet. That's okay: Don't go back. Take the time you need to feel comfortable in your own skin.
posted by anildash at 5:02 AM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't go, and especially don't go alone: I'm sorry to say it sounds very, very possible that your father and uncle WOULD try to prevent you from leaving, and perhaps even force you into something like an arranged marriage.

Tell your mom that you're sorry but you can't come visit now; maybe blame it on a hectic work schedule. Perhaps you could invite your parents to come to visit you instead? But whatever you do, please don't go there.
posted by easily confused at 5:10 AM on October 12, 2011 [23 favorites]


My father and I had deep disagreements about religion. Eventually, I had to make it clear to him that I would not discuss religion with him at all -- it would mean ending the phone conversation, leaving the room, etc. If he wanted to speak to me, he could not talk about religion. I am not sure he ever accepted my stance, but he understood the ramifications of it.

My younger brother had his own disputes with my father. My brother maintained a regular correspondence between them until my father died, laying out his point of view, engaging with my father's belief, and seeking some kind of "common ground." He did not succeed. My father included a Bible verse in his funeral service directed, I think, at my younger brother, to tell him he was wrong. Nevertheless, my brother feels that, if he hadn't taken this route, he would feel worse today.

What I am trying to illustrate is that there is not necessarily a "right way" to do this, only the way that is "right for you." Your parents' wishes and happiness are grist for your decisions, we all generally want our parents to be happy, but prioritizing your parents' desires over your own is never good for you and rarely good for them, even in the short term. Resentment breeds in situations like that, and that poisons any relationship. Note: while I see my younger brother's efforts as futile on the surface, they arose out of his own need to communicate, and they served a purpose for him, so it worked, at least to a degree.

So, should you go home? My advice would be no, not now. Or, if you do go home for a visit, stay elsewhere so you can leave if necessary. But that would be my answer. I think your answer will develop out of you trusting your gut, deciding what boundaries are healthy for you, and then policing and maintaining those boundaries. I am sorry if that advice is not more specific, but this will be a process for you, not an event or a thing, and it's a process you need to do on your own for your own reasons and your own needs.The suggestion of a neutral location is probably a good one, because it keeps you out of the "under my room, under my rules" quality that a lot of parents have with their youthful children, but, again, look to your own sense of your own comfort and needs.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:11 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Would you put up with their behavior if they weren't family? No? Then I don't see why you should tolerate their behavior. This might seem simplistic but personally I've come to realize that we should hold family to the same standards as other people, otherwise we find ourselves on the slippery slope of family dysfunction, ultimately succumbing to very destructive behavior.

As another thought experiment, imagine that it was your boyfriend's family who demanded that you both convert to Christianity. Would that make sense? Probably not. What if they made this crazy reach out, would you encourage him to meet his family if he felt the same anxiety as you do? Probably not.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:15 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do not go if they are setting you up to be manipulated and controlled. Do not fall into their trap.

However, you should make it clear to them how much you miss them. Tell your mother that you love her.


This.

Am I doing irreparable damage to that relationship with this decision?

It is my experience that you usually do more damage by things said in anger and frustration. Stay away and you avoid this as well.

Is it wrong to stay away even though I know that going would make them very happy?

Your responsibility as an adult it to make yourself happy. If your parents love you, that should be enough for them.

Stop being a child and start treating your parents as you would treat any other peer. Don't spend time with people who suck the energy out of you.
posted by three blind mice at 5:15 AM on October 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Invite your parents to visit you. Tell them you love them, tell them you miss them, but in your place I think I would also tell them that you can only be a part of their life if they accept you the way you are, just as you accept them the way they are - we're all grown ups here :)
posted by nickji at 5:18 AM on October 12, 2011 [14 favorites]


Am I being selfish by not wanting to visit my parents, dear MeFites?

No. You sound mature and compassionate, not selfish.

Is it wrong to stay away even though I know that going would make them very happy?

No. I'm sure your parents would be genuinely glad to see you, and it sounds like they love and miss you - but it also sounds like they are not willing or able to see you for who you are, no part left out. You do not have to subject yourself to their guilting, shaming or coercion.
posted by Cygnet at 5:18 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think you should go, mostly because you don't want to go, but also because it's allowing them to set the parameters of your relationship. They cut you off, and then the idea is that the moment they give you permission to visit them, you're going to drop everything and go visit them in their house, where they expect to make the rules, in a place where you're cut off from your support system? Even leaving aside your fears about whether they'll try to make you stay, it establishes an unequal power dynamic that isn't fair to you. You can only have a healthy relationship with them, I think, after you've established your independence, and going home on these terms doesn't do that.
posted by craichead at 5:18 AM on October 12, 2011 [25 favorites]


I also vote not going now and that when you do go, you do not go alone.

If you don't or can't get into it, you can save face by mentioning your boyfriend and/or another friend would like to visit the country your parents live in but can't get the time off now. And do you work? 'Cause quite frankly, maybe you can't get the time off right now, either.
posted by zizzle at 5:21 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no.

Going from your other post, this is probably not a "we were silly, and we miss you" invitation. Rather, it seems more like the deadline at the end of the time given to you to discuss conversion with your bf. Am I wrong in thinking you have been letting them assume you're actually considering it?

I think visits are not going to be pleasant until your family understands and accepts that you aren't going to change your mind.

It's up to them to decide what is more important: you, or your religious beliefs. Until and unless they choose the former, I would very much recommend against seeing them.
posted by HFSH at 5:52 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another vote for no. If you even have the slightest inkling that they might put pressure on you to stay (or worse, force) then do not put yourself in that painful and difficult position, at least not while things are still sensitive and delicate.

Your worries are NOT you being paranoid, or overthinking. They are entirely valid concerns. Listen to them.
posted by greenish at 5:57 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think you should go, mostly because you don't want to go, but also because it's allowing them to set the parameters of your relationship. They cut you off, and then the idea is that the moment they give you permission to visit them, you're going to drop everything and go visit them in their house, where they expect to make the rules, in a place where you're cut off from your support system? Even leaving aside your fears about whether they'll try to make you stay, it establishes an unequal power dynamic that isn't fair to you. You can only have a healthy relationship with them, I think, after you've established your independence, and going home on these terms doesn't do that.

This is exactly right. They need to understand that they have the question backward. It's not a matter of "under what circumstances will we agree to let guessthis, our heretical daughter, come back and visit us?" It's "under what circumstances will guessthis, our daughter whom we have wronged, agree to see us?" If I were you, I would take a pass on this current offer. You don't have to give the real reasons. Just say you are too busy, something big has come up, so sorry. Take this as a simple opportunity to make the point that you aren't going to drop what you are doing and come running. You might consider mentioning that you would have time for a visit at your place, or you could meet for dinner if they came to where you are. You may be able to set your own parameters without them even realizing that's what you are doing, but it will shift the balance of power to a more equal footing.

This stuff can be really difficult, but you can only have an adult relationship with your parents if everyone acknowledges everyone else as an adult.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:20 AM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


I would tell your mother that as much as you miss your family, unfortunately right now the only topic of conversation all of you seem to have is your relationship with Islam and that isn't something you are prepared to spend 7 days / 14 days / whatever discussing right now. Therefore, a visit to Hometown isn't on the cards for you right now, perhaps not until next spring depending on how things evolve.

You might also, however, suggest that if your mother wishes to see you as much as you wish to see her, she instead come visit you and boyfriend in your home in Yourtown during that same week. She will of course say no because you are living with the boyfriend, but it's an offer that positions you as being welcoming of her if she is accepting of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:24 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


What I would like to do most of all is to tell my mum the truth about why I don't want to come back and visit just yet, and then plan a visit myself for sometime in the first half of next year, on my own terms,

Then this is what you should do. Simple as that.

But I know that to say no to my parents at this point will hurt them very much and make them think I don't care to see them, so I'm worried at the damage this could do to our relationship.

Oh boy, I could go on for eons on this one. MeMail me if you like. I've definitely been in the same position w/r/t decision making and my family and it took years, but I had to accept that my making decisions that I knew to be hurtful to them was what I needed to do for my own sanity. It sucked. Hard.

One of the things I realized in this process is how bass-fucking-ackwards it was for me - as the child - to be constantly protecting my parents' feelings and trying to act in their best interest. You love your parents and want them to be happy and that's awesome, but remember that they're the parents and it is absolutely not your responsibility to protect them.

In the end, I accepted that my decisions would be hurtful to my family but that it's what needed to be done in the long run to prevent more emotional pain on my own part in the future. My situation is more complicated as I also have a child who I feel needs to be "protected" (for lack of a better word) from certain elements of insanity that run rampant through parts of family. In any case, I hated making the decision to cut off certain ties - and felt incredibly guilty that I was hurting other people, but once I did I honestly wished I'd done so YEARS ago.

(Trying to keep this succinct, so I'm sorry if it's a bit cryptic. Seriously, feel free to MeMail me if you want to commiserate about family and religion.)
posted by sonika at 6:31 AM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'll also vote for "don't go". I am not sure of your "home" country, but if it is Pakistan or Afghanistan, or any community in which conservative Islam is dominant, then I share your paranoia about safety. A heretic daughter does not have a lot of rights, and the father and uncle are working to preserve the family honour... terrible outcomes have come of just this situation in the past, I am sure you're well aware.

Have them visit you, or a shared vacation where you are both on equal ground... in three to five years, after they've had a chance to move on and accept reality... please be safe and stay strong.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:31 AM on October 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


Yeah, don't go. You're setting yourself up for disaster.

I think the important thing to make clear to your mother is that you love her very much and miss her dearly, but that you are simply too stressed out to make the trip. My parents (and I) had religious differences with my grandparents. My grandmother was deeply disturbed by the tension and distance between us, and missed my father dearly when he was not on speaking terms with them. While it is important to maintain communication with your parents, it is not mandated that you visit them. Your parents love you -- you need to get them to respect you, which they do not. Going there when they beckon will do nothing to get them to respect you. Throwing your choices in their face won't either. But letting them know that you're doing well on your own, and getting them to realize that you really ARE doing well on your own, and that because you are doing well on your own, they can't order you around as they see fit, is a pretty important step to gain their respect.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:35 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember the last question, and I had no words - it must be so hard for you. But this I can speak to, as someone who also had to break from my parents for a bit and come back on new terms. You still have more letting go to do; some grieving what you can't have with them, or mourning the loss of the fun times in case you don't get what you'd like, before you're ready to go back, I think.

Yes, you would like to tell your mom the truth. You don't have to. Let go of wants. You may need to build this relationship bit by bit with new boundaries at every step. Tell her some truths - you're fine, you love them, you miss them. But don't hand them things to use against you.

You think being able to out with the truth will feel good to you, but forcing any of your truths on them now would likely do little but damage what you could achieve in the long run. You just plain don't have to talk about things - just present them as they are when you feel strong enough. They probably don't care to meet your boyfriend, either, anytime soon. I would also wait a bit with that, and I'll go into that later. They will be hurt either way, because what they want is what they want, and they've made that clear as well as they've made that insinuated. You need to get them to a point where they can be happy with what they can have from you, and, sadly be prepared for that to be never.

Maybe it's selfish, maybe not. You can call it things like self-protecting or insulating or shoring up or anything you want, but it's not always a bad thing to be selfish. Your parents will perceive it as they will though, and that you can't control that either. You'll have to learn to take from them what you can have too. Separating from your parents is always somewhat rending. Live your life a bit. Build it up, get strong and independent and come back to them when you're not feeling so vulnerable. Make a plan on how you'll get strong about this. Get yourself some rote replies together that you feel good about and can repeat as necessary. Stop sharing details that don't help your cause. Don't let how your parents feel about you affect the measure of the person you want to be, at large and in all this.

But also, it has to be about you and what you want - not a boyfriend at all. Because, and I speak from experience, there is nothing like having to defend your decision as your own when they'd probably love to believe he's influencing it. If the relationship doesn't work out, having to eat some crow about that being part of your choice makes it harder on yourself than it needs to be. Keep it all about you, your choices and keep him out of it with them, until enough time has passed with him that it's secure and long-term and they are certain that it's only you being in charge of yourself that they've been dealing with.

Twenty-five years ago my mother cried into a dishtowel when she realized that she didn't have a daughter who'd live virginally in their house until she was 22, going to church every Sunday having some easily-abandoned job for when I'd get married and pop out ten grandkids for her to smother. Instead she got an eighteen year old who left while she was at work one day to live with an older (and eventually abusive) man. It was inconceivable to her that she didn't get the daughter she ordered. I was upset that I had to rebel so hard just to have what I wanted from my own life and that she proscribed anything other than what she wanted from me. It took five years before she'd even take my calls. It was some time after that before we could in the same room. There was a lot of "Please don't go there, or I will leave/hang up." To this day, she will make disparaging remarks about that time, and I still need to remind her "That helped make me who I am today as much as anything, and I don't regret it. Stop with those remarks."
posted by peagood at 6:42 AM on October 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


I am aware that you are experiencing this in a very different cultural background to the one I experienced my parental crisis when I declared my atheism, so I am not going to presume to do anything more than make a broad observation.

Your parents appear to be putting you under emotional and cultural pressure that I would find unacceptable and intolerable. You appear to be feeling the same way, but you have more fear of the results of resisting this pressure than I had, and probably for good reason. What seems clear to me is that sooner or later something has to give in this situation, and I would hope it won't be you. Because only you have the right to determine what is right for you. I honestly believe that ought to apply irrespective of cultural background.

I would ask to talk with your parents - remotely - and try to explain that while you love and miss them both you are not comfortable with visiting so long as they persist in making what you consider to be unreasonable demands on your opinions, your preferences and your personal choice of belief. I would make it clear that you are an adult (I assume you are) and as such you need them to acknowledge your right to self-determination, even - no, especially - where that conflicts with their own views and preferences. I would say that until they are both willing to give such an undertaking they must understand that you cannot feel comfortable about visiting.

This will be hard as hell, of course. Rows are to be expected, and possibly ostracism. But ask yourself: will this situation improve in your favour if you keep acceding to their demands? Or will it just go on and on until you either keep living the lie or have the battle eventually anyway?

I wish you courage, and the very best of luck.
posted by Decani at 6:47 AM on October 12, 2011


You listed the reasons not to go but I see no reasons listed why you should go other than not to do so would be in your own interests (the term you used was "selfish"). So it looks like you answered your own question.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:53 AM on October 12, 2011


If, in the course of your discussions on why you're not going, your parents pull the "why are you doing this to us?/Why are you attacking your family?" card, I would advise you to take a deep breath, use your calmest voice, and remind them that that is not what is happening. No one is attacking them, and any hurt that comes from the fact that you are your own person results from them doing it to themselves.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:58 AM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Invite them to come see you
posted by Blasdelb at 6:58 AM on October 12, 2011


I began writing up a response -- advising not to allow your guilt and your filial nostalgia to be used as a lever to manipulate you -- and asking about your age (since it is a different thing to try to influence the choices of your 17-year-old child than to try to manipulate the choices of your 45-year-old child) -- and asking about your wealth (whether you could afford to book a return flight on a day's notice if necessary) -- etc.

Then I saw that you'd written: "I will be safer abroad for now anyway". That simplifies this problem beautifully. If you would be unsafe with your parents, do not visit your parents.

It really is that simple.
posted by foursentences at 7:09 AM on October 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Please don't go. I am concerned for you.

Do tell them you love them and invite them to come visit you. Do not go to them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:12 AM on October 12, 2011


I don't know what country you're from and I don't want to assume stuff but... Depending on the situation there, you might be setting yourself for trouble and if you think you have cause to worry, trust your instincts.

Anecdotes don't make real stats but my mom and aunt have worked with a wonderful and charming guy who happened to be a not very practicing Muslim, and he ended up dating one of their colleagues, they married, had children... One day the guy's family invited them to visit, so they did. And then maybe under peer and sociological influence or maybe just dropping pretenses, I don't know, the husband turned on his wife and children, and the family backed him up. Since she had Canadian citizenship, the wife managed to eventually get out, I don't remember for sure what happened with the children, they being born in Canada but being her husband's property according to local law, I don't want to advance stuff... I think they made it out...

I'm in no way trying to generalize or anything but I know that these things may happen, especially in countries where women's fundamental rights are not a given. Even if that guy/your family are good people at heart that wouldn't wish you any harm, there might be significant peer, extended family and social pressure. Especially in religious dogmas, they might also be persuaded that horrifying stuff like restraining you and worse is actually for your own good and the salvation of your soul or whatever.
And it's exactly because they love you that they might hurt you the most.

I have seen many a scary tale of fundamentalist Christians pulling horrors on their children because of their faith too, it's in no way an accusation against Islam. Any time a religion claims they are the only salvation/way of life/etc. this danger arises.
What is touchy tough is that whereas pretty much all major religions are pretty horrible against women, their rights and their body sovereignty, you might also have the problem of going into a country that also has pretty horrible laws against women too.

So, I guess, whereas it's terribly sad to have this chasm between you and your parents with whom you have shared much love, your safety is more important.

Try not to visit your family in any place they might be able to restrict you from leaving/grants them power over you. Be wary of having more people than your parents (i.e your scary uncle) come to see you. Plan how the meeting will go and get into an agreement with your parents that you won't be going anywhere/meeting anyone/discussing anything that you haven't agreed to.

And for your sake, have a backup plan, and make sure there are people that know where you are, when you should come back, and call rescue if something happens to you.

Sorry if I sound paranoid. :(
posted by CelebrenIthil at 7:19 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meatbomb's answer stands for mine. S/he didn't use the word "kidnapping," but I will: that's what I'm afraid for you.
Put yourself first, at all times! (something I wish women would do more often in general,) but especially now. You live in a separate country from your parents, literally and figuratively; don't allow their tentacles of guilt to reach you.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:40 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


However, I have an uncle who is a bit crazypants, extremely religious, and known for his shady dealings.

This concern rightly trumps all your feelings of guilt. Make other arrangements that don't put you at any disadvantage.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:08 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


From what you've described, there are quite a few reasons to be apprehensive about returning for a visit. If you have concerns for your own safety, please do not go.

But I know that to say no to my parents at this point will hurt them very much and make them think I don't care to see them, so I'm worried at the damage this could do to our relationship.

Here's the thing, though: your dad made it clear he didn't want to see you for many months, and it has not irreparably damaged the relationship on your end, right? You still want to see your family, after all. This will not cause permanent damage unless your family continues to treat you poorly. And if they do, then it is not you who is causing the damage.

In addition to the safety reasons for not going back, you also do not want to set up a dynamic where your family controls the terms of your relationship (if they are angry at you, you're not allowed to visit; now that they've decided to "forgive" you, you must immediately go visit them). No good can come of that.

Best of luck. This sounds like a really difficult situation and I really feel for you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:26 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


your dad says that you can come home for a visit

Fuck this shit. You're not a child to be told when and how you can do something. Don't go back.
posted by crankylex at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2011


All I can say is, if I were in your position I wouldn't go...
posted by ob at 8:48 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of people have written very eloquently as to why you should not go. All I can say is I agree with them. This sounds emotionally dangerous, at least, for all the reasons they've given.
posted by Alterscape at 8:55 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I miss my mum and family very, very much, but what I miss are the fun, loving times we used to have with one another."

I have a feeling, based on your post, that those times are in the past. Remember them fondly, but don't expect that you can recreate them. I am guessing that these were before your religious beliefs were an issue?

"However, I have an uncle who is a bit crazypants, extremely religious, and known for his shady dealings. I may well be overreacting and I don't want to give in to paranoia, but I'm a little scared that I could go visit my parents and somehow my uncle finds out and tries to convince my dad to physically stop me from going back to my boyfriend."

If your gut is telling you "no", then you need to listen. There are enough stories about honor killings, etc. to back up your gut feeling.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:03 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with pretty much everything said above. I don't think it's a good idea for you to return home for a visit when you are not comfortable doing so. If you would prefer can you use work as an excuse, things are so busy what with the Christmas rush and its such short notice you can't get time of. If you want to save tension blame your boss or imaginary exams at school or some such excuse depending on your situation. White lies are sometimes not a bad idea.

You mentioned you were in therapy, I am sure you have, but I would bring it up with your therapist too they would have much more idea of if you were going to be capable of handling the stress of meeting them. I also go along very strongly with the idea of arranging to meet them in a neutral location so that they can't drag along a huge pile of family to add to the pressure they are most likely going to put upon you.
posted by wwax at 9:09 AM on October 12, 2011


I think you can see where the MeFites fall on this issue. Please let us know what you decide; I am also worried for you.
posted by blurker at 9:35 AM on October 12, 2011


Praise the positive, and ignore the negative. Dear Mom, I'm thankful that Dad has changed his position. I love and miss both of you very much. I would love to visit, but I have obligations that make it impossible right now. She'll press you for a reason, and you can tell her that the conflict about religion is painful, and you don't feel ready to visit and have to deal with it. I would not think less of you for saying you have a work or school conflict. The safety concern is real, and I think it's very true that the conflict is tearing you up.

I recommend adding more distance by reducing phone calls, texts, email, etc., with your family. Before any phone call, make a list of topics. When Mom starts in on religion, or asking you to visit, repeat your stance: I love and miss both of you very much. I respect your religious beliefs, and I hope that someday you can respect mine. Then change the subject. Ask about the health of Aunt J, or Dad's job, or ask Mom to take a photograph or your favorite tree and email it to you. Tell her that you'll call her next Sunday, or whenever, just make sure that the calls are further apart than they have been. This is exhausting and stressful.

As a loving mother whose child hasn't always lived the life I might have preferred, I respect your concern for being good to your parents. But you are moving in your own direction, and though it may not be culturally acceptable in your parents' world, it is a cultural expectation in the world you are living in. It's not easy to balance worlds, and coming here for support is a terrific idea. By the way, though my adult child's choices are not what I expected, am proud of the man he has become, and I respect and support his choices, because I know he applied the values I taught him in his own way. In fact, you could say to your parents I know you are unhappy with my decisions, but I know that the way you raised me helped me become the woman I am, and I know the values and teachings of my childhood are still part of who I am.
posted by theora55 at 9:43 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Phew. Checking back here every so often has gotten me through a terribly stressful day at work. I couldn't get that email out of my mind - the next best thing is finding ever more words of encouragement and support to read.

I will be reading over everything again later and marking some best answers, but for now I would like to thank you all for your wise words. It's really nice to hear that I'm not being silly by listening to my gut instinct. I always want to try to pin down and define that instinct, and then rationalise it away. But not this time. The country my parents live in is highly developed and progressive, but pockets of immigrant communities have a bad reputation for upholding women's rights, including their town - it's a place where I feel like I have no control or safety net, so yeah, not so good to visit in such circumstances.

So I will NOT be going back to visit my parents, or not yet at least. I'm dreading having to tell my mum this, but I do now feel that I can tell her, somehow. I am in my mid-twenties, but those of you who noticed that the dynamic between us is still very much one of authoritarian parent and obedient daughter are spot on. A neutral meetup location isn't really feasible given we're in different countries, but I will be sure to let my mum know how much I care for her, and to invite her to visit my boyfriend and I in my country.
posted by guessthis at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2011 [17 favorites]


I had similar family struggles when I came out to my super-conservative parents. They made it clear that my fiancee was not welcome in their house, and so I made it clear that since he is a part of me, and I am a part of him, they are also making me unwelcome in their house. I told my mom I loved her and I missed her greatly, but until he and I are both unconditionally welcome in their home, I would not be visiting them.

I also made it clear that they were welcome in our home anytime, as long as they both remained civil. Stepdad never came to visit, or would but just sat in the car in the driveway while mom came in for a brief chat. Over time, their thinking changed, and they grew to accept us. She, fully; he, reluctantly.

The point is, I stood my ground and made it clear that as long as they chose to make my fiancee (now husband) unwelcome in their home, I would not be coming to visit, even though I missed them both a great deal. The other point I was making is that I was choosing to be the grown-up in the situation, set aside my frustration with their beliefs, and make it clear that I was at least trying for some reconciliation.

Perhaps something similar would work for you?
posted by xedrik at 9:45 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just repeating what some others have said. I also get an uncomfortable feeling at the thought of you going to their country and wish you wouldn't.
posted by Vaike at 10:01 AM on October 12, 2011


When the email more or less starts, "Allah has granted my wishes" I'm pretty sure the nature of this invitation has been fully laid out for you.

Don't go for that reason alone. Also, I think there could be a safety issue.

My mom is a bit religiously crazypants, among other things, and I narrowly missed getting "grabbed" and at least temporarily committed to some kind of facility against my will at the age of 24. My mom convinced relatives that I was "in trouble" and required an intervention (because college + full time job in my intended field = she would never ever have control of me again *sigh*) This was in mid-town Manhattan. Her main go-between was her younger sister, a woman with an MBA that had a prominent job in banking. I doubt my aunt was entirely in on the plan, and I imagine your mother is in the dark, too.

So nutty stuff does happen. It's not even a cultural thing or a religious thing. Nutty people use culture, religion, and tradition to justify their nutty behavior sometimes.

I'm sorry you have to debate your safety for even a minute. I remember doing the same during the circumstances I described above. I went around and around with myself and with friends about the right thing to do back then. Instinct.


Don't go. You never need to find out where this invitation was really heading.
posted by jbenben at 10:08 AM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Glad to hear that you've decided to skip a visit for now. Stay safe and enjoy spending time with your boyfriend. Having your mom visit you is a very reasonable solution and I hope it works out for the best.
posted by sonika at 10:24 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


A neutral meetup location isn't really feasible given we're in different countries, but I will be sure to let my mum know how much I care for her, and to invite her to visit my boyfriend and I in my country.

If you could somehow avoid or deflect discussion about boyfriends and religion, it may help your relationship with your mother. Instead, try to steer the conversation to how she is doing, what the weather is like, what others are doing, etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 PM on October 12, 2011


Memailed you. Feel free to harass me if you need someone to talk to.
posted by gwyhir at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2011


I just overheard Devil's Advocate over in the corner preparing a response. He said, "Well, your mom has been praying that your dad would be more reasonable and ....crap! I can't do it! I can't find a way that makes sense for you to go. Don't go!"

If Devil's Advocate has got nothing in favor if you going---you are completely off the hook.

Don't go. I hope you get another opportunity--one that makes sense. But right now? No.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:01 PM on October 12, 2011


I'm a little suspicious of your father's sudden change of heart and wanting you to come now. International plans aren't normally made at the drop of a hat... I think you're right to be concerned for your safety.
posted by whoaali at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2011


Can you invite your mom for a visit?
posted by small_ruminant at 3:59 PM on October 12, 2011


Tell them it's not possible for you to visit right now (I'm definitely concerned for your safety, this change of heart from your father sounds incredibly dodgy) but you will ALLOW them to visit you on the condition that they don't bring up religion. As soon as they do, show them the door. If they're not prepared to visit you but only want to see you on their turf... consider why that might be and what their plans for you could actually entail.

I'm learning myself right now that you have to lay down boundaries with parents otherwise they'll control you their entire lives. And that's what this is, this is all about control and from the sounds of it, they'll do anything, say anything and manipulate you in whatever way they can to get it back. You can love them and still not put up with it.
posted by Jubey at 4:38 PM on October 12, 2011


Sorry, but this sounds like a trap. Don't go. Don't go "sometime". Stay away.
posted by spaltavian at 7:38 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


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