The Flip Side: What Do You Wish to Say to Your Parents?

I have been avidly reading every response to the post called “What Do You Wish Your Parents Would Say to You?” and I was struck by the enormous amount of courage, caring and integrity people expressed in their many different suggestions for others and stories about their own families.

I was also struck by the enormous amount of pain.

While reading all your comments it occurred to me, what about you talking to them? Turn the original question around. You are the person who made a tough, thoughtful decision to break away from your family’s path. You are articulate and sensitive as well as smart, or you probably wouldn’t have made that decision. You can initiate the talking too, (as some have) not just wait and wish for them to say something to you.

Short of compromising your own values or lying to them, like “Mom and Dad, I’ve decided to come back into the fold,” try on one or more of these questions:

  • What would you like to say to them? (other than venting your anger)
  • What have you actually tried? How could it have gone better?
  • What do you think they wish you would say to them? (other than you’ll come back)
  • What do you regret saying to them?
  • What do you regret not saying to them if now it’s too late?
  • What will you regret not saying to them, if you don’t say it soon?
  • And to all of the above questions, what stops you?

A few people on that other post have already said some remarkable things to these issues. I should acknowledge to you that I never had this conflict because both my parents were agnostics. I both admire your strength and am appalled by your suffering, but on this issue I’m an outsider using empathy rather than direct experience.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Mriana

    Actually, I have tried, without anger, only to have my mother yell, “That’s NOT Christian!” Then she pinned me down and demanded to know what I REALLY believe.

    So I went through my aunt when she brought up “The path of salvation” like it was the greatest sermon since sliced bread. I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have that concept. I just don’t understand it.” She was shocked and asked what it was I do understand- “Compassion, Love, and Reason.” Her next question was, “Well how to you tell people about Jesus?” I don’t. Then she wanted to change the subject because she wanted to stay friends. That was a little better, but didn’t work as well as I had hoped. She did call back a few days later and said while she was not up to reading books, she would be interested in some essays about what I believe. So I sent them to her.

    The only thing I regret is that they get so angry even before I even say “I’m a Humanist, a non-theist” and what that means exactly. I can only get to the cultural background, but not actual truth, which is after researching and studying it I believe it is all a myth. Of course, that would like a slap in the face to them, because it is real to them and everyone should believe it, esp family. Once they figure out that “religious” or “Christian” before the word Humanist is only a functional term to keep the peace, all hell would probably break out just from what little I have said.

    Of course, there are times I wish I could just say “You can’t handle the truth” when my mother backs me in a corner and demands to know what I REALLY believe. Of course that would be just mean. Of course, when my aunt finishes reading what I sent her, esp in the article Robert Price discusses Religious Humanism: http://secularhumanism.org/library/fi/price_22_3.htm

    Religious humanists such as Don Cupitt’s Sea of Faith movement in the United Kingdom continue to perform religious rites although they don’t believe in the supernatural or in any metaphysically real deity. They know full well that the motions they are going through are human creations from start to finish. But they think that is no reason not to perform them! William Taylor Coleridge spoke of a “poetic faith,” the “temporary, willing suspension of disbelief” we permit ourselves while watching drama or reading a novel. We know the characters and action are not real, but we put this awareness on the back burner for a while in order to enter the fictive world and discover experiences there that do not occur in our mundane realities. To get something out of a Shakespeare play, you by no means need actually believe in Hamlet or Polonius. Only a fool would think you do. And, I suggest, no Christian need believe in a historical Jesus or his resurrection to have a powerful Easter; no Jew need believe in the miracles of Charlton Heston to have a profound Passover. Few of them seem to realize this, however—or if they do, they know better than to admit it. But religious humanists admit it . . . or could.

    She asked for it, she got it, and I can see the tantrum coming once she is done with all that I sent her. It could be like when the Humanist Manifesto I came out in 1933 and “Finlay’s Conversion of Thomas” only without the strong language: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/edwin_wilson/manifesto/ch14.html

    This particular incident was known as, “Finlay’s Conversion of Thomas.” Finlay was a very ardent Episcopalian. Another member of the class had become very much interested in scientific study, and his investigations had led him to believe that everything in this universe came from cause to effect, without the directing hand of a supreme being in any way whatsoever. He was expressing his advanced ideas one Sunday afternoon. Finlay listened to what Thomas had to say, but he began to be considerably wrought-up, especially when Thomas denied the existence of a God.

    Finally Finlay could stand it no longer, and he stepped up to Thomas with these words: “Thomas, you say just once more that there is no God, and I will knock Hell out of YOU.”

    He meant exactly what he said for he was a strong man. . . .

    :lol: Poor Thomas. :( Yet typical of the more austere Christians, but at least I know my aunt will not be that violent after she finishes reading what I sent her. However, I know there will probably be a similar verbal response. I hope there isn’t though and things go smoothly after she is finished reading it all and I can freely say I’m a Humanist without too many headaches.

  • Corncob

    I actually spoke with my parents just last month, on a visit home from college. It was only about the most basic of things – “Mom, Dad, I can’t call myself a Christian, here’s a few things to think on, if you’ve got questions I’m more than willing to talk, yadda yadda yadda.” Could have gone worse, but definitely could have gone better: my mother shut down, and didn’t speak to me for the next few days, while my father dismissed what I was saying as a phase that would go away once I “put some thought into it.” Honestly, I was expecting things to be much more vitriolic and combative than they were; having been raised in a rather fundamentalist church that the entire extended family belongs to, I was expecting to be disowned or preached at or given the equivalent of an intervention. Still, it took several phone calls from me before they’d speak to me in anything like normal terms again, and my mother is still telling me to pray.

    What would I like? I would like to have an in-depth conversation where we all talk about why we believe what we believe, and at the end have examined our own positions and respect where everyone else is coming from. I would like to be able to talk with them without it becoming combative, with my father taking the “head of the household” role and my mother diminishing into silence. I would like to tell the rest of my family that I’m an atheist, instead of just my immediate family. And I would like to tell them to remove me from the church’s membership list.

    Of course, all of that would cause fallout for not just myself, but for my younger brother and possibly even my parents as well (see: fundamentalist extended family). So I keep quiet, for the most part, but honest. My brother knows he can call me, my parents know where I stand and that I’m more than willing to talk, and my friends know – so it’s just not worth it right now to make any waves that would hurt them. Once I’ve graduated and am living an independent, self-financed existence, things will be different; until then, though, I don’t want to risk making my personal (lack of) beliefs into something that would be generalized to the rest of my family. My little brother, especially, wouldn’t benefit – there’s enough religious pressure when going with the flow, who knows what would happen if they thought he was “falling away”?

    I fully accept whatever happens to me, but will not do anything to make my parents or sibling a target.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Hemant,

    Thank you for your reply to my email. I’ve been corresponding with some students at Harding University after your appearance there. My question is, why is it that you people who call yourselves “Atheists,” constantly battle the radical “Christians,” who are no closer to the truth than the Pharisees who hated Christ?

    Can’t you see that we are so involved in this battle of religions that we cannot even begin to focus on the “real” issues at hand, such as the future of humanity? We are losing our children to this ongoing battle of conformity and rebellion. “Religion” has also seeped into the political arena, where getting the Christian votes has become crucial in the difference between winning and losing.

    My own daughter says she is an athiest. I am proud of her. I tell her, “Don’t you dare blindly believe what anybody says to you until you know in your heart without one bit of doubt that it is the truth.” At the same time, she knows that I believe wholeheartedly that I have Christ in my heart. She does not judge me, and I do not judge her. We are each other’s biggest support, and she’s the one that helps me up when I am down, feeling defeated by the so-called “Christians” who have no idea what the hell they actually believe.

    That is why I trust the atheists more than I do Christians.

    That’s my two cents…

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ null

    A friend of mine (who I won’t name) once said to her parents (and I’m paraphrasing): “You want to be true to yourself, let me be true to myself.”

    I thought that was such a basic appeal that it couldn’t do anything but have the reaction it deserved. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    The only thing I regret is that they get so angry even before I even say “I’m a Humanist, a non-theist” and what that means exactly.

    I’m the opposite.

    I wish I could say anything about religion to my family without getting pissed off and making an ass of myself. I can talk calmly about these things to stragners and acquaintances, but I guess my guard is down with my family so I just let it all hang out and I end up feeling stupid. I get so frustrated when they just regurgitate the Bible and sermons to me instead of thinking for themselves, and when they use tired, lame arguments that a 5-year old should see through. I want to shake them and open the top of their heads and drop in some common sense.

    My father-in-law doesn’t really talk to us any more, but there’s been no official “you are cut off” statement, and my mother-in-law seems to be fine talking to us but we haven’t visited each other since we told them they couldn’t witness to another family member in our house and we don’t say grace at meals in our house, no, not even on Thanksgiving. Many years ago I had to tell my own mother that if she was going to preach to us, that she would no longer be welcome in our house and she decided she’d rather have us in her life, so we have just basically agreed to disagree.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    My mother-in-law keeps giving our address to her church, so that they can send us bulletins and the like. I’m indifferent, but my wife is annoyed, because she has made quite clear her stance on the subject. She feels ignored and disrespected, and intends to say something about it today, as a matter of fact.

    If anything interesting happens, I’ll let you know.

  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com cg

    It is painful to see the amount of contempt that family can have for those who have abandoned the faith. Reading these comments have made me more grateful for my experience with my parents. Both were of the mind that we can agree to disagree (Them = fundamentalist Christian; me = evil atheist)

    However, one thing that keeps bothering me is a comment that my father made during our conversation of my deconversion. I tried explaining briefly many of the things I’ve read and my own thought experiments, and he made a comment that it all sounds like the plot of the da Vinci Code. I had laughed this off at first, saying that little piece of pop-culture played no part in my decision.

    But that got me to thinking: I believe that his perception of me is that of a conspiracy theorist. All the things disproving religion that many of us atheists take for granted, he has never been privy to. When I tried explaining some of them (mainly Bart Ehrman’s book on bible errancy), his perception was that I was temporarily in the hold of some satan-inspired conspiracy and will eventually find my way back to the faith.

    While we still have basically the same relationship as before, this thought always irks me. Has anyone else had that perception from believers? That somehow you’re one of those conspiracy theory whackjobs?

  • Lezard Valeth

    “Fuck you.”

    Sorry, I can’t sugar-coat it.

  • Stephen

    A friend of mine (who I won’t name) once said to her parents (and I’m paraphrasing): “You want to be true to yourself, let me be true to myself.”

    I thought that was such a basic appeal that it couldn’t do anything but have the reaction it deserved. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

    I know what you mean. I’ve never actually told my mother that I’m an atheist, but you’d be surprised just how little latitude she allows for. Believing in Jesus isn’t enough for her – you have to be a Republican, Baptist, churchgoing young-Earth creationist. So you can imagine why I try not to discuss the subject much.

    It’s not that bad, of course – she has her suspicions, but she’s never gotten angry with me or anything. If I were only worried about angering her, I might go ahead and tell her I’m an atheist. Unfortunately, I’d probably just make her cry, and that’s one thing I’m not about to do.

    But yeah, back to the above, I do have a similar, though much less bothersome, version of your friend’s story. My mom and I were discussing random stuff at a coffee shop once, and somehow religion came up, and in regards to people of varying beliefs or political persuasions or sexual orientations or whatever, I simply said, “Well, I’d just as soon not judge them. It’s not really my place.” You’d think *that* would be okay – I mean, isn’t that exactly what Jesus said? But somehow my mom had a theological problem with that. Whatever.

    So yeah, my experience with Christian parents has been blessedly free of drama.

  • Lou Doench

    “Thanks… though we may have quarreled about my decision to stop being Catholic, you never loved me any less and you respected my decision”

    After reading so many unfortunate stories here, I’m so struck by how lucky I’ve been to have parents who allowed me to grow and learn on my own. Now that i’m raising two girls of my own, I’m even more thankful that my mother doesn’t judge them because they haven’t been baptized. She just spoils them like a good Nana should.

    Now if I could say one thing to my Dad it would be..”How’s Elvis?” (Dads been dead for 8 years, so I’m guessing any chance I have to converse with him would put some credence to that afterlife thingy we Athiest/Humanist/whatever’s are so skeptical about.)

  • Susan B.

    Gosh, I realize I haven’t really talked to my parents about religion since the months after I told them I was an atheist, when I was twelve. There was only mild disappointment then (I wasn’t even aware that some people’s parents might have the kind of reaction I’ve read about since), but I remembered some years before asking my mom why my dad and I were Jewish while she was Catholic. She said that my dad and she had agreed when I was born that they didn’t care which religion I followed, so long as I believed in God. So thinking back now, I really wonder how they feel about my being an atheist, and even more, what each of them really believes. When I go back for winter break, I think I’ll sit down with them and ask them.

  • Brian

    My mother perpetually worries about the welfare of her children. While she does have a more reasonable take on things, considering she accepts science, evolution, etc., she also has a strong belief in god, and while maybe not in the exact bliss vs. fire-and-brimstone rendition, heaven and hell. So if she knew her son didn’t believe, it would assuredly worry her to no end. She’d stay up nights, pace around, get frustrated with everything, and more.

    I’ve been toying with trying to convince her that if indeed god is a benevolent being, then god certainly wouldn’t fault me for disbelief if I led an otherwise moral life. Sometimes I get the feeling, though, that she believes that god would never fault us for our natures, our genetics; but our choices are fair game.

    And that’s how I could see my atheism most hurting my family. I wasn’t born atheist, I chose it, and not lightly, either. I made a deliberate, thoroughly thought out decision to reject spiritualism – and by extension my family’s strong spiritual and cultural heritage. It’s the thing I fear the most – being accused of disavowing myself of my family.

  • Mriana

    The problem is, to have an indepth discussion is to tell my family that I believe their beliefs are dangerous. My grandfather is a great example of this because he committed suicide when he could have gotten helped, but he believed those in the psych field were of the devil and would steal his soul, not only that he believed the doctors were playing God and were keeping him alive longer than God wanted, so he quit taking his heart meds and died of heart failure three days later. He was suffering depression with psychotic features, believing this was not his home, but rather heaven was. My mother attempted suicide with similar reasons and wanted to “go home”.

    The other thing that would be disrespectful to their beliefs is that I believe it is rewritten myth. The list goes on and on. That would be heresy in their opinion. So, an indepth discussion, in which we examine our beliefs, would just end in argument.

    It can’t be done and they would not understand the idea of my cultural background being Christianity but not believing any of it. They have no comprehension of being able to study it without believing it and on top of it to study other beliefs would destroy one’s beliefs in their opinion. That and getting an honest education destroys one’s beliefs in their opinion too, so they would insist that I don’t believe because I did not stick with Christianity. They would insist that getting a secular education, instead of going to a Christian College is what destroyed my belief. :roll: No, I didn’t have their beliefs to begin with, so going to a Christian College would only cause me discomfort because I never agreed with such beliefs. Part of it was seeing what dangerous religious beliefs did to them that turned me away. Of course, my questioning of religious beliefs and researching it also did it too. It had nothing to do with where I got an education.

  • Kate

    My own daughter says she is an athiest. I am proud of her. I tell her, “Don’t you dare blindly believe what anybody says to you until you know in your heart without one bit of doubt that it is the truth.” At the same time, she knows that I believe wholeheartedly that I have Christ in my heart. She does not judge me, and I do not judge her. We are each other’s biggest support, and she’s the one that helps me up when I am down, feeling defeated by the so-called “Christians” who have no idea what the hell they actually believe.

    Linda…that’s beautiful. I wish the whole world could be as you and your daughter are. I stand and APPLAUD you for being a wonderful mother and a GREAT example of what every Christian SHOULD be. You truly do “walk the walk”…one of the very rare Christians who actually follows Jesus’ teachings.

  • Mriana

    Yes, Linda, you are one of the few Christians I can appreciate. (Not sure how I missed your post). I only wish more X-ians could think similarly.

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    I don’t think there is anything I need to say to them because my life is my life. There comes a point where the parent of the child must become the parent of the adult. These are two different roles. In the first, you /educate/indoctrinate and in the second you accept what the person has become.

    If you are comfortable with your choice, then there’s no need for validation from your parents. The question now must be: what is making you uncomfortable on the inside?

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Kate and Mriana,

    Thank you so very much for your encouraging words. They mean more to me than you can imagine… :=}

  • Maria

    What would you like to say to them? (other than venting your anger)

    I’d like to tell them that I have no problem with them having their rights to their beliefs. could they not have a problem my rights to mine (or lack thereof)?

    What have you actually tried? How could it have gone better? I tried bringing up that maybe religion doesn’t have a lot of the answers and that religions are created by humans and just as fallible as anything made by humans, and maybe we don’t need to believe everything they say. Didn’t go too well with the one parent I tried it with who is more religious. The other has an idea how I feel, but doesn’t seem to really want to talk about it, so I don’t. I suppose I could have been more subtle with the more religious one.

    What do you think they wish you would say to them? (other than you’ll come back) I think they would just want to know that I’m okay and I didn’t come to this decision out of any “bad influence”.

    What do you regret saying to them? nothing. I’ve said barely anything

    What do you regret not saying to them if now it’s too late? Look, I’m okay with this, can you please be too? Can I just live my life?

    What will you regret not saying to them, if you don’t say it soon? that I don’t think I need to go to church all the time to be happy and I’m okay with that

    And to all of the above questions, what stops you? it would just be too uncomfortable-I’m still recovering from my illness and don’t have enough money to move out, so I live with my family. It would just create a very tense atmosphere that I don’t think I could handle. So I mostly stay in the closet. They know I’m “not that religious”, that’s about it.

  • Maria

    Kate and Mriana,

    Thank you so very much for your encouraging words. They mean more to me than you can imagine… :=}

    I read your blog Linda, and I have to say I’m impressed. Please pass your wisdom on to others!

  • Mriana

    Linda said,

    November 4, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Kate and Mriana,

    Thank you so very much for your encouraging words. They mean more to me than you can imagine… :=}

    You’re welcome. You have a blog? Humm… May have to drop in and check it out sometime. :)

  • Mriana

    Linda, I’m impressed and that really is a high compliment coming from me. :)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I posted something for you guys. If nothing else, please know that there are people out there who understand your hearts. You are never alone… Stick to who you are and don’t ever compromise. I compromised for 40 years, and I refuse to ever do it again. I choose to live now. That is the answer to your “free will” debate. The “choice” is in choosing to LIVE…

  • Keith

    Thanks for posting about this stuff, guys. I don’t have anything to add, just wanted ya’ll to know there’s at least one Christian out there who is just trying to listen, understand, and empathize. Thanks for opening up like this.

    Hemant, thank you for leading this discussion. I’m involved with this site because of threads like this one. Thank you.

  • stogoe

    Here’s what I’d say:

    Congratulations. You raised an honest, intelligent, inquisitive and compassionate son who has weighed the available evidence and come to his own (provisional) conclusions about the world around him. That’s something to be proud of, an achievement in itself. This isn’t a phase, or something I’ve come up with just to make you angry. I really, truly don’t believe that any gods exist. I don’t expect to change your beliefs with incessant badgering, so please, don’t try and badger or guilt me back to the fold. We both know it will just boil down to futile screaming and hurt feelings.

  • Mriana

    Linda, I can’t post on that thread of yours. :( I don’t know why, so I’ll post it here, since it also fits here too (you can copy and transfer it to your blog is you want (Never mind. I finally posted :D ):

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never seen it, but it looks interesting. I have spent most of life struggling with my relatives, because I have never believed or seen life as they do.

    My 18 y.o. son (who incidently has the same initials as you do) is a professed Buddhist and my mother blames me for it. I guess in some respects I am to blame, because I have taught him to think for himself, but he knows how my grandfather died, seen what my relatives have gone through due to their austere beliefs, and is starting to understand me.

    I was telling my mother about Krishna, sharing a class I’m taking with her that is, and the story sounds a lot like the Jesus story, in places. She sounded like she was about to cry and abruptly ended the phone call. Truth be known, Christianity is not much different from other religions, but that’s not the point and I don’t want to go into that.

    The point is, I try to share my life with them and my mother nor my aunt can accept that I don’t believe the Bible as the literal word of God, much less believe as they do or see life as they do and sometimes it hurts- not because of differences, but because they can’t accept me as I am and allow me to share something of my life with them. It’s not the class, beliefs or lack of beliefs, but rather sharing. I can’t seem to share much of anything with them, not even a class I’m taking.

    What that boy said in the video is common- My family never asked anything about me, much less what I wanted or what I thought, at least not without hostility on their part. That’s what hurts the most and I can greatly empathize with the character in that first clip.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Keith,

    If you are one and I am one, that makes two. And where there are two, there’s always a third. (at least in my experience…) :)

  • Keith

    Well said, Linda

  • Polly

    Nothing.

    At least not if I don’t want my mother to worry about my eternal soul and other complications. She has doubts about people’s salvation who actually believe in Jesus – and I don’t mean Roman Catholics, Mormons or JW’s – how much more someone who doesn’t even think he existed (as written), let alone was/is a god.

    My wife told her father recently about me. His reaction was that it’s a phase. He said I probably just read too much and was getting picky about the Bible. Nothing has changed…and I’m glad. He hasn’t talked to me directly about it, and that’s fine, too. It seems to be a non-issue.
    I’m well-known in church and among family as a very devout xian who LOVES the Bible. *sigh*

  • Cade

    I came out to my parents about a month ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I did it. They weren’t happy about it, but they didn’t cry or yell. Our family was a fairly liberal flavor of Christianity, but religious nonetheless.

    I just sat them down and confidently explained that I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and that I didn’t believe in god. The first thing my Dad said was “Well, what do you believe in?” We talked about it for a while, and they suggested I talk to my brother(who’s a pastor). The only thing I regret was not being quite as articulate as I would like to be, and I may have been a tad bit harsh on their beliefs.

    But honestly, after all is said an done, absolutely nothing changed. We don’t talk about it at all. In fact, we’ve gone to church together since then and they didn’t say a word about it. I’ve only mentioned it a couple times since, and when I do they just tell me they don’t like it. Other than that, they don’t say anything. It’s a little weird, actually, but it could be much worse. I’m just glad that I don’t have to hide it as much anymore.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Cade,

    I have to applaud you for being so brave.

    Our family was a fairly liberal flavor of Christianity, but religious nonetheless.

    That is also my feeling about most of Christianity, regardless of how “cool” or “progressive” they try to make it. All of that still seem like a hard sell to me. I hate the fact that churches are trying to “sell” God all the time.

    When you go to the Haiku contest post, look at picture #3. Insert the word “truth” in place of Atheism. Then start asking the WHY questions. Look at the world and everything in it, the good and the bad, including your own heart. Take every thought captive, including all of your preconceptions about the existence or the absence of God. Clear your mind. Totally empty. Then start throwing your WHY questions into the open. Don’t listen to anyone else, not even the experts. And wait. Then you may see a small and narrow road that everyone seems to be missing. Or maybe you won’t. That’s just what happened to me.

    There’s a book called “Looking for God, Seeing the Whole in One” by Chuck Hillig. It’s a book with a hole (literally) through the middle of it. It’s simple, funny, and looks like a children’s book. But he has so much wisdom in just a few words. He’s not a Christian, but he knows more truth than any other Christian (other than my pastor) I know. I highly recommend it. Order it from Amazon. I would love to discuss it with you after you read it. No other Christian I know will give it a chance. So there must be something there, right? ;-)

    By the way, I will probably be lynched for saying all the things that I have been saying here and on my blog, but I have to speak my truth. It may not be completely right, but I hope everyone will add to it with THEIR truth so we can see the bigger picture. That’s all I want. For people to start telling the truth, instead of continuing in this endless game of calling everyone else a liar. I’ll post something later on my blog about this.