Do I Need Them?

For several years my relationship with my family has fluctuated between non-existent and turbulent. I was disowned at one point, and for over a year after a fight in which my mother screamed repeatedly “you are so selfish” there was almost no contact at all. I did not come home for Christmas and while some of my siblings spoke to me occasionally, I knew that I would never be part of the family again.

Recently I’ve noticed a change in my mum’s behaviour; she calls me to ask how I am and even invited me to come spend a day with her recently. It’s a sad reflection on our relationship that I find this to be a significant change for the better, but I’m not about to rebuff it. She is, after all, my mum, and none of the ways in which she has failed me are due to her personality, but rather her devotion to Mormonism. I blame the church, not the member, for bad behaviour to apostates. My dad has been a different story. Since realising that I wasn’t going to come crawling back to the church with ten percent of my income to sacrifice on the altar of social acceptance, he’s written me off. He is not rude, but he is not interested. He treats me with civil detachment, addressing me with the same level of enthusiasm and interest that he would give to the friend of one of his children or a casual business acquaintance. I suppose it’s better than entering his house and living in fear of being whisked off to the spare room for a religious interrogation (a regular feature of life under his roof) but it’s also painful to realise that my father has decided I’m no longer worth the effort of treating like a daughter. But lack of conflict is better than constant conflict, so there it is. I’ll just have to be pragmatic when I get a birthday card signed “Love, Mum and Dad” in only my mother’s handwriting.

I am an ex-daughter, an ex-sister, an ex-niece and ex-granddaughter. Like an ex-spouse, I’m still around and people have to play nice when they see me, but they don’t think of me as a proper relative any longer. I’m not sure how to proceed. Mormonism prepares its subjects, especially the women, for a very particular life path. The skill set I was bred to have is very different from the skill set I’ve needed to operate as an unsupervised adult living outside a walled garden in the real world. I’m not helpless, but there are lots of areas where I’m simply not savvy. Just last week I was mentioning to Mr. Molly that I had realised that I’d never been trained how to think properly, and some of my biggest mistakes in my personal and professional life have stemmed from my conditioning to wantonly utilise circular logic and solipsistic thinking as well as a hard-wired refusal to change my mind in light of new information. The last nine years have been a brutal, messy self-education in learning how to think. I can’t imagine how much better off I’d be now if, in my childhood, my elders had taught me to examine the information given to me by authority figures rather than ingest it without question under threat of punishment.

The religious views of my family poisons their ability to interact with me, and I feel shackled by this. I can’t be myself around them because when I am myself and not in-character as an edited version of myself, I’ll casually refer to a million things that offend them. For example, yesterday I went to the cinema to see The World’s End (it was crap) and then to the pub for a pint and some lunch. If I’m trying to find a nice non-controversial topic to discuss with my family, a meal and a movie might seem hazard free. But with Mormons it isn’t. I went to the cinema on a Sunday1 to see a 15 movie (UK equivalent of an R-rating)2 and then went to a pub afterwards3 where I consumed alcohol4.

Every conversation I have with a Mormon has to be heavily edited, and I must keep track of every footnote in my mind. No matter what the topic, if I mention anything in the context of behaviour that makes a Mormon bristle, they cease to pay attention to what I’m trying to talk about and focus only on my sinfulness. Because of this it turns out to be better not to say anything about my life at all.

White lies may sanitise the story so that they pay attention to the events I describe and not the subtext of the ways in which my lifestyle fails to meet their approval. But lying is irksome and compromising. I’m not going to keep a lengthy mental record of the lies I’ve told to oblige people who take advantage of my tolerance by being open about their lifestyle without returning the favour. They can talk about going to the temple every week or the people they met at a church party, but I can’t tell them about a very pleasant conversation I had with someone I met at a wine tasting party. They won’t hear what I say about the conversation. They will fixate on the presence of alcohol and look at me with disgust.

So perhaps, after all, my Dad is right. Maybe at this point the most any of us can hope for our of our relationship is civil, disinterested small talk once in a while. The problem is this: without the warmth and love that comes with a familial relationship, I don’t know if there’s anything for either of us to get out of our interactions. We have so little in common that if we met as strangers it’s unlikely we would hit it off. If I met my parents now as new acquaintances I would likely come away with the impression that they were friendly but too forward about their beliefs.

I can’t invite them to dinner because, no matter how delicious the food, they would not be able to relax in the presence of a wine rack. I can’t make even casual references to current events because it triggers a suspicious reaction that I am mocking their religious and political beliefs with my liberal agenda. I can’t tell them about the books I read or the movies I enjoy because any media that features swearing, alcohol, sex, social themes, or “disrespectful children” make them angry. I’m not in a Work and the Glory book club and my blog does not consist of simpering posts about the faithful self-sacrifice of obedient women in the Bible. We literally cannot have a conversation about anything more controversial than whether gravy is more or less delicious with or without pepper. What kind of a relationship is that? None at all, it would seem.

Have any of you found yourselves in this sort of relationship purgatory? How did you mourn the relationships you used to have and which you now remember fondly? How did you come to terms with the deaths of those relationships? Do you now try to rekindle them, or do you see the charade of keeping up appearances as too much to bear?

1 – Seeking entertainment on the Sabbath is a sin, as is engaging in commerce.
2 – Viewing movies with a rating higher than a UK 12 or a US PG-13 is a sin
3 – Engaging in commerce again.
4 – Alcohol is right out for Mormons.

14 thoughts on “Do I Need Them?

  1. I am under the opinion that we owe our parents NOTHING. They exercised their agency with sex and fulfilled (at 18 more or less) their responsibility of raising us. I think you nailed it with the ‘met them today’ comment. There is no reason to maintain a relationship with strangers with whom there is nothing in common.

  2. Thank you for this post, I relate with it all too well unfortunately. The biggest problem for me is that the family member I have nothing in common with since my escape from Mormonism is my very Mormon spouse. We continue to live together with three wonderful children, but it is a constant struggle for both of us.

    • Would you be willing to do a guest post here discussing how you do this balancing act with your spouse and perhaps what types of conversations you have with her over your differences?

      • I am a big fan of your blog and would be honored to write a guest post. I want to make sure it is worthy of your blog so it may take some time. Do I have a deadline?

  3. I know exactly how you feel. My TBM parents didn’t ever disown me, and my mother and I have a pretty good relationship now, but I can’t have a conversation with them without constantly sanitizing it, self-editing so that my beer-and-BBQ labor day party is just a BBQ, avoiding any reference to my gay friends, not talking about the political organizations where I volunteer. I resent that she talks all about her callings and temple visits, knowing that I can understand them even if I don’t live that life anymore, but if I talk about anything not Mormon-approved, I get an awkward silence or a scoff. I don’t want to create awkwardness, and I want to have the best relationship we can, so I watch what I say, but I still resent it.

  4. Your blog was posted on the facebook Postmormon page and so often I just skim past blog posts because I’ve read so many that sound so similar and they all run together after a while. Perhaps I’ve been out of the church long enough to have heard every story a thousand times. But your accounting of what it’s like to deal with devout LDS family hit me like a Mack truck. I am in your shoes x 1000. My kids are LDS and it infects every interaction with them or the grandkids. My mother, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my neighbors, my co workers, my college and school friends, all LDS. There are no balanced and reasoned conversations with the whole lot of them. It’s as you describe, a tenuous careful dance around a thousand landmines that have the smallest hair triggers.

    “I can’t invite them to dinner because, no matter how delicious the food, they would not be able to relax in the presence of a wine rack. I can’t make even casual references to current events because it triggers a suspicious reaction that I am mocking their religious and political beliefs with my liberal agenda. I can’t tell them about the books I read or the movies I enjoy because any media that features swearing, alcohol, sex, social themes, or “disrespectful children” make them angry.”

    This ^^^ is why my oldest daughter won’t come to my home anymore. She saw some DVDs on my shelf that are R rated. The covers aren’t racy or inappropriate at all but she worries that her children will see them and want to know what they’re about or God forbid, ask to watch them. She sees my resin statue of Buddha that my husband got me because I just like red and he’s a really jolly happy character. She is offended by a piece of art depicting the Goddes Shiva conquering ignorance because Shiva exposes one breast with a nipple that is represented as an O on a blue skinned multi armed body. She’s concerned that my stack of books including a couple by Rachel Maddow and Dave Barry will infect her childrens young minds. The oldest child is six. I don’t know how many six year olds who are curious about Rachel Maddow but apparently it’s like I put rat poison in candy coated treats and left them around conspicuously for her innocent babes to accidentally consume.

    I was chastised by my five yr. old grandson because he saw my arms. “Grandma, I don’t want to see THAT!”. I thought maybe a boob had popped out or something but nope, it was just my arms. The same arms that had just finished hugging him and painting a mural in his bedroom and fixing him breakfast.

    There isn’t any conversation that is safe, from movies and books, politics and war, geography or geology. National Parks? Nope. They were created 6,000 years ago in a miraculous day by a God who did all that for human, expressly Mormon and Christian human benefit. The broad grey watercolor of Mormonism dulls everything till it’s just a tedious uninspired wash of Mormon flavored pablum. I’m so tired of it.

    But we love them and miss them. So we swallow that big ladle of steaming shit that they serve up every time we interact and we smile and say, “Mmm, delicious, may I have some more?”. We squelch our contempt and irritation for their constant Mormon taint on everything and we wrack our brains to orchestrate a safe conversation that censors out all the bad words and triggers that send them into scowling sneering Church Lady face judges. Then when we get home we take a Silkwood shower and wash off the scent of Mormonism and try to detox for a few weeks till the next encounter. Each time brings on that gnawing stomach ache from anticipating the conflict and careful dance moves required to navigate the mine field. And then we find ourselves stretching the times between visits or phone calls. Two weeks, then a month, quarterly, and eventually a whole year goes by and we realize we haven’t talked to a sibling in at least that long. We struggle to think of an appropriate interaction and nothing comes to mind. We have nothing more to talk about. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J4ZuHEYXkk

    • Your experience rings depressingly true. It is impossible to articulate how much it hurts to have family members treat you like a venomous snake that might poison one of their children at any given moment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to shout out, “I am not a rabid dog. I will not bite. You might think thinking for myself is indication of mental illness, but it’s just not and we’ll all have a nicer time if you can just extend the sort of tolerance to me that I have for you.”

  5. I’ve been dancing this horrible dance for over 20 years. It’s tiring and infuriating at times. I love my mother intensely but can’t have a real conversation with her. My father got sick before I could attempt dialogue. My sibs and I might as well be coworkers 25 cubicles over. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  6. This saddens me. I am the Mormon still engaged in the church culture and have the family (children included) who have chosen out. We have come to a place of total respect and speak with ease about whatever our life’s goings on are. It has not always been this way. I was the one who was taunted with offers of a hard drink from my father and siblings just to watch me squirm. We are way past that and have a very loving and accepting relationship. In all the above comments it seems to me more a case of retarded self awareness and lack of personal growth than anything else. When there is fear of “contamination” it says more about a lack of acceptance of the shadow we all have. My best advice from this side of the issue is to keep showing forth real love and to drop the story of the past. We all have a lot to learn and you may be the best teacher for your families.

    • It does not surprise me that ex-Mormons, when in the majority, could mistreat a practising Mormon. I think any group will do that when confronted with someone who falls in the category of “other.” How has being in the minority affected the way you think about apostasy? Does it affect the way you think about or speak about ex-members? Do you have a different perspective from the most common views echoed in chapels about apostates leaving because they want to sin, are angry, or were offended?

  7. Pingback: Sunday in Outer Blogness: Uncorrelated Revelation Edition! » Main Street Plaza

  8. Hi Molly! Just discovered your incredible blog via the flow chart for the soul. Lord what a jumble of confused balderdash it is! Genius!
    I am sorry to hear about your isolation from your family. But hardly surprised. I can’t count the number of people I know who are in the same boat to some degree, including myself and my little brother. People are constantly asking about my relationship with my family, which other than my luckily no-longer-Mormon brother is zero. Our case sounds a little different from yours, however. Our mother is a very emotionally disturbed person, and from a generation that refused clinical treatment or diagnosis of such illnesses. In addition our father had two speeds, absent or incredibly abusive. Mormonism didn’t cause their defects, but it gave them a place to nurture them, and rather than helping address them it made them feel justified in all their fears, hatreds and prejudices. So life in our crowded little house in SLC was anything but a bowl of cherries. My brother and I still have a pavlovian response to the sound of the ghastly Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was the background music to the weekly beatings as we rushed through shared bathwater and donned our ratty hand-me-downs to try to get to church on time with empty stomachs.
    The reason I bring up some of these dramatics is because it informs how I explain to people my relationship with my family. Unlike a lot of people, for us there was no golden age. There is no memory of family warmth and kindness for us to look back on and feel conflicted about, or miss. Emotional, mental, maybe even physical survival meant not just leaving the church, but leaving our family almost entirely. I explain it as divorce. Sometimes, people are not meant to be together, and so a relationship has to end. And in most associations in life, there is a last time you ever speak to someone. So in a strange way it was much less traumatizing to separate from our family than it is for most.
    But for those still trying to have some sort of relationship, I promise it is most likely healthier and happier for you not to. Crazy people have a way of making sane people feel like they are the crazy ones. To accept that Mormonism is true root and branch, and to conduct your life accordingly is an insane act. It is a tragic choice to mentally and philosophically self-mutilate. This should garner no respect or credence, but disapproval and pity.
    Think of it this way; Say you have a family member, or even crazier, many of them, who really love Lord of the Rings. OK, fine. But they dress up as Gandolf and the Hobbits. OK weird. But they dress like that every day. OK, nuts. But furthermore, they goddamn expect you to put on a wig and a cape and play along, and if not they assume you are insane. Also, they demand you testify that the charming and exciting works of fiction are the gospel truth, that the Shire and Mordor are real as the nose on your face, and you will burn in the fires of Mount Doom unless you accept this at once. Would you participate? Would you give them deference? Would you allow them to hold major public office? Or drive a car? The only acceptable answer to all this in NO.
    I don’t see all the self editing and walking on eggshells around believers in Mormonism as any different. I’ve done it myself (and as a gay, atheist, politically liberal drinker in SLC, believe it leaves me with precious little to say) and I always come away wondering why and the hell I spared the feelings of fools. If they want to pretend their little roll-playing fictions are real, it’s weird and sad, but OK. But it’s bananas to expect the rest of us to. So if your family can’t handle that you watch shit R rated movies for fun, like some booze, and have had sex for something other than dutiful procreation, they may not be people worth much effort. I know it sounds harsh, but in my life, happiness and freedom lies is a straight line away from my family and the tiny intellectual shoebox they have hidden their fearful little minds in.
    Sorry for the long-winded comment, there is an awful lot to say on the subject, and it’s not easy for anyone to navigate.

  9. I just now stumbled on your blog, and this was the first full post I read. It caught my eye because I am in the same boat. After our family left the Church two years ago, I became atheist and polyamorous. Needless to say, our TBM family members were beyond shocked and outraged. It saddens me sometimes that I have zero desire right now to pick up the phone and call my mother (or mother-in-law) anymore. But their vocalized judgments have hurt deeply, and I currently see little benefit in fostering what I would feel is a fairly one-sided relationship with them (i.e., me censoring out the parts of my life they disapprove of and don’t want to hear about). I’m sorry you’ve gone through this, too. I hear people say, “Family is the people you can always count on, who love you no matter what, and love you unconditionally.” And I want to say, “Your family, maybe.”

    I don’t know what will happen in the future. Sometimes I feel hope that those relationships will experience healing. For now, I try to surround myself and my family with people I would *choose* as my family–who share similar worldviews, or can at least relate respectfully. Those who are accepting and enrich our lives. Family isn’t always blood.

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