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.