SACRAMENTO, CA

It wasn’t until I was about 23 years old that I was able to face my family with the fact that I no longer believed in the Mormon religion. And even then I didn’t really face them. They found out in bits and pieces. The most obvious sign was the divorce, which I never told my parents about directly. They heard about it from my younger siblings. Through my siblings they also learned of my tattoo (oh my!) and my drinking (this hasn’t been verified, but I’m pretty sure they’ve heard about it by now). And of course the whole living in sin with my boyfriend for the past two years probably tipped them off as well.

At first they would try to get me to come back around. They’d question me about my beliefs and ask when I had been to church last. When I avoided their questioning or outright changed the subject they’d get upset, angry even.

But then they just backed off. I don’t know what it was that made them stop asking – perhaps the realization that I wasn’t going to change my mind based on their prompting – but they did. And now they’ve taken on a new tack: Acceptance. Well, sort of.

When I see them now, which isn’t often, my parents will gingerly ask me about my boyfriend and whether we have plans to get married. We don’t. Conversation over. If my tattoo is showing, my mom will complement me on it, even though I know she doesn’t approve of it. I’m always tempted to remind her of what she used to tell me when I was a teenager and I’d ask to get a tattoo or a belly button ring, which was, “You can do whatever you want when you turn 18, but not until then.” I never do say this. Instead, I just reach back and pull down my t-shirt so it’s covered again, and try to act as though she hasn’t said anything at all.

I often wish I had a better relationship with my parents (and my siblings for that matter), but when the opportunity to forgive presents itself, I find myself acting like a bratty teenager. I’ve spent many of the past ten years trapped among guilt, self-loathing and regret as I worked my way out of a religion in which I’m not sure I ever believed. My parents seem to have forgiven me, or at least are willing to look past my breach of trust, for leaving the church. But somehow I still haven’t been able to forgive them for judging me so harshly in the first place.

I’ve begun trying to make amends, but years of bitterness and hateful words have made it a difficult path. I find myself constantly having to bite my tongue when I’m with my parents so there won’t be any flare ups. In the past I’ve been able to spend no more than a few hours among my family members without a huge fight breaking out. But my last visit with them was actually somewhat pleasant, aside from the constant praise from my dad, and one particular sibling, that I’ve really grown up. Apparently acting civil toward people you can barely stand is a sign of maturity.

I don’t know how long the civility will last though. Each perceived wrong brings back the bitterness. Things like when my sister Katijona calls me to ask if I’ll be visiting this weekend for Peter’s baptism. I told her I didn’t even know about it so, no, I wouldn’t be there. Four days really isn’t enough time to plan for a trip to Utah. I couldn’t stop myself wondering if my parents didn’t invite me for fear that I’d turn another child against the church. After all, Katijona, of whom I’ve written before, remains unbaptized (which, of course, is my fault) and shows no signs of accepting Mormonism. When we spoke yesterday, she told me that the bishop asked her if she’d like to get baptized along with Peter this weekend. Her response? “I barely even come to this church, why would I want to get baptized?” Ha!

But I shouldn’t be laughing. I shouldn’t be proud that this 13-year-old girl has more gumption and resolve than I did at age 23. This is the thing that drives a wedge between my parents and I. But how can I not want to give her a big hug and tell her I’m OK with her decision?

I fear my parents (and some of my siblings) will be at odds with me for many years to come.

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REBECCA ADLER is from Sacramento, CA, where she is a grad student in applied linguistics and works as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Jane & Jane, Sacramento Business Journal, and Comstock's Business Magazine, among others. She also keeps a book review blog and can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

One response to “Civility In the Face of Bitterness”

  1. Original Comment Thread Below:

    29 Comments »

    Comment by Mary
    2008-08-27 14:27:31

    I understand your worry and apprehension. I have been on this road.

    You can be proud of your sister and her choice, and it is one of your special understandings as sisters. Your sister appreciates your honesty, looks up to you a lot and loves you for having the courage to be yourself, even if it took you a while to stand up to the parents. You’ve given her courage to be herself.

    *hugs*
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-27 14:35:49

    Thanks for the hugs! And the reassuring words.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore Zion
    2008-08-27 14:29:47

    that’s rough. i think when there’s such a huge difference in lifestyles between parents and their kids, the only way to have a relationship is to talk about things that don’t matter.

    i’m really lucky that i have my parents. i have no idea why they like me.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-27 14:35:05

    God, you’re so right! We really do talk about nothing that’s important. And when something does come up that has to do with our real lives, we shutdown completely. I never thought of it that way before.

    And, really, how could anyone not like you Lenore? I can totally see why your parents love you.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene
    2008-08-30 08:13:35

    Who says we like you? You’re out of the will, kid. That mouth!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Autumn
    2008-08-27 14:41:30

    This is going to come out wrong, but: why do you feel the need to have a relationship with your parents?

    See, I knew that would sound wrong.

    What I mean is, if your parents do not provide fulfillment to your life in some way, why do you continue to try and have a relationship with them that you don’t seem to really want?

    I’m asking out of honest to god curiosity.

    My BF hasn’t spoken to his father in 3 1/2 years. No malice, no revenge. He recognized that he and his father are never going to have that relationship, and there was no point in both of them being uncomfortable and miserable over it. So he said goodbye.

    A lot of people don’t understand what he did. They think he’s cold. Inhuman. I think he’s practical, and pretty self-aware.

    He’s decided to be a happy man, rather than be an unhappy son.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-27 14:53:00

    Hm. I think the reason I still try to get along with my parents is because of my two youngest siblings still living at home. I want to be close to them and I want them to know I’m there for them, especially because one is sure to turn out a homosexual (and if he doesn’t I’ll be as shocked as anyone) and the other needs some moral support somewhere because she’s made a tough choice at a young age.

    Also, I think it comes from seeing other people who get along with their parents. Maybe I’ll never have that, but when I see people, like my boyfriend, who genuinely like and get along with their parents I envy them that.

    For the most part though, I really don’t see or talk to my parents often. I see them about twice a year now that they’ve moved away. And I don’t actually talk to them unless I’m asking them for money (and they’re telling me no, again). Most of our news of each other is relayed through my eight siblings. I figure with nine of us around, my parents will always have someone else with which they can have a good relationship. I’m just hoping for ongoing civility at this point.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Dawn Corrigan
    2008-08-27 15:26:07

    As always when you write about personal topics, Becca, I admire your honesty and willingness to turn that searching gaze everywhere, even on yourself.

    It can be tricky to have a curtailed relationship. For years Kelly had a list of ever growing topics that he couldn’t discuss with his mother. Finally he decided to stop talking to her altogether. I hope he’ll be able to have some kind of relationship with her someday. But I understand that even if so, it will always be limited. And I understand why right now, he doesn’t.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rob Bloom
    2008-08-27 15:44:05

    This was so heartfelt and honest. Thank you for sharing this.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rich Ferguson
    2008-08-27 19:35:28

    Hi Rebecca:

    Sorry I’m so late in commenting. I’m just getting back from NYC. I agree with Rob. This was a very honest and heartfelt piece. Very bold of you, my dear.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-27 19:44:19

    Rich, you’re not late. I just posted this afternoon. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, as always. And I’m looking forward to hearing about NYC. Sounds like things are going well for you down south.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by reno
    2008-08-28 08:18:51

    first, i’m sorry you have to go through this w/ your folks. this shouldn’t exist. but it does. we hear these stories all the time. very honest write. very heady subject (to some), that few people want to engage in.

    what’s the saying: something about not talking about religion or politics. soemething like that. anyhow, it’s an irresponsible stance. we should talk about these shenanigans. maybe, that’s why when these issues come about certain people get all emotional and lose it. what’s the big deal? hell, we created politics and religion, gave them rules and tomfoolery. what’s not to talk about?

    sounds like a great sitcom to me. we should tinker w/ it. add some gruesome dialogue to the mix.

    i had someone very close to me put this divide between us. he’s a christian (catholic). i’m anti-dogma. so, in essence, me and christianity are like punk rock and yanni. we’re not even on each other’s radar. anyhow, this person simply cannot handle nor fathom the fact that i’m not christian and dished out to me the usual spiel you hear from these folk: you’re doomed, you’re mean, disrespectful, you’re fucked.

    i told him that his ABSOLUTE TRUTH that there is a christian god is arrogant and irresponsible because know one knows this answer. the biggest brains (pick one, any one) to a-holes like me haven’t a clue.

    that’s honesty.

    that’s the mystery. that’s the fun part. so why all the hassle? why the batch of shit? hey, peace, brother. or sister…

    well, adler, hope you’ll feel better soon. hey, and if not, write about it. you can write there’s no doubt about that. and that’s the TRUTH.

    in the hands of an angry chipmunk,
    r
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-28 12:34:59

    Thanks Reno! Politics and religion, man. Those are two subjects where you’re fucked if you don’t agree with the people you’re talkin’ to. I have a real hard time with politics especially because I base my political opinions on logic and reasoning and I’m often at odds with those people who base theirs on religion.

    I think you’re right. Maybe if we talked about this stuff more – and more openly and honestly – they wouldn’t be such hot-headed topics. Maybe.

    Anyway, rock on and thanks for the comment.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Irene
    2008-08-30 08:27:04

    Rebecca,
    I believe there is no sense in talking about religion or politics with strangers or acquaintances. No point. Nothing to be gained by it.
    But family is different. You want to try to keep family. The way I would suggest is to keep contact and be honest. Speak about the things that you disagree about. Speak softly and respectfully. No shouting. No anger. Keep talking. Your family loves you and wants only the best for you. Show them you are happy and healthy, regardless of your diversion from their beliefs. They think you would be better off in their religion. This only means they love you and they have a different opinion. Trust me. Don’t cut off with your family. Keep talking to them quietly and respectfully. You’ll become a real family again, just different than they expected. It will help your little sister also. She will follow your lead.
    Animosity in a family should be avoided if at all possible. Don’t give up. You can do it. Maybe it’ll take time, but you can do it.
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    Comment by Emma Ashwood
    2008-08-28 09:55:49

    You are brave. Do you realise how many people would never be able to do what you’ve done?

    At least you must know that there are few things in life you couldn’t handle.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Angela
    2008-08-28 10:56:03

    You and your boyfriend don’t live in THAT much sin…you guys should start doing anal. Then your parents can really hate you. I’m not sure why they would know about it, but I’m sure you could make it happen, I believe in you.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-28 12:39:02

    I just read about Anal Fissures on Wikipedia and I think it’s put me off anal for life. Not that I wasn’t already put off by it, but now there’s no turning back.

    Also, I wish you lived closer. My life would seem so much more normal with you around to compare it to. We’ll always have Paris though.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Cindy
    2008-08-28 11:34:04

    Rebecca, I read TNB often and comment rarely. But I just wanted you to know that you are one of my favorite writers on this site, and I especially like when you post stories that detail how you have made this decision to tell your parents and family about how you no longer believe in the mormon faith. I made the decision a long time ago that I don’t like organized religion, but I don’t usually tell people who don’t directly ask me about it b/c it always makes for difficult situations and conversations. So, I just wanted you to know how awesome I think you are for being braver than most of us, and being able to write about it so well.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-28 12:43:59

    Aw, Cindy thanks. That really does make me feel good because I often worry that my writing doesn’t stack up next to the other writers on this site (God, why do they all have to be so amazing?!). It’s good to hear that people appreciate what I have to say. I’ve had a bit of writer’s block this summer, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’s gone.

    Thanks again for commenting, and be strong. I know how difficult conversations can get when lack of faith is involved. You should read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. He makes a great point about how religion, by making itself “sacred,” has made it impossible for people to talk about openly and criticize in a way that’s meaningful. It might give you some insight into why you don’t discuss your decision unless forced.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell
    2008-08-28 13:51:27

    So beautifully put!

    This subject is so very interesting and dear to me. Even though I love my parents like crazy, we have absolutely nothing in common. So what do we talk about? Food. Television. Mostly I ask them lots of questions and listen when my mom goes on and on about the number of loads of laundry she’s done that day.

    I think you’re spot on when you said civility is a sign of maturity. It’s something I’m still trying to wrap my head around on a daily basis. Mostly I just want to scream and stomp my feet and run away. But instead, I just smile and nod and breathe a little extra deeply and try not to focus on the fact that they might be doing the same thing in tolerating me. 🙂
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-28 22:19:47

    Hahaha, I bet they are doing the same thing in tolerating me! Funny that I thought I was the only one doing that in this relationship. 😉

    Thanks for the comment.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae
    2008-08-28 17:14:33

    Oh, girl – I would love to sit down and talk with you sometime over a glass of wine. I came out of the evangelical church (extremely conservative denomination). My mother on Tattoos? Could be the Mark of the Beast. So, of course I had to have one. I even wrote a memoir, which I am terrified that my mother will read called: In a Handbasket, Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical. Sigh. You can’t believe how many people seem to relate with this topic. I’d seriously love to talk to you more on this topic. Great post – have always loved your posts.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-28 22:21:41

    My biggest fear is that my family will discover all of my blogs about them. I have two crazy sisters who I’d LOVE to write about, but I never do because they’ve mentioned my posts before, as though I’d be honored that they’d discovered my ONE secret outlet for all the bullshit I put up with. Yes, we should DEF have a sitdown one day. It would surely be exhilarating.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Erika Rae
    2008-08-31 16:05:31

    I totally get this. This is why I go by Erika Rae (first and middle name). Ha! Kinda silly, I guess – but one step further to find my trail. Sorry to hear that your sisters have found you on here. Complicated.
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    Comment by Josie
    2008-08-28 21:05:25

    Oh Rebecca, my sweet heathen friend… I’m gonna echo Reno on this being a tough topic that most people shy away from and give you big props for laying it all out on the table. Religion is such a significant factor in our social relationships, esp. family, that I think it is a topic we should be discussing more often.

    You’re one of my favorite TNBers, pity you’re going to hell, what with defiling your body with ink and men and all. The good news is – Reno says he’s buying us the first round of beers when we get there!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-28 22:22:35

    And I’m sure gonna need a beer when I arrive. I hear it’s a lengthy road (paved with good intentions, of course).
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by N.L. Belardes
    2008-08-29 09:30:19

    I’m with Rich: honest and heartfelt. Sounds like your little sister is a cool cat.

    Mormonism is comical to me. But then so are most religions. Just look at what people wear! Let’s have a religions-of-the-world fashion show!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2008-08-31 08:46:38

    Hahahaha, a relgious fashion show would be awesome, but only if the FLDS agreed to participate.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by pb
    2008-08-31 18:01:45

    Great topic and really heartfelt. As someone who had a very hard time with my mother- not about something as huge as being a Mormon, but still, about things like abortion, the place of work and family, and all sorts of other things -I really feel for you. I understand the person who said they chose being a happy man over being an unhappy son. But ideally, civility is best. Some people don’t allow it- don’t behave civilly to you. So all of your civility can be lost on them! But it is worth a try. I like the advice -sad, maybe, but really grown up- of talking about things that don’t cause trouble. Sports are great for that! TV shows, food, weather. And once I had kids, it became all about my kids, and not my me. It was the thing that changed everything for me. That said, I still don’t share my work with her (or ever talk about it), I don’t talk politics if I can help it. My mother now has dementia. I am so happy I had a good decade of really showing her respect, even if I don’t agree with her and even though I don’t think she showed me respect for years and years. And twice a year is fine. Really. I wouldn’t compare myself to people who have other relationships, you are doing what you need to do for your situation.

    One thing I will say is that my early rift or “seperation” from my family enabled me to have grown-up relationships with men and women in the best of way. If you can’t turn to your family, you are forced to make your own life. My younger sis has always gotten along perfectly with them and never broke from them and she’ll be forty soon and has never made a life/family of her own. Indeed, until my mother’s dementia ( which i guess ruins her fun) she spent every summer with them! She also had them join her on her honeymoon (she’s now divorced as you can imagine). This is not to say it’s not a wonderful thing to be close to your family! I make a point though, to show that, what I feel is your genuine suffering, can actually be the thing that makes you have a great life later.
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