Friday, April 20, 2007

parental no-control

8:55 AM Posted by: M., 12 comments

I have big, big problems with Christian parenting. I am the child of Christian fundamentalists, as are many of my friends. It has become apparent to me that when you are the child of christian parents, you have two options: become an evangelical robot or rebel, resent your parents, and cut off relations. There is another option I am seeking, but it seems pretty unlikely that I will find peace.

One characteristic I have seen of Fundamental parents is that they are extraordinarily controlling. They think that any family problems can be easily fixed if the child succumbs to their advice (even if that child is in their mid-twenties, or thirties). My oldest sister recently got a divorce, and my parents would keep her on the phone until she was uncontrollably crying to tell her how she was handling the situation wrong, how her (ex)husband was a terrible human, and how she made the mistake of putting up with him--but also they think that divorce is a mortal sin so they spent at least a year trying to get them to stay together. Their entire premise, was that they could change the situation--even though their daughter is 29 and they live 3,000 miles away from her.

I think a lot of christian parents use guilt and money to keep their kids close, rather than genuine, unconditional, open-minded love.

Another example is with my current job. I am working on a documentary film and I do part-time sound editing. For the past two or three weeks, I have not been needed at my editing job, and things are going slowly at my film job(it takes a long time to found a production company)--so my mom told me that she was thinking of telling me to quit and to get another job! I told her that I make MY decisions, so that will not happen, but I just was astounded that she should believe I should change jobs based on her uninvolved, personal feelings. I think this is something a lot of christian parents do. My best friend is dealing with SO MANY of the same situations with her parents, and so have others I know.

Also, James Dobson talks a lot about parents always being on the same side and not contradicting each other in front of their kids. I dont think that is necessarily bad advice, but in practice, I do feel it is bad. Probably, at least 40 times growing up, my mom had me cornered in a room and screamed at me for various things--I dont feel comfortable sharing what she said, but they were emotionally damaging things, especially to an adolescent female. And all of the times, my dad was silently standing behind her until it was over--never telling her to stop, never trying to calm her down, never defending his own 9-year-old daughter against her own mother shouting insults. I believe he valued Dobson's advice over his kids' psychological well-being.

There is more, but I feel weird revealing very much. But anyway, I think there is SUCH a close-mindedness in christian parenting that the parents either succeed in fashioning a perfect evangelical robot-child, or their kids (like me) want to cut them off forever. I am trying to figure out what to do. I want to have a relationship with them--but a human-to-human relationship where I am a respectful non-christian and we can appreciate each other without judgement. Obviously, I am the child--but I am an adult too. I am being shown that that is an unlikely outcome, and that my non-christian identity will likely be the point of us cutting each other off.


I think there probably is good christian parenting advice, but at least in practice in my experience and some others, it can be terrible.


12 comments:

Ed Lynam said...

You certainly seem to be in bind. I've gone through two similar, though generationally reversed versions of your dilemma. I was raised by agnostic/atheist parents and took a lot of heat over my conversion to Christianity at age 18 in college. But, there was never any question of being "cut-off", my parents respected my personal choices even if they didn't approve. Then, despite my moderate Christianity, my oldest son decided to associate himself with fundamentalism as he went through high school, largely due to a youth pastor he was influenced by. He was absolutely rigid and negative when the topic of evolution vs. creationism came up (I accept evolution, he doesn't). Or, in the 2004 election, he was utterly disgusted when he found out I supported the anti-God party (you know, the ones with a donkey as their symbol) and didn't see that George W. Bush was God's man for the job. He was off in college, and we were corresponding by email, and after one exchange in which I sent him some research on isotopic dating, he got so angry (because I think he hates to see that his beliefs about young earth creationism could be questioned) that HE threatened to cut me off. I was totally floored. I never felt I was being pushy or dictating his beliefs, I was merely stating my own and listening to his in our various discussions. And, he is the first person in my life who has ever threatened to cut me off. I am very friendly and a good listener. So, I think you are on to something here. Fundies are cut-off types, more than others I've encountered. I've chosen to back off, I stay superficial and off controversial topics with him. So, we have a relationship, but I'm very disappointed that he's chosen a narrow, judgmental, head-in-the-sand kind of belief. I'm hopeful he'll lighten up eventually, since he's still young.

Maybe you would be better off keeping things superficial, and just moving far away, getting out of sight and going along with your life without local control. And if they choose to visit you, make sure there is no room for them to sleep in your place, so they'll have to rent a hotel. And when you visit them, stay with a friend or at a hotel. That'll keep the visits more bearable. Because, it sounds to me, despite their flaws, it is important to you and the rest of the family to maintain some contact. That is surely how I felt.

marie said...

Hi Ed,

that breaks my heart to read your story. You have such an interesting story and I am glad you share it. I think we all just have different situations and it is difficult to try to be an open, honest, loving person when there is judgement or a wall on the other side.

I think your advice too sounds great. I really hope your son comes to appreciate how you relate to him.

Heather said...

Ed,

I admire the patience and love you show your son. It has to be hard to watch him 'trapped' in that mindset, almost (the fundamentalist one, not Christianity).

Marie,

I've read countless books with stories like yours, how the more rigid and fundamentalist the parents are, the more the kids break loose when sent away to college -- and it's very likely they would've been fine, if the kids had a different upbringing. And of course, the parents then blamed the college for being too 'liberal' even though it was a very conservative one.

HeIsSailing said...

Man Ed, that is really sad. I wish I knew what to say about that. It is just too bad that rigid regiosity, (or politics for that matter) divide people so. Same goes for marie with her parents. I have never been in that bind, my mother was very Christian when I was growing up(she is athiest now), but has always been respectful of my views. I wish I could offer advice - I just hate the divisivness.

Sometimes I really hate religion.

Heather said...

HIS --

**my mother was very Christian when I was growing up(she is athiest now),** What changed your mother's perspective?

HeIsSailing said...

Heather asks:
"**my mother was very Christian when I was growing up(she is athiest now),** What changed your mother's perspective? "

Basically an abusive husband, and a church that would not allow her a divorce. A few years of that and she just realized the fallacy of it all.

Ed Lynam said...

I think one of the big problems with fundamentalism or other rigid dogmatic belief systems is that they are closed. It can happen with religion, politics, or anything. The key to avoiding these is humility. None of us knows much, and should always pursue life as an adventure in which new knowledge and perspectives are welcome. And the best way to accomplish this is to remain open and tolerant of others.

Heather said...

HIS --

**Basically an abusive husband, and a church that would not allow her a divorce. ** That would do it. In many ways, fundamentalism seems to not be able to see the people.

HeIsSailing said...

Ed sez:
"I think one of the big problems with fundamentalism or other rigid dogmatic belief systems is that they are closed. It can happen with religion, politics, or anything. The key to avoiding these is humility. None of us knows much, and should always pursue life as an adventure in which new knowledge and perspectives are welcome. And the best way to accomplish this is to remain open and tolerant of others. "

I reprinted your entire reply Ed, because I absolutely 100% agree wholeheartedly. It is basically the credo of my life. I discovered long ago, when I was in University studying physics, that the more I study, the more I learn, the more I realize that I really know very little, and even though there are stunning brilliant scientists out there, there are so many questions that humble us all, that most scientists I have met have developed a sense of humility towards their expertise. Now many years later, that same humbleness towards science applies.

The same now is true with my studying faith and beliefs. The more I study and learn about God, the Bible, history, and faithful People, the more I realize I don't know anything, and there are deep mysteries none of us will ever know. And it shames me in a way that as a Fundamentalist, I thought I knew it all, because God said it in the Bible, I believed it and that settled it. A very cocky attitude!! If I had that same attitude as a physicist, I would wind up working at as the observatory janitor! I am so thankful, I feel I am finally seeing the light and the error of my ways.

It is very liberating, and I am at peace with it.

Ed Lynam said...

You know I was just thinking about the Fundamentalists being the "I'll cut you off!" types. What, after all, is their theology? Perhaps their personalities just love to sit in judgment. So, they choose a God (and a church that proclaims that God) that is judgmental.

Heather said...

**What, after all, is their theology? Perhaps their personalities just love to sit in judgment. So, they choose a God (and a church that proclaims that God) that is judgmental. **

It very much reminds me of the saying, "You can sure that you've created God in your image when He hates everyone you hate."

I don't know -- maybe the fundamentalists need to follow that kind of God?

Greg said...

From what you recount about your parents it would seem likely that God is on your side, not theirs.

In terms of having an ongoing relationship with them if possible it is worth holding onto the reality that there are still lots of things that you all have in common in spite of your differences.
Greg