Ask the Expert: Communicating my religious beliefs with my parents
Ashley Seace, AOS Care Manager – firstname.lastname@example.org
My parents keep asking us if my wife and I have found a church home in our new city. To be honest, neither my wife nor I want to go to church. We just don’t feel comfortable, but I feel somehow ashamed or nervous to explain it to my parents. I’m tempted to just lie because it’s comforting for them to think we attend church, but I also feel like I should be able to be honest with my parents at the age of 45.
This is a wonderful, if difficult, question and an important topic for many families. Your parents likely believed raising you in a church home was fundamental to a healthy, stable upbringing. Most parents share their religious habits and beliefs with children as an expression of love. For many families, church and faith provide a strong foundation of support for the entire family. For your parents, they may want to know you still have this foundation and support even in adult life. It may be tough for them to understand that your experience with religion has changed. And it may be difficult for you to express these changing beliefs to your parents for several reasons.
First, you may not want to “rock the boat” and get into a challenging conversation. Second, you may not want to upset your parents, who will likely find your decision hard to understand. Third, the thought of answers questions about your choices may feel overwhelming or exhausting. Finally, you may have had negative experiences in church and discussing these may not feel appropriate or comfortable. There are so many reasons we shy away from talking about touchy subjects, religion topping the list.
However, a conversation sounds like it’s in order. Your parents have questions. Addressing the “elephant in the room” can ease a lot of underlying tension surrounding this subject. Here are a few tips for preparing for and having a hard conversation:
- Talk in Person – most of our communication is actually non-verbal. It’s the way we stand, the tone of our voice, the tilt of our head and the expression in our eyes. Sitting with your parents enables both of you to hear what the other is saying beyond words and is helpful for connection. Though it may seem difficult to connect on this subject, one of the ways this happens is when we can see how the other person feels in their expressions and body language. Also, talking in person can be a sign of respect for many people. It signals that the conversation is important and valued.
- Use Your Active Listening Skills – for any conversation, and especially for important ones, active listen skills go a long way in creating connection and avoiding misunderstanding. When your parents are expressing how they feel, listen. Try not to formulate a response in your head. Do not interrupt. Really lean in and listen. Listening isn’t a sign of agree. But it is a sign of respectful engagement and caring, really caring, about what the other person has to say. Ask for the same listening in return, as well. Ask your parents to let you speak without interruption when you explain your own feelings.
- Separate Your Relationship from the Subject – before speaking to your parents, do some internal work and reflect on the difference between your parents are people and your parents as people with an opinion. Their views on religion affect your relationship but do not determine the entirety of that relationship. You can love and respect your parents (and they can love and respect you) while disagreeing about a topic, even a topic as important as church.
- Agree to Disagree – the point of this conversation is not to change each other’s minds. Your parents may, after you’ve explained how you feel, disagree with your decision. That’s okay. They don’t have to agree, and you don’t have to agree with them. The point is to express how you feel honestly and respectfully. Avoid disappointment and further tension by letting go of expectations to agree. Perhaps the only agreement will be respectfully disagreeing.
- Determine Success Ahead of Time – decide, before you begin the conversation, what success looks like for you. Will you feel better simply letting your parents know where you stand? Will you feel better asking your parents to table this topic after the conversation is over? Will the conversation be “successful” if you keep the conversation respectful and avoid yelling or arguing? What does success look like for you? And is this definition of success possible? If you want your parents to respect your opinion, and they can’t do that, will you feel you’ve failed? If you want your parents to agree with you, and they don’t, will that feel like failure? Think about this ahead of time and choose the realistic outcome you’d like to aim for.
At the end of the day, your parents’ concern and questions are likely a reflection of their love for you and your wife. They want what’s best for you, which they view from their perspective. Remind them they did a good job raising you to think on your own and make decisions for yourself. Part of growing up means getting to decide how you feel on topics such as this, but the love and respect you all share endures.