Hi! New here and needing advice. I was raised by a devout christian mom and completely apathetic dad (to this day I have no idea what he believes) in the bible belt. I didn't really have anything else going for me as a kid so being a christian defined everything about me. I am now in my thirties, and my husband and I (we had a VERY christian wedding, ugh) are now atheist/agnostic. This is going to be devastating to my mom, who was diagnosed with cancer last year and that has made her even more "spiritual." I love my mom dearly, and I know how hard it has been living with my dad, believing that he is going to hell. I can't imagine how hard it is going to be for her when she finds out that despite all her efforts, now her daughter, son-in-law and future grandchildren will also be hell-bound. Does anyone have advice on how to reveal this as gently and lovingly as possible? It has become a concern because we are planning to start a family next year, and we are adamant about our children not going to church until they are old enough to make that choice for themselves.
I hope your mother's treatments are going well. If not, I would suggest not enlightening her as to what your religious status is. There is no gentle way to break this news to a believer that loves you. Especially one that is having their own mortality held in front of them. Hopefully, her cancer will go into full remission. When she tries to give the credit to god, that is when you argue that the credit should go to the doctors and scientist that in most cases don't believe in a god.
I agree with Michael that there is no easy well to tell you mom. Also, my best wishes for her recovery and for you and your family to cope with her illness. Having said that, my advice would depend on the circumstances:
- If there is a high risk of you, your husband or someone else who knows coming out in the middle of normal/heated conversation, I would tell her very soon after arranging the best possible circumstances to do so because finding out during an argument/accidentally etc will be more painful for her.
- You might want to approach your dad privately for advice and to check what he actually believes as he appears to have experience of living with your mother while not being christian. It might be worthwhile coming out to him first, if you have not already done so.
- You could decide not to tell her at all. Presumably you hide the fact that you do not go to church from her, so your children not going can also be hidden. It does mean that your parents' babysitting would be limited as you might not be able to trust them not to take any children to church without permission. Also consider that it is unlikely that church could be any influence on children before they are say 18-24 months old.
- I don't know what your husband's parents are like. If they are christians then you could both come out to them first as a sort of practice run to see if your approach works. If they already know then you could ask their advice. If they are atheist/agnostic then you have babysitters that won't take your children to church meaning not coming out to your mom is a more viable option.
- You could say that you are christians but don't have any faith in churches or organised religion and believe it should be a private thing. It deals with the issue of children going to church and paves the way for saying you have abandoned christianity entirely at some future date.
Thank you for your good wishes for her health. She is in full remission now, and the doctors have given her a clean bill of health. Unfortunately, she is still in delicate shape; she still talks about being scared and praying about it a lot. (Incidentally, her doctor goes to the same kind of church she does. Hard to get away from them here in the south.) I'm hoping that given a little more time and distance from it, she will be able to relax, but that just may be something that stays with her; I hope not for her own sake. My husband's family is also christian, and his coming out wasn't received well-a heat of the moment kind of thing. His parents are much younger than mine, though, and more culturally christian, less spiritual, so they've started to adjust. We don't bring it up, and we try to ignore their hinting and poking. (His dad signed us up to get sermons from their church on dvd delivered every week.) I think we are going to wait as long as we can, until after we actually have a child, and then go with the "not into organized church" for as long as we can. Thanks for the advice!
I am so glad to hear that your mom is doing better!
That said, I just wanted to urge caution in the "not into organized religion" bit. That is the kind of line that will get your children Jesus books for every birthday, Christmas, and visit to Grandma's house. I think you are going to have to take a really strong line with this one to keep your mother from proselytizing your children.
Besides that, you yourself said that she is miserable thinking that her husband is going to go straight to hell. Perhaps there is still a chance the three of you could win her over to agnosticism. Don't you think she'd be happier if she didn't believe in all of that? I know I would be.
I do not think that trying to convert her is a good solution. She may feel ganged up on and is likely to pull away from you. If she and your dad have reached a happy medium, then I would leave that business to them. I think a better idea is to wait some time for her to recover before breaking the news to her, and be firm about your convictions. Have one or two good reasons why you don't believe anymore and hopefully over time she accepts that it is your decision to make, not hers.