Would you be willing to advise me on a personal family issue?

This is indirectly related to atheism... I was raised back-and-forth between my mother's family and my father's.

Ages 0-2 with both parents; dad left with me at age 2.5 and didn't tell mom where we were. She gave up looking and moved back with my 1/2 brother & 1/2 sister to the midwest.
Ages 2.5-8 with dad, stepmom, and stepsister in Pacific Northwest; Dad and stepmom reared me as a Baptist.
8 went to visit mom and her family; dad and stepmom inconveniently separated temporarily and asked me to stay back in the midwest for awhile. I ended up staying for 3 years. I lived with my grandmother, grandfather, 1/2 sister and 1/2 brother. Mother and step-dad lived in town. Grandmother reared us as World Wide Church of God (the 1980s version).
11 Fought with Mother. Moved back to dad, stepmom & stepsister's. Baptist again.
12 Sent to paternal grandmother's due to stepmother fighting with me constantly. No religion there.
13 Back to midwest. Lived with mom & stepdad and 1/2 sister and stepsister. No religion. Hid our sinfulness (e.g. Christmas tree, birthday cake) from grandmother who was still WW Church of God.
16 Back to Dad, Stepmom & stepsister. Baptist again.
17 Moved to college (300 miles away from Dad's).
Now (39) Atheist, moved 600 miles from dad/2000 miles from mom; married with two 7 year old girls. Dad still Baptist. WW Church of God dissolved. Grandmothers both died. Mother now Pentecostal!

I used to visit my dad once a year or so, but haven't been since September 2006. He has visited me three times in 17 years; once my first year here in 1992; for my wedding in 1998; and when my girls were 6 weeks old in 2002. I have become less and less comfortable visiting because of my horrible relationship with my stepmother. When I was 12 and he sent me to his mother's place, it was because my stepmother gave him an ultimatum: her or me. He just sent me away. I got really depressed, started binge drinking, ended up in the ICU for overdose, and all this while, he never offered any help except for me to pray and be a servant to the Lord and all would be well. My behavior that caused stepmom to be so angry was: disrespect, not honoring my mother (her) and father, not being Godly. Focus on the Family was on the radio every day, advising her that God insists on tough love and convincing her that breaking my evil spirit was her duty to me.

My mom has visited me two times since 1992: for my wedding and for the birth of my girls. She believed she was too sinful to go to church, God would strike her down if she darkened his door. Now, she's 64, quit smoking, has stayed married to the same guy for over 30 years, hasn't drank alcohol or smoked pot in 25+ years, and now feels worthy of joining a church. She's become Pentecostal. I have not seen her since she became religious, but she seems calmer and less anxious, which is all due to putting her problems at "the lord's feet." She sent me a Jimmy Swaggart bible with his interpretations in red text throughout it. She hopes I will see her witness and turn to the Lord.

So here's where I need advice: Is it OK to just stop visiting these people? I feel really able, confident, and happy in my life but not when I'm talking with them. With them, I feel judged, "prayed for" if you know what that feels like, and inhibited because I don't want to offend them with my non-religious ways. To be clear, by non-religious ways, I'm talking about not praying before meals, not seeking God when discussing any decision or event in my life, not going to church with them, not wanting to be part of morning devotionals.

So you can see, nothing really bad is happening here, but I have a very strong desire to send them each $200 to buy a ticket to visit me anytime they like, but never go to their homes again. When I'm in their homes, I feel almost like a different person - smaller, more vulnerable, less sure of myself, and definitely in danger. I know this is unrealistic since I am exactly the same person wherever I am, but I get really anxious and depressed around them in their environments. I don't think I'd feel that way if they came to my environment.

Is it ok to stop going to see them? What is your opinion? Thank you big time if you read this and offer any advice.

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You should not have to be in any situation where you feel vulnerable or in danger. If the people in your life don't value you, respect you, and bolster your sense of yourself as a worthwhile person, they are better out of your life. After years of trying to deal with an abusive sibling I have now cut myself off from him completely. I still love him, and would do anything to help him if he needed help, but I will not be treated with disrespect - especially when (and I have examined this very carefully) I have done nothing to warrant it.

People reflect their own baggage on to those who will allow them to. If you continue to be the family punching bag, they'll go on using you that way. It doesn't have to be nasty. There don't have to be angry words or letters of recrimination. Just quietly and unobtrusively drop out of their lives and decline their invitations to visit. In the meantime, seek out people who do enrich you and honour you and build your own 'family'.
I agree! In this situation I would do just what Kristy suggests--quietly back out. There is no shame in that.
I second everything Kristi says, so NO.....you do not have to associate with anyone, family or not, who makes you feel less than accepted, loved and worthy. They know where you live. If they really want a relationship.....an adult realationship with you, they can come visit. Myself..I woulden't encourage it, but that's your call. Also, stop letting them treat you as if you were still 13. Demand the respect you deserve and if they cannot or will not give that much, gently remove yourself from these people's lives. You and your daughters will be better off keeping your distance.
Thank you, Kristy, Christina, and Unholyroller! Your posts are very kind and supportive!

Do you think (anyone reading this) that the family ties of atheists are weaker? I mean I half expected someone to say, "You'll be sorry when he's gone! Go love your dad!" It is far more rational to say, Hey, don't go where you feel rotten! I just wonder if I'm not very loyal, or if loyalty is not as important as society makes it seem.
I think loyalty is important, but I think respect and understanding even more so.

I think I would classify as coming from a somewhat atheist family, in so far as I can claim to be brought up with no religion as it were. My family ties are very strong.

I do agree with the others there is no shame in choosing to live your life the way you wish to live it.
I think families that are all atheist (or not religious) have as strong or stronger family ties as religious ones. I wonder, though, if I'm both less loyal and atheist and if these traits are related or causal in some way? I do feel less loyal in general, but I usually attribute that to rejoining competing families every three years :)
I think you should probably put up with more from your family than you do from casual acquaintances. But, at the end of the day, if your family is doing you more harm than good, it's time to cast them adrift. That doesn't mean you stop loving them. It simply means you have to love yourself more.
Kristy, thanks. Love myself more. That means something to me. My family isn't doing me any good, as far as I can tell anyway. Being away is doing me a lot of good. Maybe

I need to make a choice soon. On Father's Day I mentioned to my dad that I'd come up for stepmom's dad's memorial service at the family reunion on August 8. He said he didn't know if he and stepmom were going. I questioned him and noticed he was using grunts and single syllables a lot, and asked if he was unable to talk cuz stepmom was there. He said yes. I said I felt distinctly unwelcome to come visit, like I was causing a stir up there just by coming. He said something like, Ya, I can see that. I emailed him later asking what the deal was, was I right that I'm unwelcome? No reply. I chose to read that as affirmative. I made other plans.

Yesterday a new email came saying yes, he and stepmom are going and here's a map attached. I replied that I thought I was unwelcome and he wasn't going anyway and now I'm confused. He wrote:

"Yes We are going, I have rather mixed feelings about stretching this out over several months. When I go i want to have all this stuff done in a whole lot less time."

So what would you do? Write back saying sorry, I made other plans? Not reply? Go and find out what he means by "have all this stuff done"?

I appreciate your advice, everyone. I need to talk this through and not many people IRL get why I am worked up about this at all.
I think I'd just send your Dad a brief email saying you've given it some thought and realized it really isn't appropriate for you to attend the memorial and you feel better about that decision knowing he will be there to represent your side of the family. If you had a relationship with Stepmom's Dad, send a card saying you will remember him fondly. If not, leave it.

If he writes back and says for you to come, just say, politely, "Sorry, thanks for asking, but I've made other plans now."

I would suggest taking the moral high ground. Try not to fall out with them. Just withdraw gracefully.
I would let them know you love them, but don't share their religious views. Tell them you would love to visit with them, provided they are willing to set religious views aside and not preach.
"...willing to set religious views aside..." really? From the little information provided I would expect such an appeal would fall on deaf ears and simply result in an irrational or angry response.

I have had the experience of having to 'gracefully withdraw' from regular contact with some of my family. A very similar situation actually - nothing major, no abuse - just wasn't pleasant to be around them. I support Kristy's suggestion - try to just back off gracefully.
PS. love the expression "prayed for" - I too know that unholy feeling.
First and foremost, I am so very sorry you're even having to deal with this situation. Funny how the people who relentlessly preach tolerance, love and understanding are always the first to pass judgement and are generally close-minded and often hypocritical. I see absolutely nothing wrong with seperating yourself. I had to do the same exact thing to my mom and it ended up working to my benefit. She finally realized that if she wanted to be part of my life, she had to respect where I was coming from. It's made our relationship much better. You should definately give it a shot. I wish you the best. :)

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