Ask Mormon Girl: I’m no longer an orthodox believer. How do I tell my parents?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl,

I don’t know how to tell my family that after years of doubting, praying, reading, pondering, and finding support and justification from Sunstone and Mormon feminist havens like fMh and Exponent, I no longer believe. My heart was in a constant state of breaking while I was trying to be Mormon. And that’s to say nothing of the cognitive incongruities that also spurned my agnosticism.

I’m a junior in college right now (going to BYU worked wonders with my fledgling deconversion), and my ideological distance from my parents is beginning to affect me even more than the geographical. I claim to have left for moral reasons, yet I’m basically lying to them. Lying is painful. But telling the truth will be even more painful. I’d hate for them to wonder what they did wrong when in reality I’m the way I am because of what they did right, like encouraged open-mindedness and sensitivity.

I know there’s not a way I can break this to them easily, but I desperately need suggestions of how to do it in the least painful way possible. Thanks.

Sincerely,

Honest

Dear Honest:

I want you to take out a sheet of paper (or open up your laptop) and write your parents a letter. Tell them everything. Tell them about your years-long struggle to believe. Tell them how much it broke your heart to try. Tell them all the reasons you can no longer believe. Spare no details. Then put the letter in an envelope, put the envelope in your dresser drawer, and leave it there. Make a date on your calendar to come back and revisit the letter in about six months.

Between now and then, I want you to start living your new truth with your parents without explicitly explaining it to them. And as you do, examine yourself and your actions. Ask yourself: what really is changed by the fact that you no longer believe as you once did? Does your new truth require that you act or treat them any differently? Can you make these adjustments quietly and gracefully without explaining yourself? What do you really need them to know? And why? If you manage to attain some clarity on these difficult questions, take out that letter again and reread it. Ask yourself what it accomplishes.

I was really struck when you told me “my ideological distance from my parents is beginning to affect me even more than the geographical.” It seems clear that your faith transition has you missing your parents in a big way. You’ve left home and there’s no going back but you have no new home of your own yet. And that’s scary. You’re waist deep in the second puberty, soul puberty—-far more fearsome than adolescent body puberty, though no one ever acknowledges it-—and you are awash in conflicting emotions. With your parents, you want both closeness and distance. You want them to understand and acknowledge you, but at the same time you want to declare your independence. That’s a confusing place to be. And that’s why I’m recommending you wait it out until you have a clearer sense of what a big talk with your folks would accomplish.

You accuse yourself of “lying” to your parents. But it’s not lying to set aside grand speeches for now and let your actions do most of the talking. Good boundaries are fundamental to the new adult relationship you’re trying to establish with your parents. It’s okay to maintain your privacy while you are figuring out your new truth and making your first adult choices. If they need to understand something, let them ask you. Be kind and judicious in how you answer.

In the long run, perhaps you’ll find that what we really need our parents to know is quite basic: we love them, we are grateful for the good things they gave us, and we will be there for them when they need us—as they inevitably will. That’s a truth that transcends and overarches any doctrine. It’s the kind of truth that really counts. And it’s one that bears repeating no matter what stage of life we’re in.

That’s my take. Others may have a different point of view, and I look forward to hearing from them. What do you think, readers? If you’ve been through a faith transition, how have you communicated with your parents?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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32 Comments

Filed under faith transition, family, parenting

32 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: I’m no longer an orthodox believer. How do I tell my parents?

  1. Very wise advice, in my opinion.

  2. smilingldsgirl

    I agree with everything Joanna says but I would add that it is important to recognize your change may be painful for your parents and to not be offended by that. You have to allow them to work through their feelings and remember they have not had years to absorb this decision as you have.
    I have always been faithful but not everyone in my family has stayed with the church. My parents are pretty supportive of our choices but I am sure there were moments of pain and even disappointment in my siblings. However, in the end they love their children and want them to be happy. That’s most important.

  3. Joel

    I’d be interested in knowing what it is that Honest no longer believes. That could have a huge impact on her decision to tell her parents or not.

  4. Briar

    I can’t say anything that AMG hasn’t said perfectly. I’m a liberal Mormon mom of two teen girls. It’s always struck me that we baptize our children at age 8. They are old enough to make choices and start being accountable. But how many parents actually ask their children of they want to be baptized and allow their kids to answer truthfully. One of my daughters asked me what I’d say if they said no. I said “It is your choice.” And I meant it. I’ve always had questions and I encourage them to be the same. I’ve encouraged them to learn about other faiths and have even offered to take them to other church’s services. They are curious and keep it on the table because we are always in a process of testimony or belief. No matter what that belief is. I think all parents would love to have their kids share their beliefs but it sounds like you love your parents very much and I’m certain they love you. THAT never changes. As a mom I can tell you THAT for sure. Good luck :)

  5. augusta a

    Dear Honest,
    You should really really really really wait until you are not dependent on your parents for financial support. If you’re living at home, if your parents help pay your college bills, do not under any circumstances tell them about your disbelief. Wait until you are financially independent. Many many many people in your shoes have lost financial support and others have been kicked out of their house. Maybe they’ll be OK though saddened with your disbelief, but maybe they will react more harshly.

    Here’s the official statement on how your Mormon parents should be expected to act:
    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=7d42dbdcc370c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____
    Rather than seeing you as a fine person choosing a different path, they are told they will feel ” sorrow, despair, desperation, depression, feelings of guilt and unworthiness, and a sense of failure. ” Say nothing at all until you are financially secure. Stay quiet. Shhhh. The stakes are too high.

    • Mark S

      While I understand there are parents who ‘can’t handle the truth’, and I feel sad that’s the case,, this suggestion is the height of hypocrisy. If you’re an adult, you won’t play the helpless little girl or boy who hides who they are so they can leach off their parents for a few more years. That’s a child’s game.

    • thatsnotrite

      actually, i just read that link from the lds site, and it says that those feelings are normal for people to feel, but that theyre not helpful to the situation and that parents should avoid feeling that way and thinking that way. the article goes on to explain that parents should accept their kids and love and encourage them. lets not cause any more confusion over this already confusing issue :)

    • Augusta a, there is also another passage in the talk you quote above: “A governing doctrine of the universe, applicable in all ages including the eternities before God formed this earth, is that God has granted to people their agency—the right to choose between good and evil. Because we have agency, it is fair and just that we account to him for our use of it, whether good or bad. If we had no agency, God would be responsible for us and everything we did, which would result in our never really knowing the depth of our personal convictions regarding either good or evil.”
      We all have our free agency and God has His eternal laws which both He and all of us will eventually be required and obey… Of course all of this is irrelevant if the Mormone church is a fraud. To me, that is the central question. One which I resolved for myself some twenty-odd years ago.

  6. Nom007

    I had a similar experience at BYU at about 20. Now, about 20 years later, I’m really glad I didn’t have the “big talk” with my parents. It took years for my own belief system to develop into something that I could articulate confidently, and I think a talk then would have bred misunderstanding and defensiveness. Also, I felt anger and betrayal then, and a need to “correct” the naive beliefs of others. Over the years, those feelings have faded and been replaced with an unorthodox but strong love for Mormonism that I could not have foreseen.

    Eventually I married someone who understands my beliefs, and he and I talk openly; we also talk openly with like-minded friends. But I spare my parents. I just feel free to love them as they are, without needing to explain or justify where my beliefs diverge from theirs. There are occasional awkward moments (such as the time when my son saw a Glen Beck book at Grandma’s and freaked out) – but mostly we just don’t go into it. This doesn’t feel dishonest – it feels respectful of those I love and respectful of my right to my own beliefs and practices.

  7. As a person who went through similar experiences a few years ago, and has left Mormonism behind, there are only two points with which I disagree in Mormon girl’s advice.

    #1 – “Tell them everything” – This is a HORRIBLE idea. If you do decide to share the “everything letter” with your parents later, if your parents are the type that are really rigid in their beliefs, they will try to use your own statements against you. I would suggest telling them ONLY what you need to say to make your point. Don’t get too detailed, because they probably won’t read it all anyway. You’d be wasting your time pouring your heart into the letter.

    #2 – “we love them, we are grateful for the good things they gave us, and we will be there for them when they need us—as they inevitably will. That’s a truth that transcends and overarches any doctrine.” – NOT necessarily so. There are MANY mormons who will put church before family every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. I know many Mormon families who have shunned or disowned their children/siblings/etc. who have openly left the church. As Russell M. Nelson once said in General Conference, there is no such thing as unconditional love. Many parents will only love their children so long as their children believe every last thing they told them to believe.

    Otherwise, I think Mormon girl’s reply was very thoughtful, and compassionate. It’s just too bad that there aren’t many “True Blue” Mormons who think the way she does.

    • Eric, I respectully disagree… I believe that one of the purposes of WRITING the letter is the catharsis it brings to the writer. I am assuming that if AMG’s advice is followed to the tee, that after 6 months the letter would be re-written before deliverance… One of Christ’s foremost teachings was that we not unrighteously judge others. To assert that Mormon families would choose “church” over family is to over-simplify the issue. Perhaps in their mind the strongest affirmation of their love is to “shun” the “wayward” child hoping that being left alone to “kick against the pricks” would somehow allow their child to see the error of their ways. Its not for us to judge without full knowledge and understanding and perspective at we might not ever gain in mortality.

      In addition, advising that the letter-write not disclose the depths and details of their feelings also seems to me a mistake. Justice Lois Brandeis said “Sunlight is the best antiseptic”. I believe that once the letter is delivered, the line is drawn in the sand, the letter writer has, at that point, made every legitimate effort to respectfully inform their parents of their position. If, after that, the parents choose to sever ties, or “use their words against them”, perhaps the sin be upon the head of the parents. Food for thought.

      I love discussions in a setting where we can attempt to understand and evaluate each other’s position and understanding without vilifying or launching person attacks. Open thoughtful discussion is always a means to deeper understanding. I do appreciate your thoughtful and respectful comment.
      ‘Don

  8. Hi Honest! I agree with AMG & Nomoo7 that waiting is a really, really good idea, especially because time helps us to develop more articulate, emotionally mature, objective ways of communicating with our loved ones. Just over a year ago I wrote to AMG about how to come out to my parents about being gay, having a girlfriend, and moving on from the church. I see a lot of parallels in the fears and problems we face trying to have these conversations. About a year later I finally had the conversation with my parents, and I AM SO SO GLAD I WAITED! I felt stronger, more independent, more calm and thoughtful, more understanding of how to best address their needs and concerns because I’d already taken the time to address my own. I totally relate to wanting your parents to be your parents during these times of chaos and change, to understand and support you, and be up-to-speed with your process; through these experiences we often find ourselves mourning that ideal as we develop other support networks. Most of all, take time to go inside and listen to yourself, learn to live your truth from the inside out, and find meaningful ways to continue to show love and respect for your parents and all they’ve done for you. Don’t do anything until you feel strong and confident and full of love. Good Luck!!!

  9. “What do you really need them to know? And why? If you manage to attain some clarity on these difficult questions, take out that letter again and reread it. Ask yourself what it accomplishes.”

    I have done this for five years now. I have not told my parents about my disaffection. I have stopped attending church. I am really no different than I was before so my parents still have no idea about my leaving the church, but now my daughter is turning 8 in a few months. I think there comes a time when we do have to explicitly tell our parents we have left the church. “Honests” time may come when she finds someone to marry and is not going to do it in the temple or it may come when some other major event in life takes place. I wish I could take this advise and put it into my own life, but now I have to tell my parents that my 8 year old isn’t going to be baptized and I am going to break their hearts. It is so hard. I feel for you “Honest.”

  10. Spouse

    Here’s a question for everyone. I’m in a similar situation to Honest, except that I’m about 8 years older, married with 3 kids, and the person I’m not sure about telling is my spouse who is very orthodox. My spouse freaked out recently about the fact that I watched a “rated R” movie and even questioned their choice in choosing me as a spouse. I would like to have a marriage in which I can be totally open with my spouse (whom I love very much), but I don’t want to jeopardize the marriage (especially for my children). Does this change the advice at all?

  11. Jessica

    Hi Honest and everyone here, I’m going through the same situation. However, I have decided to take Mormon Girl’s advice and just wait it out. It’s odd but pretty much all the people I was close to in youth groups at church have all left the church. I guess that’s why we were so close. I’ve watched so many of them declare that they no longer believe and it always seems to go wrong. If anything it just creates bitterness on both sides. One of my close friends did this while also coming out so there were more issues in play. He is just so bitter towards his family but he also loves them and I know this causes great pain.

    I left the church shortly after graduating from BYU. I think writing the letter is a good idea, just to get it out of your system but I would never deliver it. My mom knows without me saying that I believe differently and over time has come to terms with it without having some big talk. I’m lucky that she knows she raised a good daughter with good morals and that’s more important to her than whether I marry one day. I think over time your parents will just know and I hope that if they do want to talk that by then you’ll know how to break the news in a loving but assertive way.

  12. Cap

    Spouse, I think that changes the advice in a big way. You are playing with enormous stakes and I would recommend you tread very lightly. I have a friend who told his wife he no longer believed and she called the divorce lawyer the next day. I would submit your question to Ask Mormon Girl because your issue, in my opinion, is the most important question to get right. It is also the most important and heart breaking issue involving a change in your religious world views. Best of luck to you.

  13. KTS

    To: Spouse
    I am 37 years old and while that is not much older than you or your husband (I presume), my view of the world in terms of acceptance and understanding of other points of view especially in regards to religion has matured drastically over the past 10 years. Certain events, sorrows, relationships, and time have a way of opening the mind. Give you husband some time and think you will find that timing is everything.

  14. Bilbo

    Dear Honest,

    Your predicament really rang true with me as I’ve very recently been through the exact same experience. I want to share some of my own story in the hopes that it may help you.

    I felt a need to tell my parents about my ideological shift as I knew that inevitably there would be times when my beliefs would become apparent, i.e. not being married in the temple, in conversation, etc. Furthermore, I wanted to be “Honest.”

    I put the talk off for a long time. I wanted to be sure I was grounded in my decision and I wanted to be very careful about how I said what I said. When we finally did have the talk, I only told them what was absolutely necessary. I avoided going into detail about my disagreements with the church as I knew that would only be fuel for debate, that I felt would be fruitless. I also avoided going into detail about my personal choices as I felt that was none of their business, and I didn’t want to give them any reason to condemn me, because I knew that would only end up hurting me.

    Regardless, they did still condemn me. I got letters from my dad telling me I was going to hell, etc. Prepare yourself for this. I don’t know your parents, and maybe they won’t react this way, but if there is a shadow of a chance that they might, you should be prepared-mentally and emotionally. I eventually told my dad to stop in a polite, diplomatic way, highlighting the fact that I respected his choices and expected him to respect mine.

    If you lead your conversation with respect and compassion, then I believe you set a precedent for your parents to follow–and hopefully they will.

    Good luck Honest! I feel for you. After my conversation I felt heaps better and things with my folks and I are getting better and better, so I hope the same will come true for you.

  15. Hey Honest,

    I’m pretty much in your same situation (even at BYU and everything). Luckily my parents have been very open with my confusion (they probably expect it will pass, but I think they honestly are…. accepting). Anyway, if you ever want to talk or something, I know a lot of folks at BYU who are struggling or just totally beyond being LDS. Anyway, feel free to contact me. :)

    Alexis

    • Anna Wagner

      I’m feeling the same way and am at BYU as well. It makes me feel better that i’m not the only one on campus that has issues with the church..

      • smilingldsgirl

        Love you!

      • Samuel

        yep. I totally understand. I feel the same way here at BYU. It gets lonely sometimes because you think you are the only one who feels this way. I often feel like I don’t belong here. But… I’m stuck here for at least another year. I wish it was easier to find more like minded people. If you ever want to chat it up, seriously hit me up.

      • Allie

        I’m in this same situation, and it’s so comforting to realize I’m not the only one secretly feeling spiritually confused and suffocated at BYU, even though it usually feels that way.
        I’m graduating from BYU in a few months and there is a very good chance I’ll be marrying my boyfriend this year (we’re both undergoing a faith transition away from the Mormon church). I’m trying to figure out how to not only tell my parents I am leaving the Church (which really happened years ago), but also that I plan to get married outside of the temple. I plan to open up to them when I move back home for a few months before my wedding, and I know this will be a huge shock and that they will be very hurt. I’m not sure how many details I should share regarding my struggle with the church over the past few years.
        I feel terrible about combining the happy news of my engagement with what they will view as the terrible news of my “falling-away,” and I don’t want them to blame my boyfriend. He is struggling with the same problem, and we’re afraid our wedding will be be a huge source of pain and conflict for our families. Any advice on how to lessen the shock of this double-whammy would be appreciated..

  16. warfsonofmog

    I did the same thing to my parents, just in the opposite direction, by joining the Church. It was tense at first, and they also thought it would pass, or that I was doing it for some girl. Later I married in the Temple without my family present, which I know caused them pain and heartache. It has been hard on them – but they also have been incredibly supportive and loving in spite of my choices. I am sure made them feel rejected in many ways. I have had to face the responsibility of the fact that to a certain degree I *did* reject my parents belief systems. While it would not have changed my decision, the importance of sensitivity could definitely put some healing salve on their wounds. As a parent now, I have a greater sensitivity to what I did, and maybe the way I went about it. I should have been more thoughtful of their feelings. I can only hope to be as wonderful as they have been, as inevitably my children make choices different from my own.

    That being said, live in a manner consistent with your conscience, or you will only make yourself sick. AMG has it right, I think. I would only encourage you to be patient with them, and forgiving of any clumsiness (or even stupidity) on their part. It is a risky proposition, this parenting business… and virtually impossible to do better than adequately.

    I wish you well in your journey.

  17. Elizabeth

    Honest, I can understand what you are going through. I have been going through the same things over the past few years, and months. I am married, with a family of my own. But I am very close to my mother. Several weeks ago my mother called, upset about the news that my youngest sister had attended another church. My sister had discussed her feelings towards the LDS church with me, and I knew this was coming, but it was a surprise to our mother. I felt that I could not lie to her, and I told her of my own disaffection with the LDS church. I told her I had asked to be released from my present calling in the primary presidency. I didn’t go into any great detail, but I made it clear that my belief in the gospel is no longer what it was. It was very difficult for her to hear. Since then my mother has tried to (gently) press me into discussing with her my questions and my “issues.” But I have resisted going into much detail. Mostly, this is because, as Joanna points out, I don’t feel I can quite articulate my feelings or beliefs yet. I am in a process of seeking these out, and I feel that with time I will feel more secure in discussing these things with my mother. Right now, I am deeply grateful that I can flesh out my fledgling ideas with a very supportive husband. In the meantime, when she is not trying to get me to discuss my religious beliefs, my relationship with my mother is largely unchanged. I think she knows that I am still the sensitive, caring, and honest person I always was, and though she does not know where I am at spiritually, she can trust me. Treat your parents with respect, whether it means having the all out “talk” or just living in a way that is true to yourself, and though it may be idealistic of me, I believe they will come to treat you the same.

  18. Jenna

    I’ve been in a similar circumstance. I too went to BYU and found myself becoming inactive. I am Liberal and there’s not a lot of room for people like me, and certainly my opinions, at Ultra-Conservative BYU. I hope Honest is as lucky as I was to have good friends who were in a similar situation, going through Spiritual Puberty.

    I stopped going to church, for the most part. I went just enough for my Ecclesiastical Endorsement. However, I did not hold a calling, I did not always pay tithing, and I did my own thing. I still basically followed the teachings of the church, but I did a lot of questioning. I never talked to my mom about my feelings. (My dad had died when I was 14 but he surely would have been upset if he had been there.)

    At the end of my last year at BYU I found myself unhappy. For me, the answer was to go back to church. However, I was not the same member I was my freshman year at BYU. I was not the same person. Now I go for me. I go because I have established a relationship with my Heavenly Father, and I know he wants to best for me and I know it is what will ultimately make me happy.

    If you don’t have the same answer, that’s okay. What is most important is that you find the relationship you need with H.F. He loves you, Honest. And he wants you to be happy. Find your happiness. Don’t worry about your parents. They love you too and what you the same. (Matthew 7:11)

  19. M

    Dear Honest,
    What I would have given to find a website like this 10 years ago. I grew up in a town in AZ that is considered “mini Salt Lake City”. I was raised with great LDS influence, but was also exposed to non-LDS culture as my father is the only child of 5 who is LDS. My father served a mission, and my parents were married in the temple. My parents attended church every Sunday, but as I got older it seemed they became more devout followers, and my father even served as a bishop while I was a teenager. It was very hard for me because I had so many questions, and lots of doubt that I felt I couldn’t share because I was “the bishops daughter”. Long story short I went on a soul searching journey at the age of 17 and as my questions went unaswered I decided to stop attending seminary(though I couldn’t not attend Sunday meetings because I was 17 and still in my parents home- on top of being bishops daughter). Much to my parents chagrin I also started dating a non-member that year. It was refreshing to have someone who had no pre-concieved notions about the church to be my sounding board. He was open, honest, un-biased, and really helped me feel like I was normal when I felt like a fish out water. I graduated, moved out of my parents home as soon as I could (to start fully living my life and my transition away from the church that I felt so compelled to do). I didn’t believe and I was sick of lying and pretending. I longed to be my authentic self, whoever she was. That boy(who is now my husband ♥) broke up with me…. I tell you this background story so you can understand that happened to me next, could very well happen to you if you do not follow AMG’s advice to WAIT and talk to your parents later!

    I felt like I had lost everything by losing this boy, and I didn’t care about ANYTHING anymore. I drove straight to my parents home and spent the next 5 hours of my life spilling my guts to my parents about the “hows” and “whys” and “why nots”…. It was one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made! I was SO young, so immature, so heartbroken, and didn’t think for a moment the effect this would have on my parents or my family. I hadn’t even had time to find my authentic self, let alone figure out what was and wasn’t appropriate or important enough to discuss with my parents. They were devistated!!! My rash decision put more strain on our realationship than 5 years worth of avoiding it could have ever done!

    I am 27 now, much more wise than that hasty 18 yr old. I never went back to the church. However, I’ve had 10 years to figure out and devlope into WHO I really am, and what I DO and DON’T believe. Had I waited even a couple years, even 6 months it could have made all the difference. It has taken YEARS for my parents to come to terms with my choice(and ultimately stop blaming my husband).

    My parents will never truly get over my leaving the church, but I will never regret my decision as I have found my Truth and my happiness in life. And that is important no matter if you choose to leave, or stay. Things still can be awkward, and strained at times- but we get through it! I am lucky to have parents that didn’t shun me. We have our differences, and we are all happy with our beliefs. I am proof that you can leave and still have a relationship with your LDS parents. It takes acceptance on BOTH parts, and agreeing to disagree!

    I wish you all the luck in the world. I hope you find your truth no matter what it is. I send you love and hope for peace with your parents. Above all else, take AMG’s advice… WAIT, wait until you are level headed and not overcome by emotions (you might not be ready to deal with the consequence of rash actions)- it will make ALL the difference!
    Sincerely,
    One who’s been there! ;)

  20. I take an unorthodox viewpoint, and my husband considers himself an “orthodox Mormon.” We had an emotional debate on a topic. Finally we realized debate was pointless. We aren’t going to change each others minds because both of us must stay true to the integrity of our beliefs. Finally he just looked at me and said, “We’re never going to agree on this. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is I Love You.” He was so sincere and he was right. Love is the highest law of the gospel.

    Anyway, so my advice is, no matter what happens, just love your parents. More than anything you say, this will teach them that you are on the path to truth.

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