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.
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?
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