I just found your site recently, and am finding it very helpful. Having been raised a guilt-stricken Catholic, it took me a long time to tell my parents that I no longer ascribe to the faith. My husband actually broke the news, as they are very loud and demeaning to me when they think I am wrong. We left out that I don’t follow any faith, so they kind of think I believe in something, which I don’t.
All of this got them to stop inviting me to church, but now they push their faith on our kids, who they watch while we are at work. I feel like we are both lucky in this arrangement, as I have reliable and free childcare Monday through Friday, and they get to spend more time with their grandkids than anyone I know. The problem is that my kids are being indoctrinated with a faith that I abhor. They come home and pray at dinner, argue with me about whether Jesus really came back from the dead, and refer to my parents’ church as their own. My parents are real zealots, having traveled to foreign countries to see apparitions and whatnot, and I am not happy with my kids being taught these beliefs while I am at work.
Please, please, please help me address this before it destroys my relationship with my parents or leads me to quit work and be a stay at home mom. I don’t want to throw away my career and we can’t afford childcare, but I don’t want my children brainwashed!
You’re “torn” because you’re clinging to two diverging duties. One is now obsolete. Let go of that, and you won’t be torn any more.
If it was very important to you for your children to always have healthy food, and your parents were feeding unhealthy and even unsafe food all day, and your kids were showing alarming signs of diet-related illnesses, would you have any problem putting your foot down and making it crystal clear to your parents what foods they must and must not serve your kids?
Your children are being fed daily doses of something that you consider to be poisonous, and they’re showing symptoms that alarm you. Their indoctrination is already becoming a wedge between them and you, and if it continues, the split will only deepen. Their loyalties will be divided between you and their grandparents, and then they too will have their own experience of being torn. Yet you are hesitating to put a stop to it for fear of losing a “reliable and free” child care service, or losing your job.
Rethink your priorities, and review your resources.
Your parents are not villains. They think they’re doing the right thing with your kids, but it is not their place to do it. They won’t realize this until you explain it to them, but you’re intimidated. They have developed the habit of getting their way by bullying you. Shouting, demeaning, and guilt-tripping is how they intimidate you.
Sometimes the hardest part of growing up is the last part later in life, when parents such as yours have to acknowledge that their children have become adults. It is very difficult for some parents to stop parenting, and to start relating to their grown-up children as equal adults. Someday you’ll face the same transition with your grown-up children.
Even though you have built a life, a career, a marriage, and a family of your own, your relationship with your folks is still child-to-parents. When you have a difference of opinion, they browbeat you as a misbehaving child, and you respond as a guilty child. Your husband having to be the one to tell them the incomplete truth about your non-belief is one example.
It is time to assert your adulthood. See yourself as an adult with them, and expect respectful treatment from them. See yourself as a mother to your children, rather than a daughter to your parents. That is the obsolete duty that you can let go. You’re afraid that this conflict might destroy your relationship with your parents, but it must change to adult-to-adult, or it will be destroyed regardless of this conflict.
Question skeptically your assumption about not being able to afford some other source of childcare. Don’t just give in to the either/or choice of your parents continuing to do this to your kids, or you giving up your career. Find a creative third option.
Then you can choose to either use that other childcare solution, or to go to your parents armed with a backup resource and present some clear and concise conditions.
If you still want to try letting them watch your kids, have your husband stand by you, but not stand in for you. You and he are a team, but the relationship that must be transformed is between you and them. You must be the one who calmly tells them that the religious indoctrination in any manner must stop fully and immediately. They get to be the kids’ grandparents, not their godparents. Remember that you hold a powerful trump card in your hand: They want to see their grandchildren. They can, but only on condition of complying with your demands. It is not subject to negotiation.
They may refuse to comply, essentially calling your bluff. But you must not be bluffing. This is why you must have the alternative child care resource ready. Otherwise, you would have to possibly quit your job, a last resort that we’re trying to avoid.
If they raise their voices and start demeaning you, remember that’s just their old habit. Take deep, slow breaths and maintain your adult composure. Coolly describe what they’re doing, and tell them that that is no longer going to work. Briefly take on the role of parent, telling them to stop behaving like petulant children or playground bullies. Keeping your adult self-control while they regress to juvenile blustering can be very empowering for you. You’ll see who really is in charge. You are.
If they continue to try to intimidate or give you any other disrespectful treatment, then you and your husband quietly walk out the door, which you do not slam, and go home. Let them think about it for a few days without their grandkids. If they call back with some partial concession, don’t bargain. You wouldn’t compromise on your children’s well being with any other child care provider, so don’t compromise with them. They get to be grandparents, not preachers or Sunday school teachers.
Torn, I’m not saying that any of this will be easy, but its importance is what will help you accomplish it. It can very hard for someone who has been bullied and guilt-tripped her whole life to stand up and assert herself, but people do it. They stand up when someone precious to them, someone even more vulnerable is being harmed.
Your parents and your children can be wonderful gifts to each other, as long as you are in charge of what the kids are taught. You and your parents have gifts to share too, as long as there is mutual respectful treatment. Hopefully, when everyone knows their proper roles with each other, adults interacting as adults, and grandparents deferring to the childcare guidelines of the parents, then new positive, caring, and enriching relationships can be formed between everyone. I wish you and your entire family the best of outcomes.