146: Relationships First: Mormon Parents Face Their Child’s Faith Transition

January 21, 2013
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In this important episode that affirms love and clear vision, three LDS parents—Jeralee, Jim, and Teri—share their experiences in meeting the challenging situation of an adult child’s faith transition that leaves uncertain whether or not their future will include Mormonism in a significant way. In addition to sharing the outlines of their conversations and experiences with their children (in these cases, three grown sons), they discuss ideas and shifts of perspective that have helped them find peace about what is happening.

Note: This episode uses the real names of both parents and children, but it foregoes last names in order to add a layer of protection from web searches. However, all the parents have permission from their children to discuss their stories, and each also welcomes anyone reaching out to engage them privately. If you’d like to get in touch with any of the participants, please contact Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon at mormonmatters@gmail.com. He will put you in touch with them.

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    Thanks
    for tackling this topic. So much to say on this issue. First, we must
    recognize the changing cultural and social context in which young
    people, whether LDS or Evangelical, grapple with their faith. We often
    emphasize defensive boundary maintenance approaches and criticize the
    seeker rather than affirming their doubts and questions and providing
    sound reflections on faith commitments. Second, when a transition
    decision is made, religious institutions often make that journey more
    difficult for the transitioner. This was the point of my presentation at
    Sunstone last year (“Divine Disenchantment available by request). How
    can the LDS Church or Evangelical churches be more positive in the
    migrations from one religious group to another?

  • George

    Thanks for this.

    My path has been a bit different. I am the one (a senior) who has left after half a century in the LDS church. My children and grandchildren just don’t know what to think, so they say little. On the other hand, two siblings (and several nephews/nieces) are absolutely thrilled with my decision. They have both invited me to join their faith communities, I have declined and that’s OK. An invitation to either my childhood faith or the Catholic church is offered should I chose. I will always be part of Mormon culture though. I have joined a community of former LDS who fellowship and spend time together, sharing life’s adventures and difficulties and laughing a lot. We keep from the church those standards we individually believe in and everyone understands.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for this wonderful podcast, Dan. You’ve been a support to many going through
    faith transitions, including my own son. And thank you to all of the presenters. You’ve articulated many parents’ thoughts and feelings who are in similar positions. I would just like to
    add that faith and spirituality are very personal for all of us and how important it is to respect each others’ journeys.

  • GoldenGirl

    The experiences that JeraLee, Jim and Teri had with their children seemed less excruciating than I had with my two 14 year girls who left for doctrinal reasons and a broader spectrum of lifestyle choices. For one thing, their children were older, not living under their noses and have continued to live good lives, I don’t know if three people with Ph.D children is a very good sampling of the people who “apostasize” in our Church. Also, they handled these experiences with much more maturity and grace than I managed to scrape together. Dan, you are correct that these people are terrific role models for parents going through this. Maybe if I had listened to this podcast 15 years ago, it would have been easier for me and for my children.

    Another difference between our experiences is that 13 years later, when my third child, as a law student at Harvard, separated from the Church, I respected him so much that I had to know for myself and began a research frenzy which has changed my relationship with the Church forever.

  • Carl

    Love the podcast and this timely topic.

    I have a son that not only left the church, but keeps an active blog with frequent comments about how happy and fulfilled he is now that he has managed to escape from the bondage of his “Mormon upbringing.” In our private conversations he has made it clear that he does not blame me or his mother, in fact he praises us for being good, supportive, and loving parents. But just by being so public with his feelings makes me feel betrayed somehow, and even though our relationship remains close, I can’t help but feel defensive.

    I’m not sure how to handle this situation. I think it would be much easier without the constant Facebook reminders of the inadequacy of his “childhood faith.” So far, I have remained supportive and positive. But by making his attacks against his religion so public, he has inadvertently (I hope) attacked his parents in the process.

    • http://www.facebook.com/deborahwh Debbie Wright Hamilton

      What a tough situation! Me thinks he protesteth too much… I have found that whatever it takes to move my feelings towards forgiving myself for my (duh!) imperfect parenting strengthens my objectivity and reveals the responsibility my son has to drop the childish victim whining and be a man and chose what he wants Iin his life. i’m hear to testify that the Lord will teach you how to.forgive your human inperfections and give you a more accurate and distant view of your son’s inappropriate behavior.

    • David

      I am very quiet about my beliefs on facebook and in real life. I only share them if someone asks. But if they do ask I would probably say things similar to what your son posts on facebook. I love my parents very much and appreciate everything they have done for me, most of which is unrelated to the church but are the normal things that any good parent does for their children. I do not hold it against them for raising me in the Mormon church. They thought they were doing the right thing for me and I could never be angry with them for that. But at the same time that doesn’t change the fact that I believe the Mormon church is a damaging and oppressive organization which I am glad to be free of in my life.

  • http://www.kendaatlarge.com/ kenda

    Listening to this really helped me (which is kind of odd considering I’m not Mormon) but I am a non-believer in a devout Evangelical family who’s struggling to reconcile my family’s faith with my skepticism. Listening to this podcast gives me hope that perhaps one day I will be able to be more open with my parents about my agnosticism.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Leah.Loreli Leanorah-Loreli Grace

    Very interesting topic. For some reason parents feel bad, or are made to feel bad, about children who don’t follow the same religion, or the same ideology, religiosity, or politics as themselves. I studied this in Political Science and Religion classes at Ricks College. There is even esoteric language used to describe this phenomenon. What I see as the most important thing, when dealing with this, is that unconditional love, acceptance, in an inclusive embracing ongoing relationship be maintained with the relation, be it child, parent, sibling or friend.

    I can not tell you how much it hurts my heart, to no end, to have people stand up in front of Sunday School, or Priesthood meeting, proclaiming how righteous they are by severing all ties with a loved one, because of this thing or that thing (being LGBT, or other). What’s worse is that they do this to garner empathy, compassion and love for what they have done. They want to be backed up, and reassured that they are doing the right thing. Worse still, is that there are those who will give them exactly that. The thought of doing either of those things repulses me beyond any words I have to express. I am not capable of conditional love, empathy and compassion, and will never understand others insistence that will live our in such a manner.

    Much of this stems from a cultural problem that President Gordon B. Hinkley addressed, when he said, “The Church has become too cliquish and clannish in the behavior of the members, and this is wrong, and it needs to stop.” Well it is wrong, but no, we did not obey the Prophet. It’s stupifying to me that devout members claiming they are honoring their covenants, and obeying the Prophet, yet totally ignore such wise counsel. I guess, “*acting on*” cliqish, clannish, status seeking, ‘holier than thou’ behavior in lifestyles is reconciles as an acceptable disobedience to the words God has for us, but being your true self, in your authentic identity is not, (I’m not supposed to ‘act on’ my identity…I’m a transgender woman).

    My mom died from a stroke age age 52. She was a devout member of the Church, and the most loving person I have ever known. My father died of prostate cancer at 63. He had remarried, and renounced the Church, and took up his former religion, Mennonite. My family had always been treated terribly in the Church, I’m quite surprised we all kept active all through my youth. It was an unloving place, and we always felt worse coming home than going. I was the ‘prodigal’ son who kept the family together. When I returned home from Ohio, I reactivated my family, inspired my parents to become temple worthy, for the first time, and we all went to the Temple to be Sealed. It was wonderful. I was truly hurt to my core when my dad announced he had quit the Church, as he was dying. I didn’t know how to deal with that. (opposite of death bed reconciliation).

    My three adult daughters are all making their life choices. My youngest just started at BYU-I and I suspect will serve a mission. My other two are inactive, and have not announced to me or anyone that I know of, that they have quit the Church. I suspect one or both of them actually will quit the Church. I know I love them and will always love them, regardless of how they feel toward me coming out to them on New Years as being trans, or what church, if any they decide to attend or believe in. I will never expel them in any way, literally, or from my heart. I may be expelled by them, my wife and my Church, but that’s a whole other story.

    • peeej

      @facebook-100003978481319:disqus Try as I may, I cannot locate the Gordon B Hinckley quotation you refer to in the language you have provided between the quotation marks. I wonder if you would provide a source? Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deborahwh Debbie Wright Hamilton

    It is indeed painful for many parents to come to terms with their reactions when a child choses a different way of perceiving the world than the way in which they were raised.
    I was unable to fit into the strict form of religion that I was raised in and know first hand how frustrating it was for my parents to have had a child that couldn’t/wouldn’t goosestep to the retoric. I meant no disrespect. I didn’t have the personality to express my faith within the narrow confines of their perspective. Yes, I had a growing faith. I needed the space, time and respect to allow me to search, ponder and pray my way towards my own conclusions. I had to leave my parent’s home to be free to follow my path. I wish I would have had guidance and loving example as I did my searching and growing. It would have made the process easier and I may have avoided some nasty pot holes and bloody shins. No parents are perfect. Kids have kids which seems to be part of the setup.
    My process needed to be about me. Not my parents insecurities about the way they raised me, what the neighbors would think of them, or if my process threatened the weak areas in their own testimony. Adults need to be adults and work out their own challenges at an emotional distance from their children.
    A questioning child is often a gift to themselves, if they are truth seekers. It may be a bumpy ride, but strength and knowledge comes through challenge. At the end of the day they will know what they believe and it will be rooted deeply within themselves, safe from the shifting sands around them.
    Spiritual stability is my heart’s desire for my three son. My oldest learns by bloodying his nose and doing everthing the hard way. He is now 24 and has been less active for 7 years. yes it has been scary sometimes. He’s made horrible decisions at times and has hurt himself immensely. But he runs deeper than almost any other young man his age that I know. He has strengths developed in the pit of dispare, in wandering and rubbing shoulders with all kinds of people. He is a truth seeker and he has learned truths! I have had the opportunity to love him when he didn’t deserve it, teaching me about unconditional love and offering him the opportunity to receive unconditional love. What a wonderful experience for both he and I!
    As I see it, My job as his mom is to see the wonderful person that he is inside and to reflect that truth back to him. I need to believe he will make it to the truth (maybe not truth as I understand it. I’m on a learning curve just like he is. It would be arrogant to think that I always have purer truth that he)and treat him in accordance with that knowledge. In the meantime, we need to have fun together, discuss ideas without judgement together and I need to give him the space, time and respect to work out his life his way on his time table. He is not me. He is him, and that makes us both happy!

  • kate

    Is anyone else having trouble downloading this from iTunes? I can download all other podcasts except those from Mormon Matters. Any suggestions would be welcomed.

  • Gail Knickerbocker

    That was a great podcast, Dan. Do you have a podcast in which children of adults who left the church speak? I am an adult who has left the church. I have not been nearly so kind as the children of these parents were to their parents. Yet, my children have been very very generous, kind, loving, and understanding with me, as has my husband. If you could lead me to one in which children speak of their wayward parents I would like to listen to it. Thanks.

  • Speel

    This was such an interesting podcast and so relevant to many. I hope you will follow on with additional podcasts on this topic, both from the perspective of the parent and the child.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ron.denboer Ron Den Boer