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#636: I want my parents to get divorced.

Captain Awkward,

I want my parents to get divorced.

There’s been a lot of unexpected changes from their marriage to today, but everything always seemed okay, at least topically.

But a big reason my mother married my father specifically was because he was a Christian. Recently, his views have changed, and he is an atheist. This is partially due to a domino effect from my coming out. I am an atheist as well, and my sister is Christian.

This has sort of put a spilt through family dynamics, because religion is a very large part of my mother and sister’s lives, and, in the case of my mother, recovery and dealing with mental illness. Non-religion is a very large part of my father and I’s lives, and, in my case, recovery and dealing with mental illness.

The atmosphere has been tense for weeks. They’ve been arguing, assuming things about each other, and their already very different personalities have started to seriously clash. I’m not sure my sister notices it, but my father has noticed that I’m noticing, and we’ve talked a little bit. He says he wishes I weren’t so perceptive. Right now I’m inclined to agree.

And it bothers me. More than that, it’s making my anxiety, feelings of guilt, and general mental state get significantly worse.

My father brought up “staying together for you kids”, but that kind of atmosphere is tugging at my seams. It’s stressful to watch, and I want it to stop. But… it’s not my relationship, and even if my father doesn’t feel the marriage is working out and is coming to terms with “the D word”, my mother denies the tension and seems to err on the side of marriage being held super importantly and not getting divorced unless things absolutely implode. Neither of them are faultless in this, not by a long shot, but if this carries on the way it is, to the point where someone breaks down or things and collide?

That implosion would hurt like hell for me. But I feel selfish that I want them to split up, at least partially for my sake. But I don’t want to relapse from stressful second-hand emotions. But it’s, above all, not my relationship.

How can we, as a family, discuss this and come to a solution? I have no idea what to say, or what to do, or if I should even do or say anything.

A Deer’s Divorce Dilemma

Dear Deer:

I am so sorry that it sucks so hard in your house right now. This could be a rough patch that your parents work through, or it could be the beginning of the end of their marriage, and there is no way for you to know. They don’t even know which thing it is.

First Principle: Whatever is happening between them, it is not your fault. It is not your fault for being who you are, it is not your fault for telling them who you are. If their marriage was solid and true, there would be almost nothing you or anyone could do to shake it. Even if they were to tell you that it’s your fault in a thoughtless or angry moment, or even if it seems like the timing of your coming out sparked all of this, it wouldn’t make it true. It’s not your fault.

The question of staying vs. divorce is for them to work out between themselves, and you don’t really get a vote, which is a powerless sort of place to be but it’s also a place for you to draw boundaries. It’s not good to be in the middle, to be the one hearing your parents speak badly about each other, or to be your dad’s sounding board (which it sounds like you might be). That doesn’t mean that you have to be silent about everything, and I think there are a few things you can safely say to either parent when things the topic comes up:

  • “I’m scared and worried at the prospect of our family breaking up, but I also hate how tense things are right now. I will love you both whatever happens.” (Yep, a version of the speech that divorcing parents give their kids).
  • “Telling me you want to ‘stay together for you kids’ is a LOT of pressure. I can’t be the reason you stay OR the person who tells you to leave.”
  • “You sound like you are asking for permission. You don’t need my permission. You’ve got my love whatever you decide.”
  • “Have you and Other Parent talked to a counselor about this? I don’t think I’m the right audience for stuff like that.”
  • “I don’t think I can be your sounding board on this, but I hope your friend/counselor/pastors can help you.”
  • “I know things are tough right now, but I don’t like hearing you fight or say bad things about Other Parent (& I’d tell them the same thing). You’re both my parents, I love you both, and I’m not the right audience for that.”

Pick what you find most useful, translate into your own words, repeat as necessary. Messages: “I am not pretending that I am ok with all of this, I am not your sounding board, I don’t want to be your reason or excuse for doing anything, I love you.” You don’t have to have a perfect response ready to go, you don’t have to hide uncomfortable or stressed out feelings. These scripts (like many of the scripts on this site) are for you, so that you can say something back and not just have to silently squirm or swallow everything and take it into yourself. Whether or not your parents are going to get divorced, there’s no “mistake” you could make in talking to them that would make that happen or prevent it from happening.

Now let’s forget about what other people need and talk about you. What would make things better, for you, right now? What could help you manage all the stress and anxiety you are feeling?

  • Could you temporarily move in with or set up periodic short stays with grandparents/other relatives or friends to give yourself a break from dealing with all of it (and give your parents space to talk)? Even if it’s just “I’m going to hang out with Aunt Awesome on Friday nights and stay over there eating grilled cheese and doing my laundry.” Sometimes just knowing that you have some sanctuary and safety coming up in your week can help.
  • Are you in school? Is there a school counselor you can talk to? Can that person help you keep up with your assignments, etc., so you’re not adding academic angst on top of everything else?
  • Do you need to amp up your own therapy efforts/find a counselor/find a new counselor? “Mom/Dad, I’m really feeling anxious and stressed lately, can you… help make an appointment/drive me to the appointment/let me take the car/pay for sessions, etc.?”
  • Not sure if you “came out” as LGBTQ or “came out” as an atheist, but what support groups for people your age are around?( Here’s a (US-based) directory of sorts for LGBTQ orgs). Could you find something located near you? I’m not sure how old you are, or if it’s a question of needing rides/time/permission, but here’s the script: “Mom/Dad, I’ve found this group that meets every week and I’d like to go. I think it would really help me deal with the stress of coming out and with everything that’s going on.”
  • What other self-care things are you doing/could you be doing? What are rituals that you could hold onto in the middle of all this chaos? Stuff like:
    • Seek out the company friends you can always count on to be kind to you
    • Avoid people who stress you out as much as possible (hard to do when it’s your parents, but this is not the time to call up the friend-who-makes-cutting-remarks or the difficult ex or whatnot).
    • Write in a journal every day as a way to deal with/process feelings
    • Work on art or writing or other creative projects
    • Make to watch your favorite shows and read
    • Get enough sleep
    • Eat enough foods at regular intervals
    • Make your room into a comfy, cosy sanctuary where you can relax
    • If your house is a sucky place to be right now, find other places to be: the library, a job, the bike trail, volunteering.
    • Do some kind of regular physical activity that you enjoy, anything from walking to sports to a daily “8 Minute Dance Party” (maybe with your sister?)
    • Find one safe, neutral topic to talk about with every single person in your family. A TV show you both like, a hobby or interest that you both share. When conversations get too intense, you have something to change the subject to. And you have something that reminds you of what you share with these people, that can hopefully be experienced in a pleasurable way. Asking them to teach you things is a nice way to spend time together. “Dad, what’s the family recipe for lasagna? Can you show me?” “Mom, I want to paint my room, can you show me what to do and help me pick out a color?” 
    • Make time every day to do one thing that makes you feel good.

Your job right now is to take care of YOU. And sometimes that might mean asking your parents for help and support, and not pretending that you are a good and perfect and handling everything just fine for their sakes. It’s their job, as your parents, to help you access all the care and help you need, and to not put it on you and your sister to hold their marriage together or help it break all the way apart.

 

 

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92 comments
  1. monica said:

    Hey LW, are your parents in any kind of couples’ counseling? It’s absolutely not your job to tell them to enter marriage counseling, but you are absolutely allowed to suggest it to them if you think it will help them stop stressing you out so much. When I was 10, I more or less did that for my parents and things ended up getting much, much better, albeit very, very slowly. Before that, I spent about two years secretly wishing they’d split up while also being terrified of what would happen if they did, and feeling guilty for wishing they would. My heart goes out to you. ❤

    • Seconding monica’s advice, especially if either of your parents tries to drag you into acting as an untrained, unpaid couple’s counselor for them. That is something to be devoutly avoided.

      All the good thoughts coming your way, LW.

  2. Swistle said:

    As a parent myself, I absolutely agree with this: “Even if they were to tell you that it’s your fault in a thoughtless or angry moment, or even if it seems like the timing of your coming out sparked all of this, it wouldn’t make it true. It’s not your fault.”

  3. Zooey said:

    [S]ometimes that might mean asking your parents for help and support, and not pretending that you are a good and perfect and handling everything just fine for their sakes.

    I can’t agree with this enough. When my parents split up in my early adulthood, I felt like I should be cool with it because I was respecting their lives as fellow adults. But the truth is no matter how old you are you are still their child, and while ideally you should try to steer clear of judginess, it’s totally fair to express feelings about how your family is changing! You get to feel those feelings without that meaning it is incumbent on your parents to split up / not split up in response to those feelings.

  4. Captain, I so, so love your response. I was my parents’ sounding board and their reason to stay together far too often growing up. Yay boundaries!

    • JenniferP said:

      “We got you this present.” “What’s the occassion? It’s not Christmas or my birthday.” “Just open it, it’s a surprise. It’s for you! We got it for you!” (opens package) “It’s…decades of slow grinding unhappiness, constant bickering, and resentment! We stayed together! For you!”

      • Oh boy, this. My ex-husband’s parents “stayed together for the sake of the children” for more than twenty years, from a time literally before he was conceived (long story). It was horrible for the children — far worse than divorcing would’ve been, because they had to watch the whole awful, nasty mess and then get told all about how it was only for their sake that the parents were enduring all this crap. This is not a position into which any child should be put.

        One of few things for which I still like my ex very much is that, when we got divorced ourselves, he was willing to stand united with me to give the kids the “none of this has ANYTHING to do with you” speech, and then reinforce that message later in private moments, as I did. Result: they’re much better-adjusted than he and his siblings are.

        • Taiga said:

          I remember hearing this interview once with researchers talking to elderly dying people about their regrets in life, and they said one of the most common ones is “I wish I’d gotten divorced”. Not “I wish I’d tried harder to save my marriage”.

        • As a parent, I can understand the drive to stay married for the sake of the children. I can’t even fathom TELLING the children that’s what you are/were doing. Holy guilt trip, Batman!

        • miss_chevious said:

          A friend of mine’s parents stayed together “for the kids” and faked it so well that their divorce, once the kids were out of the house, was like an atom bomb going off inside their family. Imagine finding out that every happy family memory you had, especially those about your parents’ model marriage, was a lie. Friend and her siblings were irrevocably damaged by the fallout and now have little to do with either parent.

      • Appellategirl said:

        Oh my God, this post just hit me like a punch in the gut. I am a 48-year-old woman who, two months ago, moved out of my house into a small apartment with my 11-year-old son, separating from my husband of 21 years. I am 150% sure I did the right thing for ME, but I have been feeling guilty for “breaking up the family” and causing pain to my son and my daughters (19 year old college student living with friends, and 16-year-old still living with her dad, guilt, guilt, guilt). My soon-to-be-ex-husband is not exactly Darth Vader, but he has become a troubled man who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day and drinks 6 to 10 beers every night. He eats crap, never exercises, has let his Type 2 diabetes rage out of control and has filled the house with his moodiness, crankiness, and general self-centeredness, which was tempered only ocasionally by unproductive, unhelpful self-loathing. Years of “slow, grinding unhappiness” is exactly what my marriage has been for the last 5 years, and reading CA’s post made it suddenly hit me that I wasn’t doing my children any favor by staying in my marriage. My “soon-to-be-ex” and I are quite civil; we talk, text and email almost every day, dealing with the kids, the house and the bills, all of which are still hopelessly entangled. The LW could be one of my daughters: my oldest daughter wisely told me: “I am not mad at either of you. I love you both so much, but I just need to be away from here. I need to grieve, and to process this.”

        I can’t tell you how relieved I am to be able to NOT have to get into bed every night with a man I am no longer attracted to, AT ALL, who in fact smells like cigarettes and beer, and makes my skin crawl, and who I am so angry at. I don’t want to stay and watch him slowly kill himself. I don’t owe that to him, or to my children. Thank you for helping me realize this.

        • boutet said:

          I’m glad you’ve been able to get out of this situation. Staying in suffering and keeping your kids there with you is never going to be a recipe for happiness. You didn’t make the situation toxic, you’re just dealing with the situation as it exists. Good for you for recognizing what you need and for beginning the process of taking care of yourself and your kids!

        • Baytree said:

          You are my mom, four years ago. I was 19 when she and my dad finally split up, and my younger sister still lived at home. Both of us are glad they separated. To be honest, my relationship with my mother is much better now than it would have been if she’d stayed in the marriage… Plus she made herself a role model of self-compassion and assertiveness for both my sister and I. That was especially important for me since I desperately needed to know I was not a bad person for not wanting to interact with my dad. The fact that mom acknowledged the problems made it ok for me to.

          Long story short, I admire your personal strength and I’m sure your kids do too.

        • Greenstorm said:

          Modeling pursuing happiness and standing up for yourself for your children is a pretty great thing for parents to do. It was the biggest gift my mom gave me: leaving my dad when I was fifteen and teaching me I didn’t have to stay in miserable situations even if leaving seemed hard.

        • Nonny Blackthorne said:

          You did the right thing. My parents stayed together “for the kids.” Mom was about ready to leave him when my sister turned 18, but he is apparently aware enough of his own abuse that he doesn’t direct it at her anymore. She’s sixty something in a miserable marriage and manages by avoiding him as much as possible and burying herself in books and Farmville now that she’s retired. I wish they HAD divorced, because BOTH of them would be so much happier. (Okay, well she would be. Dad’s one of those types that isn’t happy unless he’s miserable.)

          Your soon-to-be-ex may not be actively abusive like my dad is, but I notice similarities — moodiness, crankiness, self-centeredness, and self-loathing. Seriously, even if it’s not actively abusive, it’s hell to deal with, and I’m so glad that you’re getting out of there. ❤

      • yyyyyyyep. My parents should have gotten divorced; the bickering, explosive fights, emotional abuse, and moodswings contributed a lot to the issues I still have as an adult– anxiety, freaking out when I hear muffled raised voices near my apartment, reacting internally with ugliness when I hear friends’ engagement announcements, wondering endlessly what successful married couples’ “real” “secret” life is like, etc.

        • Hollis said:

          Oh hey, this sounds exactly like my experience with my parents. Especially since my parents are very good at hiding how much they dislike each other and how often they fight in front of other people to put on the “happy family” front, which lasts until they get into the car. For the longest time, I didn’t get that not everyone’s family works like this (especially since a large portion of my extended family have very similar very dysfunctional relationships). And people don’t get why I freak out when people start arguing loudly in my presence/my place of residence.

        • LA said:

          Oh man, I have the exact same anxieties about hearing muffled raised voices/etc., for the exact same reason. People who “stay together for the kids” are really just gifting their kids with SO MANY MORE issues, especially if they’re good at putting on a front when they’re around other people. I remember praying they would divorce, just so I wouldn’t have to spend each day wondering how late I’d be up listening to them scream at each other. I still remember when my mom finally told my brother and I that she was getting a divorce from our stepfather. Once we were on our own, my brother and I practically high-fived. We were both just SO freaking relieved that it was going to be over. The divorce itself was a special kind of hell to go through b/c my stepdad fought against it (you know how usually, the cheating spouse moves out? Yeah, he didn’t. And then the hunting rifles disappeared. It was a scary time), but we are all so much better off and happier now.

        • thelittlepakeha said:

          The way my parents interact has definitely caused similar issues for me. I don’t know that they “should” get divorced because they do apparently enjoy spending time with each other etc, they play bridge and have all sorts of conversations, but I do not like the way my dad treats my mum a lot of the time. He’s one of those older white guys who is Always Right. He snaps and gives silent treatment and all of that sort of thing. Now I get extremely stressed around people being tense at each other, raised voices, most criticism even when I know it’s valid. I’m constantly paranoid that I’ve done something wrong and people aren’t telling me because I’m supposed to know and fix it myself. I am super happy for friends getting engaged and married and such, but I worry badly when I see them have minor disagreements or call each other out on things. Luckily I’m very happy being single (has been over ten years now) so I’m not taking all this into a relationship, but I’ve had to learn with friendships to try to isolate those reactions from what’s actually happening. It’s sort of astounding how stuff from childhood can affect you so much later in life, though admittedly I am naturally a fairly sensitive person – not said in a critical, “sensitive is bad” way, since it can be good or bad depending on the situation.

      • Tapetum said:

        Oh god – that’s a punch in the gut. My parents stayed together “for the children”. The upshot? My mother now has Alzheimer’s, and the person who she most needs to rely is someone she doesn’t like or trust, and Dad is stuck taking increasing amounts of time and effort to care for someone he has no respect for, who is increasingly hostile.

        So now she’s trying to initiate a divorce – when she can’t remember a conversation she had an hour ago, can’t remember to pay bills, can’t drive, and believes every action Dad takes from the minor to the major is him taking advantage of her memory loss to screw her over. The hell for the kids is that some of what he’s doing probably is, but from the outside there’s a lot of stuff we can’t tell about. Taking her car away was warranted – unsafe driver. But did he really need to take all the money out of the joint account, so that she can’t even order a pizza without his say-so? Seems unlikely, when she’s functional enough to be left alone 8+ hours a day, but we can’t tell.

        Take home lesson? Don’t stay married to someone you can’t respect or trust. Doesn’t matter if there’s kids involved. If you can get out, get out.

      • popesuburban said:

        Augdgfdjhgf nooooo this is the worst gift of all gifts. This is the gift my parents foisted on me for years. This is the gift I thought I’d finally gotten rid of by donating it to some kind of mental thrift shop, except it’s started coming back in recent years because my dad is starting to twig to the fact that my mom is abusive, and occasionally says weird, sad-making stuff about it in passing. This is the gift I still do not want. My dearest wish during most of my childhood was that they would split up, because the fighting was scary and the way my mom would drop me in the middle scrambled mini-pope’s brains. Seeing my friends with divorced parents only strengthened this desire, because they all had two calm, loving homes, and at least as many parents who were capable of parenting because they weren’t burned out by living with someone they didn’t love that way.

      • Light said:

        A friend of mine’s parents did that. She told me years later that one of the happiest days in her life was when they finally got divorced. That made me so sad for her.

        • LA said:

          Like I said above, my brother and I were ecstatic when our mom and stepdad finally got divorced. We had the sense to not do a happy dance in front of our mom, but when it was just us, we were practically ready to throw a party. Hell, I still remember the date my mom told me she was going to file for divorce: Sept. 19, 2001. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that 9/11 had a lot to do with my mom finally deciding it wasn’t worth spending the rest of her life miserable. It’s the only good thing that came out of that horrific event.

  5. Anti Kate said:

    As the Captain says, it’s not your decision, you don’t have a vote. The only people who can break up a relationship are the members of that relationship.

    I remember talking with my siblings about wanting our parents to divorce as early as about 12 years old. Our house was not a happy place for many years. When I was about 18, things got particularly ugly, and in my efforts to protect myself and my younger sibs, I managed to call a family meeting. I arranged for places to stay for myself and the youngers. I told my parents that they could fight all they wanted, but we kids were moving out. My mother moved out the next day. I felt guilty for years. Bone deep catholic guilt, despite knowing intellectually that it wasn’t my fault. If anything, I acted as a catalyst for what was already there. Eventually, both my parents became happier people, and I lost the guilt.

    To be very clear, I Do Not Recommend This. That was 35 years ago, and I still regret it, while knowing that it had to be done. Sometimes, there are no good choices; only bad ones and if you’re at all lucky, some less bad ones.

    LW, protect yourself. Use the Captain’s scripts. Work on having a good relationship with your sibling, that lasts longer than the relationship with your parents.

    • JenniferP said:

      18 year old you should NOT have had to do that.

      Also 18 year old you ROCKED.

      • syrens said:

        I second all of the above!

      • boutet said:

        Absolutely to both!

      • Nonny Blackthorne said:

        Yessss.

    • wondering said:

      Holy crap. Go 18-yr-old you. I can’t even imagine how hard that must have been.

  6. I am Catholic and my husband is agnostic, so I hope I may have something helpful to offer here –

    We have a nonagression pact when it comes to religion. I get to be Catholic and raise the kids Catholic, and he gets to be agnostic. I do not bug him about being agnostic, and he does not bug me about being Catholic. He also does not undermine anything I’m teaching the kids, but he is honest with them when they want to know what he believes (or doesn’t believe).

    Based on my experience, I have to wonder whether the issue with your parents is not the difference in religion itself, but the expectation that they will have the same religion / lack of religion. When you agree with your spouse in that area, there are certain things you can share, but if you have a different religion than your spouse, then you just have to let those things go. I will never have the experience of going to Mass with my husband. We will never pray together as a family or go to adoration together. Any longing that I might have for those experiences is positively dwarfed by all the ways my husband is perfect for me.

    Obviously this is for your parents to work out, but divorce may not be the best answer; it may simply (simply – ha!) be a process of both of them accepting and respecting each others’ identities and working toward a new set of expectations with regard to religion and each other.

    • Luna said:

      This.

      It doesn’t have to be a battle between Christianity and atheism in your family with you and your father against your mother and sister. Yes, your parents have some expectations about religion and relationships to work out, but they don’t have to be your expectations; your own relationships with your mother and your sister don’t need to suffer.

      I’m agnostic, and my husband is a Christian. We were both Christians when we married (ironically, at the time, it was important to me that we share the same faith), but my spiritual journey led me some place new. It works for us because we both are tolerant of each other’s beliefs and because our relationship is based on more than common beliefs.

      Cultivate those non-religious interests and experiences with your family, especially with your sister.

      • boutet said:

        Very much yes! Among my family you can’t find any two people who completely agree on religion/non-religion. But it’s fine, we manage. We manage by (most of us) not being assholes about each others’ faith/non-faith and by not expecting anyone else to change. Even among the Catholickiest of Catholics in the family they don’t have identical beliefs.

  7. SO, I spent years wishing my parents would split up, and then they FINALLY DID, and it was great. But when my mother called me to tell me she & my dad were getting a divorce, I started laughing in relief and she hasn’t forgiven me. And she hasn’t forgiven my younger sister for pointing out that even though my parents were together “for the kids”, my sister effectively grew up in a single-parent household ANYWAY. Which. SOoooooOOOooooOOooo you might want to keep your opinions on this under wraps, because coming down on the side of splitting up can be really painful for your parents, *even if you happen to be correct* that splitting up would make things way better.

    I mean, the Captain is correct that it’s not your job and whatnot, and that the lack of boundaries here can hurt you, but it may be worth keeping in mind that the lack of boundaries can hurt your parents, too (even if they are the ones failing to establish them). Sometimes I won’t protect myself, because I think I’m strong enough to deal, but you aren’t the only person who is at risk in this particular situation. Staying the heck out of it and setting that boundary can be helpful *to your parents*, too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yeah, you do not want to be in a situation where one parent is like “But (child) agrees with me! Didn’t you say so the other day?”

    • Twitchy said:

      I think if your parent tells you they’re staying together for your sake, and they’re actually making you miserable, you’re allowed to tell them so. It’s at best misguided of them and at worst manipulative and weird. “No no, it’s not that I want to stay with my wife or that I’m afraid to leave or anything to do with me. It’s all the kids. Totes.”

      • Well, but that’s not the situation I’m talking about, and I’m not sure it’s relevant to the situation I’m talking about, either.

        I’m talking about a child having a personal desire for their parents to split and making that explicit to a parent or parents, and how that can hurt the parent. (You might be making an assumption about what was said to my sister? It’s probably not correct.)

        • Twitchy said:

          I’m talking about LW’s situation, where her dad has told her that he’s staying with her mother for her sake.

          • Fair. It was a little odd as a reply to me, but comment threads get like that, eh?

  8. Crinoline said:

    “I feel selfish that I want them to split up.”

    Here’s the beautiful thing about wanting anything or thinking anything or hoping for something: It doesn’t matter! You can want one thing today and the opposite tomorrow, and as long as you’re not actively making bad choices to work for something harmful, you can want, think or hope for anything at all without guilt. Let your imagination fly free. Think of what life would be like if they did split or if they didn’t. Follow one train of thought to its logical conclusion, then back up and follow another. That’s called being intelligent and thinking things through. I hate to see you feeling selfish for wanting something.

    I have to wonder if the feeling selfish comes in part from the religious aspect in your home. If someone really believes that prayers have an effect on what happens in the future, then naturally they’re going to feel guilty for praying for something that might turn out to be harmful. It puts an awful burden on the person doing the praying to be careful to pray for the right thing. If you’re an atheist (I am too), then embrace that and let go of the idea that wanting the wrong thing is something to feel selfish about.

    • MuddieMae said:

      I think there’s also a strong narrative that the only kind of successful relationship is an intact one. Maybe it feels selfish to want them to divorce because it feels like wanting something “bad”, even though objectively it may be the best thing for them.

      • winter said:

        Yes. “Wanting the best for my parents.” and “Wishing for a divorce” might be the same thing here. You don’t have to feel guilty because ultimately, it won’t matter what you want, they will make that decision for themselves anyway.

  9. Megan M. said:

    LW, I am so sorry that this is weighing on you right now. I hope the Captain’s advice gives you plenty of tools you can use to weather this situation. It is absolutely not your fault and not your responsibility to manage. Your parents are adults and it is their relationship and they should be 100% handling this.

    I went through something similar when I was 13. My mom and stepdad (they’d been married since I was 4) were clearly having problems. They’d started arguing and yelling at each other a lot. When I asked my mom if they might divorce she denied anything was wrong (that’s her way of coping with anything uncomfortable.) When I asked my stepdad, he admitted that they weren’t doing well but assured me that they were working it out. I went to the school counselor and she also assured me my parents would work it out. I was skeptical but I still felt better for having told someone about it. About a year later, my parents DID get a divorce. Things got a little rough at home because everyone was angry (my parents and my two sisters.) I went to the school counselor again to talk about it, and again it helped just to tell someone. This happened 17 years ago now (wow!) and while actually going through the divorce was hard on the family, I’m glad they did it. No one wants their parents to be unhappy together.

    I hope that you can find someone who is not your parents to talk to about this. If they do eventually divorce, even if you’re relieved and it’s for the best, it will still be difficult on your family. I don’t know how close you are with your sister, but if you can, lean on each other. The only thing I regret about my parents’ divorce is that I just didn’t know how to help my younger sister when she was upset.

    I hope things get better at home soon.

    • aliascelli said:

      “No one wants their parents to be unhappy together.”

      That is the truest thing I’ve read today. Thank you.

      • That was certainly not true of a good many small children I’ve known (as a child and as an adult).

  10. Helen Damnation said:

    I really needed this post a few months back and will probably need it again someday, since they’re still together and very volatile. All the love in the world to you, LW.

    Boundaries are very, very important right now. This is their relationship, and they need to make their own decisions about it. Do not under any circumstances allow yourself to become either of their confidants or emotional anchors. That is a terrible place to be, believe me. And… I’m sorry, but this could be going on for a while. Months. Years. You cannot shoulder their burdens for them. You really, really can’t.

    TW: Suicidal ideation

    During the height of my parents’ last rough patch, I was very much in the middle. My mother handled it very, very badly. She talked about nothing else, thought about nothing else. I love her a lot, and I wanted to be there for her. I tried so hard to be there for her. But in the end, taking on so much of her pain left me suicidal. You say in your letter that you’re worried this could be bad for your mental health; it will. Stay out of it as much as humanly possible.

    I’m so glad you have a sister and don’t have to go through this alone.

    • Flowery Hedgehog said:

      Helen, I pretty much could have written your comment. And here’s the thing: parents who lean on their children while their marriages may or may not be falling apart do not, in my experience, later thank their children for the support. I don’t know exactly what’s at work; maybe they resent their child for having seen them in a vulnerable place, maybe they’re patching things up with the spouse and feel that the child wanted them to break up, whatever…but this stuff does not make for healthy parent-child relationships.

      The Captain’s advice is sound. This is not in your control, it’s not your responsibility. Take steps to insulate yourself from the fallout and get yourself out of the middle as much as possible, because the middle of a mess that isn’t your job to fix, that you don’t have the power to fix even if you wanted to, is a very, very bad place to be.

  11. Taiga said:

    The LW meant coming out as an atheist, which can be just as traumatic as coming out as LGBQT. Is there a support group in your community for people leaving religion? Many large cities have them. Or there may be online groups through the Centre for Inquiry or other organizations. There are also secular churches which may be something your family could all do together if that would be helpful. Apologies if I’m telling you things you already know.

    • JenniferP said:

      I thought it might be both, actually. Good suggestions!

      • Taiga said:

        Sorry I misread, probably a sign of my own skewed perspective. I was listening to an interview with Greta Christina recently, who has come out as different things in her life; LGBQT, atheist, kinky, former sex worker. She said that coming out atheist is different from the others because when you tell a religious person you’re an atheist you’re implicitly telling them that you think their most cherished beliefs are wrong. When you come out as gay you’re not implying it’s wrong to be straight, but when you come out as atheist you’re implying it’s wrong to believe in a god or gods. You don’t MEAN to of course (unless you’re a jerk, which the LW clearly isn’t), but the religious person can’t help but see it that way.

        • JenniferP said:

          This is all extremely on point and relevant, no apology necessary!

        • wondering said:

          THIS. Also, coming out as atheist also means that your parent (or other family member) who loves you very, very much believes that you now face the worst fate they can imagine: you’re going to hell. It can be a miserable journey for the budding atheist to try to set boundaries so that you are not preached at, witnessed to, and otherwise begged to come back to the fold and save your soul – on top of the part where they’re feeling angry/hurt/resentful that you are rejecting their faith.

          Possibly worse: watching your religious parent teach minor siblings that are fundamentally awful or incorrect. (and I don’t mean having a faith and believing in God or Allah or the Hindu pantheon or whatever – I mean Young Earth Creationism, Evolution Is A Lie, Homosexuality Is A Sin, Wives Are Meant To Serve Their Husband, and all the rest.)

    • uuuuuuuuuuuh said:

      There’s also reconstructionist and humanist Jewish congregations, both obviously not relevant if you’re Christian but good examples of “religious organizations with room for atheists/freethinkers/etc”. Plus Unitarian Universalists and the like.

      • Blue Meeple said:

        Yes, some of my friends who were Christian and became atheist/agnostic found the UU churches comforting, and they sometimes have social groups and events, ways to meet like-minded people. Meetup.com may also be helpful, or just a search for nearby atheist/freethinker/secular humanist/etc groups.

        • kalvarnsen said:

          I would be really hesistant about suggesting OP seek out atheist support groups, given how hostile to women most atheist organisations are.

          • 1) I don’t think we should assume anything about the LW’s gender? At least, I didn’t see any definitive gender markers in their letter, and I’m not feeling on the ball enough to guess. Though obviously I don’t think that groups that are hostile to women are healthy for men, either.

            2) It’s true, there’s a lot of sexism and misogyny in organized atheism and from a lot of big-name atheists, but on the local level, that may not be true–I’m certainly not part of the movement, but Greta Christina is, and she actually just posted about the strides in local organized atheism in welcoming and involving people who are gender/sexual/racial minorities. So I’d suggest the LW seek out atheist support groups that work for them–groups that are diverse and welcoming and respectful. If they can’t find one in their area, they might be able to find one online.

          • Mary said:

            Aris – “hostile to women” is a bad quality regardless of whether you’re male or female or non-binary. It’s not cool to go, “these groups are hostile to women – oh, but you’re a boy, so you’ll be fine!” You’re still sending someone into that toxic atmosphere regardless of whether they’re going in as a potential victim or potential perpetrator.

            I don’t know whether the awfulness of the big online atheist groups makes it down to local level or not (I assume it depends very much on the group and who is running it), but it’s not unreasonable to think that some of the local groups would have the same awfulness and to counsel both men and women to look out for it.

          • Mary said:

            Oh man, sorry. I see you did actually say that. No idea how I missed it, but apologies!

          • It really does depend on the group. I occasionally attend a secular-humanist Jewish congregation which was founded many years ago by a woman frustrated at women’s inability to take leadership roles in traditional religious groups. Today all three rabbis in the congregation are women, the sermons often have feminist themes and at one event our country’s most noted abortion legalization activist was honoured. So, do be careful and look into what your local groups are like, but know that there are feminist atheist organizations out there – I wouldn’t want to tell the LW “don’t bother looking for atheist support groups.”

          • Taiga said:

            That is true, but so are ALL religions.

          • Marvel said:

            Taiga–I’m confused as to what you’re saying here. Are you saying that all religions are hostile to women? Because I think that’s quite the unfair and incorrect assumption, if so.

          • Taiga said:

            I said “all” in response to the “most”, but you’re right and I apologize. The religion the LW has left is hostile to women, that is demonstrably correct and therefore fair to say, but I can’t say that all religions are hostile to women because I’m not familiar with every religion in the world. My point was that hostility to women is not particular to atheism. If the LW is a woman she’ll encounter that everywhere.

          • Aris Merquoni said:

            Mary: Yeah, I know that in bringing up the LW’s gender I was kind of asking for it, but my point was that while for a woman, low-grade or occasional sexism might be toxic enough to make an atheist meetup a bad place for a woman to go to avoid stress, it may just be an eyerolling frustration for someone not directly targeted by it who gets something else out of the interactions. Obviously I’m not suggesting that anyone seek out sexist groups just because they’re not women, but the calculus can look different if you really need that kind of community in your life. The more important point is that the LW may not have to make that choice in the first place if they can find an atheist group that isn’t run by jerks.

          • Marvel said:

            Taiga–Yeah, that I can definitely agree with. Thank you for clarifying! I figured I probably just misunderstood.

          • Blue Meeple said:

            The local atheist groups in my area are not hostile to women.

        • My dad was a lifelong atheist and also a beloved member of his UU church. I second it as a great place for the non-theistic to hang out.

          • TyphoidMary said:

            Another possibility is Quaker meetings, depending on the community. I’m a member, but I’m a non-theist; a Quathiest, if you will.

    • slfisher said:

      There’s likely also Meetups for “humanists,” “freethinkers,” “atheists,” “agnostics,” etc. Also, there’s the Unitarians, which offers all the cool social benefits of church while leaving the religion part sort of optional.

      • personally, as a mostly-female-identified feminist atheist person, I would suggest that humanist groups are likely to be the safest spaces. Not all will be, of course, but — in general, I’ve found humanists to be more invested in providing safe spaces for more kinds of human beings than freethinker or atheist groups.

  12. there’s a lot here that’s different from my own personal situation, but enough that’s similar that I felt compelled to weigh in.

    when I was in high school, my parents fought a LOT. I’m an only child, & while my relationship with both parents was tumultuous in the ways of typical shitty-teenagerdom, my dad had to travel constantly for work & my mom & I ended up sometimes bonding over the ways that he was a frustrating participant in our household. for at least a year, I fervently wanted my parents to get divorced, & even told my mom so. there weren’t any Big Problems (no misuse of household finances, infidelity, problematic substance usage, etc.–or if that shit was there, it’s been so well-hidden that I can’t identify even a trace of it). my dad was just around less than I (& my mom) felt he should be, & when he was around he was cranky & irritable & it felt like he was messing up the me-&-Mom flow of the household (even though I’d happily talk shit to my mom & get in huge screaming fights with her too because: teenager). I basically hated my dad & wanted him gone, for reasons that now–13ish years later–feel hard to comprehend.

    anyway. a few years later I started to get a lot closer to my dad. & while my parents still bicker, things shifted around (& I left for college), & long story short, they’re still together in a way that seems pretty functional from my perspective. I’m more or less equally close with both of them (albeit in an occasionally eyerolly & regressive kind of way) & it kind of chills me to think that if my mom had listened to me, my entire life as I know it now would be different.

    I don’t say this as a “your parents might actually be great together & in love; don’t fuck it up!!” cautionary tale. I offer it instead as an object lesson in Children Should Not Be Involved in Their Parents’ Relationship Issues. whatever the dynamic is between you & your individual parents–& however much that dynamic might be inflected by the way those parents interact with each other–those realms need to stay separate. it’s not healthy or productive to be agitating for your parents to split up; it’s equally unhealthy & unproductive to be agitating for them to stay together.

    I feel for what’s going on in your family right now, LW, & I hope everyone–you, your sister, & your parents–finds their way to a stasis that helps resolve all the current turmoil. but whatever happens between your parents is not your responsibility, & as the good Captain says, finding loving ways to recuse yourself from these marital discussions will be to the benefit of all involved.

  13. mythbri said:

    LW, if I had been old enough leave the house to protect myself from the tension in my parents’ failing marriage, I would have. If you are in this position, I urge you to take advantage of it. Practice self-care at this critical time, and trust your parents to eventually resolve it for themselves. They are the ones who have to decide how to move forward, and even though it’s affecting you and your sister, you can’t make that decision for them and you don’t want to let them pull you into it. Having close relationships with parents can make it hard when they are not happy with each other, and that’s why the boundary-setting is so important. Their unhappiness might make them forget that as one of their children, you are not the appropriate person to go to for advice or to blow off steam. Be sure to let them know that. Be sympathetic but be resolute. My sister-in-law is dealing with this very issue right now with her parents, and it’s causing her enormous amounts of stress.

    Take care of yourself. Offer what support you can but be aware and unashamed of your limitations. Don’t keep your feelings about this bottled up – find a good place to share them outside your family, like to a counselor or trusted friend who is willing to lend an ear.

    I hope everything works out for the best, LW.

  14. Glorificus said:

    So my parents did get divorced when I was in my early teens and I knew so much more than a 12 year old should know, I mean way more. They were both being flagrantly unfaithful and introduced me to their prospective partners before the split. My father”took me on a vacation” because I was feeling so blue; he kidnapped me. I was fine, my father adores me. My mother was a wreck since she had literally no idea where her child was. I could go on, for awhile, but none of that is the actual point. Do you know which parent I’m friends with now? My mom. I love both of them but mom never used me as a pint sized therapist, my mom has never told me horror stories about my dad, my mom never made me choose between them. Be cautious when a “responsible adult” is leaning a little too much on their children. OBVIOUSLY I’ve got some bias here ymmv.

  15. sarah said:

    Hi LW,

    I’m delurking for this comment. I’m sorry you’re going through some rough times and sorry that the situation is one that is out of your control. That makes it even harder.

    One thing that struck me is that you said things have been tense for weeks and that your dad has had RECENT changes in his beliefs.

    I’m no marriage expert but I’ve been married for ten years and am in a really solid relationship. But even with that, the last few months have been rough. Typical life stuff (specific issues in jobs, kids, stress, etc.). We are turning a corner but I really see how life ebbs and flows. What was so stressful a few months ago is manageable now. We are much happier whereas a few months ago we were not happy. A college roommate once told me that one might but unhappy for a long time in a marriage. I didn’t understand that then but I do now. There are stresses in life that take months or longer to resolve. But they can. It might take a few months or longer for your parents to find their equilibrium, especially now that your dad is essentially a new person.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries and definitely don’t take on any responsibility for the situation. But divorce might be premature still, even in a house with a lot of fighting for now.

    Also please remember that divorce comes with its own stresses. Not that it might not be the right thing for your parents, but it’s certainly no panacea.

    Good luck and please update us, if you wish. And definitely take care of yourself!

    • I noticed that too. All marriages go through difficult patches, and sometimes the people in the marriages don’t handle those patches well, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will or should divorce. However, the LW’s unhappiness with the situation indicates that their parents’ bad handling is trickling down, and it’s absolutely appropriate to set some boundaries, ask for help, and do some self-care.

  16. Nobody’s brought it up yet, so … Family therapy? A few group sessions might help your parents deal with their problems in a way that don’t involve their kids as much.

  17. straycat said:

    I can’t help but think that divorcing parents is the one place where the “support in, kvetch out” model falls down.

    (That or kids should be considered to be in the same inner ring as the parents.)

    Signed, someone who knows way too much about one of their parents’ marital shortcomings

    • winter said:

      I’d say it doesn’t work if you think it’s appropriate to confide in your own underage child. Which is not okay. But you are right, wouldn’t be okay either if the children are adults, so yeah, they should probably be put in the same inner circle.

    • Flowery Hedgehog said:

      I’d go so far as to say the kids should be in the innermost ring and the parents in the second ring.

      • Yes, that makes sense actually. It’s a unique situation.

  18. Jae said:

    Wow, that was a tough one and cudos to you, Captain, for this whole response and advice. You really rock!

    LW, sorry you are going through such a rough patch with the whole family. It looks like you are forced to grow up really fast now. The sooner you can get yourself out of the situation, the better. Get a room, camp out with friends, relatives, go live on campus. It serves a double purpose: You’re out of the tension zone AND you are giving your parents one less excuse to stay together for “your” sake. It’s their marriage and *they* need to figure it out, and not on your back.

    Good luck and all power to you, Deer!

  19. Ella Ella Ay Ay Ay said:

    I recognize so many elements of my own story in this letter, but I have nothing useful to say about it other than it hurts and I’m sorry. The way it turned out for me is probably not the way you want it to turn out for you (divorced parents, I’m not close with either of them, religion is an ongoing source of conflict). But I have an awesome life and I’m very happy, so I guess I would say even if it seems like the world is ending, it’s not. Or maybe one world is, but there’ll be another, and you’ll be alive and breathing in it.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I had a somewhat similar situation a while ago when I was little.

    My parents got divorced when I was 7. Nobody ever really explained to me what was happening, why we had to move (foreclosures are fun), why Dad was moving out, etc. beyond what I could deduce from them arguing. The time after their divorce was not/is not pleasant. It’s gotten better, but the main concerns were basically that they would never talk about what happened (or any family issues for that matter, it makes them feel like they’ve done something wrong, because normal people are perfect or something, which sounds like what your mom is doing), would use my brother and I as their line of communication when they were too mad to text/email each other (this mainly involved hassling other parent for child support/various insults thinly veiled as suggestions or negotiation on vacation time, etc.), and would insult the other parent to us. As you can probably suspect, this did not positively impact my mental health.

    The point of what I’m saying is if your parents get divorced, or even if they just fight a lot, the best thing you can do for you is stop your unwilling involvement in its tracks. Maybe your parents would be friendly if they ever got divorced, maybe not. Maybe they’ll be like my grandparents, treating their marriage like a business transaction. No matter what, your first priority is you. You can’t fix them or change the course of their relationship. Even if they think you/your sister will keep them together, if they really don’t want to be together, they probably won’t be. Has nothing to do with you. From what it sounds like, your sister isn’t a small child and is perfectly capable of handling herself and any of her own involvement in this.

    Basically, do what the Captain said and just make sure that anyone (sister included, because my brother trying to get me to take sides was certainly never helpful) knows that you have nothing to do with this and trying to get you involved is not okay. I definitely agree with the Captain on finding a safe place that is not your home. A place that has absolutely nothing to do with your family. Classes/hobbies/clubs/friends are all great. If they don’t want to talk about what is going on and how it affects you with you (without bringing sides or politics in), find someone (professional or close friend who is a good listener) who will.

    TLDR: Take care of you first. They’re adults and their own people and can figure their own stuff out without leaning on/using their children. Trying to fix their problems for them will just tire you out and make you feel bad.

  21. A Hedgehog said:

    “That implosion would hurt like hell for me. But I feel selfish that I want them to split up, at least partially for my sake. But I don’t want to relapse from stressful second-hand emotions. But it’s, above all, not my relationship.”
    I get these complicated emotions, so much. IMO, it’s not selfish to want the place where you live to stop being a place of tension and frustration that you can’t do anything about–that is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable and normal desire. Of course, there is another way for the anger to stop, which is them resolving the problems, but this is harder to imagine than divorce. Especially when you’re hearing the arguments and feeling the tension but if/when they solve smaller parts of things or come to a temporary agreement, that’s harder to tell from the vantage point of hiding in your room because your parents were fighting. For one thing voices aren’t raised, for another that’s not something that parents will later complain about to you (not that they should complain about any of this to you anyway! that is not something they should do! but they do, they do).

    (Tangent: Part of this for me was not understanding How People End Arguments that isn’t just “this issue is tense and we will pretend to resolve it but secretly the tension and anger is still there”. Because they had the argument and then a little while later they were arguing again, sometimes about the same things, and they did not model good “this is how you compromise, this is how you get along with people” behavior in areas where I could see it. I had to pick up those skills elsewhere and it’s taken me quite some time. This may or may not be part of what’s happening for you.)

    Completely ditto’ing the advice to do some self care, to get out of the house more often if possible. Bring your sister if that’s a thing you can do. She may also be having trouble with the tension between your parents, even if she’s not expressing it to you.

    I’m also curious whether you’re getting the info on your father getting to accept the concept of divorce v. your mother rejecting it; is that all coming from your father, is it stuff you’ve overheard, have you talked to both parents about this? I know your father has noticed you noticing, but honestly the thing that parents should do then is apologize and tone it down/take it elsewhere so that their kids don’t have to live in a stressful situation, not tell you further details about the situation. (See above about things that parents should not do, but they do them anyway. You *should not* have to be the one who sets boundaries and makes your parents stop telling you stuff and putting you in the middle, but parental arguments have a nasty way of making parents act more immaturely than their kids do. And no, it is not at all fair.)

  22. solecism said:

    LW, I am so sorry you are dealing with so much stress at home. It sounds like quite an earthquake has hit, and the temblores are still passing through as a result of newly acknowledged differences in faith. I don’t have any advice based on personal experience navigating such differences, especially in the midst of established family relationships.

    My parents divorced when I was about 10, and I was old enough to remember the bitter fighting that preceded it. The separation was such a relief to me. But my brother was too young to remember our parents married, only growing up in a single-parent household. So we had very different reactions and problems as a result of the breakup. Again, I don’t have much to add as my parents did a good job of keeping us out of it.

    However, it sounds like resources associated with interfaith households might be useful to your family, or at least you right now. Here are some things that might be of interest to explore:

    http://www.npr.org/series/169065270/losing-our-religion
    A 6-part series that aired on NPR’s Morning Edition in 2013 on the growing proportion of US citizens who do not identify with a religion.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2008/01/01/an-atheist-and-a-christian-a-love-story/
    This one is about a couple who started out as atheist and Christian together, rather than one person changing belief system in the middle of the marriage, but maybe reading about some of the challenges and reactions might be of interest? The comments are sketchy though.


    Losing Your Religion – Keeping Your Spouse podcast–not really helpful for you, since it’s your parents’ marriage involved, but again, maybe useful

    It was a link on this page:
    http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/an-atheist-christian-marriage/
    I think the advice can apply equally well as an atheist child interacting with a Christian parent

    I saw an interview on a blog earlier this year that was great and highly relevant. It was a couple that were both Christians and got married, and one spouse’s spiritual path moved away from that toward atheism, I believe, and they just did a great job sharing their individual perspectives and how their marriage adjusted in the process. I can’t find it, but it was a blog by a couple who interviews people on different spiritual situations, I think. Sigh. Not very helpful right now.

  23. Sorrel said:

    My own parents are going through a separation now. I’m twenty-seven, so I’m not directly involved, but they came pretty close when I was a teenager, and it was terrifying. Both of them got my way too involved in their fights, but my mother was the one to cross the line in the sand and ask me directly which one of them I’d pick if they did split up. I didn’t speak to her for two days (unusual since I’m known for having a flash-in-the-pan temper) and after that I think they got the hint and cooled it. They did stay together, and got their stuff together for a while. I got to be really close with both my parents after I moved out, saw them at least once a week for lunches and dinners, stuff like that.

    They finally got back to the point of separation again and went through with it this time, partially because my mother is a lot less willing to admit that she might be part of the problem and won’t back down, but largely because I’m not a factor in their decision anymore. And some of that is really hard to think about, because I hate to think that either of them was staying where they weren’t happy just for my sake, but it’s also not really my responsibility for their decision. And they were really great parents, so in terms of my well-being, I don’t know that they actually made the wrong choice. But the important thing now is that I have the independence and freedom to assert my own boundaries and keep them enforced, which makes all the difference in the world. I don’t know your relationship with your parents, so I don’t know how much you can do this, but like the Captain says, setting those boundaries around things that keep *you* feeling okay are what matters most. If they’re really staying together for your sake, then you can’t change that, but you can make sure to get the best possible care for yourself out of it and come out whole. Their decisions are not your responsibility, and you can’t change them. You can only take care of yourself, and if they’re good parents then they shouldn’t have any problems understanding that importance of *that.*

  24. boutet said:

    LW: Just wanted to say that even though it seems like there are “natural” sides to take in this conflict (like, your beliefs align more with your father than you mother, mother already has other sister with aligned beliefs) that doesn’t mean that you have to take a side. If you do want to take a side it doesn’t have to be with your father.
    I can understand a feeling a shared closeness and experience since you and your father are both dealing with living in the aftermath of coming into the open about your position on religion, but supporting your father in his religion-related stuff does not automatically translate into supporting him in the rest of his problems. You can have supportive conversations about atheism without having them also be supportive conversations about marital difficulty. You can make that boundary with him, that you’re ready to support him with work/friends/community difficulties but not with the ones specifically between him and your mom. (even at that I do think that it’s his responsibility as an adult and a parent to find other supports and not just lean on you, even if you are conveniently right there. He needs more supports in his journey than one of his offspring!)

    • That is really true

  25. LW, I think the Captain and the commentariat have covered a whole lot of the family-dynamics issues here in really good ways, and I have nothing to add to that. But I think that the religion part hasn’t really been addressed fully.

    Your statement about religion and non-religion being “a very big part” your and your family members lives raised a red flag for me. I think you should examine your family’s dynamic around religion and your contribution to it. Not because the dynamic is your fault (it isn’t), but because your part is the only thing in the situation you get to have any control over. So I have some questions.

    1. What does it mean that religion is a big part of your mom’s and sister’s lives? Does that mean they go to church regularly? Decorate the house with crosses and embroidered Bible verses? Listen to Maranatha CDs really loudly? Are they comfortable just being Christian and letting you be an atheist, or do they argue with you about your beliefs?
    2. Is your mom using her religion as an excuse to be a jerk to you about atheism or whatever it is that you came out as (if it’s not atheist), or is she just having a hard time reconciling those things with her beliefs? Are you in a place where you can tell the difference?
    3. What does it mean that non-religion is a big part of your life? Are you a member of an atheist group or have a circle of friends that talks about atheism a lot? Are you comfortable just being an atheist and letting your mom and sister be Christian, or do you argue with them about their beliefs? If they pick fights with you, do you engage or do you try to leave the conversation or change the subject?
    4. What does it mean that non-religion is a big part of your dad’s life? The same questions about you also apply to him.
    5. How do talks about religion usually go in your household and between individual members, if you talk about it at all (believe me I know all about the Conflict Averse Parents)? Would you call the interactions between you and your mom on the topic discussions or fights? You and your sister? Do you and your dad discuss atheism together as a philosophy, or is it more about commiserating against Christianity and/or your mom? Do you gang up on mom and sister? Do mom and sister gang up on you?

    It sounds like Christianity has hurt you a lot, so it might be difficult to examine some of these things and see the difference between some of them. If religion is really triggering for you right now I think the Captain’s advice about getting out of the house as much as possible and creating a safe environment for yourself is spot on. I’ve also left Christianity, and it can take a lot of time to get past the anger enough to see where it’s justified and helpful and where it’s getting in the way of your own development or relationships. I wish you all the best.

  26. Dove said:

    Oh, lord. This brings back memories. Once I hit my early teens – as soon as I was eleven or twelve, maybe? – I and my sister were asking our mom why she stayed with dad. Not “would you consider divorcing him”, but flat-out “why have you not divorced him?”

    The answer was the same, each time: she wanted us to have a good quality of life, one that was better than we could have had if she was a single parent. The problem was, she was measuring that quality in terms of material stuff. And while it’s true that I mostly only socialized online, the thing was that by the second or third time we asked? Mom had taken us to the local women’s shelter, twice; dad has a nasty temper which tends to express itself in verbal abuse and, when he’s really worked up, throwing things – which is the reason why we went to the women’s shelter the first time: because when he’d thrown his fit that night, he capped it off by throwing a heavy, ornamental wastepaper basket that we’d inherited from my paternal great-grandmother…and he narrowly missed hitting me in the head with it (and ended up leaving a hole in the wall behind me that didn’t get plastered over for at least a year). Mom waited until he’d left the house (taking the car with him), and then told me, my sister, and my brother to each pack a suitcase with whatever we felt we needed to have and she called a taxi.

    My memories of the shelter are that it was the quietest, least-stressful place I had ever slept. I remember feeling safe there, and not worrying that saying or doing one wrong thing would lead to my dad exploding into a temper tantrum that would put an exhausted toddler to shame. We stayed there for a week. I remember mom commenting on how much more relaxed I seemed, how I’d stopped some of my displacement behaviours.
    And then we went back. (And I am now wondering “if it had been just a few centimetres closer and actually clipped me in the head, would mom have finally divorced him?” which is a terrible thing to go through anyone’s mind.)

    And I spent approximately the next eight years, from when we went back that first time to when I finally moved out and cross-country to go to college in a different province, walking on eggshells and praying that maybe this time, he’d finally stick with being “good daddy” and stop being the awful, terrible daddy who screamed invectives that no kid should have to hear their dad saying about them or their mom, who smashed plates and broke things when he got angry, who I kept praying would stay gone every time he got in the car and drove away.
    It’s never happened. I’m starting to come to terms, at 26 years old, that he’s probably never going to stop being “bad daddy”. Not really. Not so that I’ll trust it.

    I haven’t cut him out of my life yet. But I have made a promise to myself that I will never, ever live in the same house with him again, and that my visiting will only be for specifically-stated lengths of time (i.e., “I am visiting for 2 weeks, and then I go home”) and, likewise, if he and mom are visiting, they’re only here for specifically-stated lengths of time (which is easy to enforce, considering that Fiance and I have only an air mattress to put them up on and dad’s got a bad back).

  27. Dear LW

    My brother and I spent years wishing our parents we could separate. Divorce would have been nice.

    They didn’t.

    But they also didn’t make us their advocates.

    Please try to stay out of their disputes. Please try to accept that even if the “problem” is religious differences, the solutions are in their purview.

    Best of luck to you and Jedi hugs if you want them

  28. Whitnar said:

    Oh, LW, I feel for you so hard right now. My parents divorced when I was in college and my dad made me his sounding board. It was awful – no matter how many times I asked him to stop, he’d just run right over my boundaries and keep on talking. I ended up moving across the country. If verbal boundaries don’t work, physical ones sure do. I wish you the best of luck and all the courage to speak up to your parents. Take care of you, and remember, if they do not respect your verbal boundaries you do have permission to make your boundaries physical. I hope you find a means of doing that, and that you find resources to help you cope. I’m currently going through a divorce of my own right now, and it is bringing up a lot of painful memories. At the same time, though, I’m realizing that building a Team Me, as scary as it may be, is a life saver. Literally. Best of luck and lots of Jedi hugs.

  29. Lebelinoria said:

    My parents divorced when I was five. They have a somewhat amicable relationship, and there are unique stresses of being a child of divorced parents, but honestly? This was the best possible outcome. Any desire I may have had for a “whole” family has been mitigated by the knowledge that we would have all been miserable and unhappy.

    LW, I am so, so, sorry that you’re dealing with this. I don’t know how old you are, so I’m not sure how mobile you are, but it seems that a lot of the worst things going on happen at home – the actual arguments, being around your parents/mom. Maybe it would help if you tried to physically stay out of the house as much as possible? Until some kind of resolution is achieved it’s probably still not going to be great at home, and since you can’t directly influence your parents (and it’s not your job to) staying out the situation is probably easiest if you aren’t physically there. This is the middle of the semester, so if you’re in school perhaps you could stay later, maybe under the guise of extra help or tutoring? If there are any libraries around you could spend time there as well. (I know the libraries in my area have extended hours during the winter). Also some places like a community center or the YMCA are open later, and they might have someone you could talk to there.

    LW, I hope everything goes well and lots of Jedi hugs.

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