On losing your mom’s religion.

Dear Coquette,

I’m having a few issues with my mother that I could use your input on. I’m currently 20 years old and I was raised in a very devout Catholic family. My only resentment about this upbringing is that I had to attend Catholic school. Other than that, I don’t feel that it was a bad way to grow up. However, over the last few years (and especially during the BS that was high school religion class) I have realized that the Catholic church is not for me. I would not go as far as to say that I am an atheist, but I’ve reached the point where I can no longer just smile and nod along when my parents want me to go to church with them. I want to tell my mom, but I’m worried about a few things.

Firstly, the priest at our parish made a speech where he said that if children do not keep their faith into adulthood it is their parents’ fault. I am an adult, I can make these decisions for myself and it has nothing to do with whether or not my parents did a good job of teaching me about the religion. However, my mom seemed to really take this to heart and I could tell it hurt her feelings. I know that she just thought she was doing what was best for my sister and I, but we ultimately decided our own path. I understand why she would feel like she has failed, but I want to get across to her that she did not. 

The biggest thing I’m concerned about is the reaction when one day I have to tell my mom. I do not intend to marry a Catholic man (if he is I guess I could deal, but it’s not a must) or raise my kids “in the faith” as they say. Religion is such a big part of my family unit and I know that this is a very delicate situation. My mother already feels that she has failed as a mother because my sister is an atheist. I know that telling her what I want to tell her will probably crush her. I want to say what I need to say with as much tact and understanding as possible. I’m not an idiot, I know that no matter how I say this there will initially be hurt feelings. What I want to avoid is creating any sort of major rift between my mother and I. I really do love her and I know that she did the best she could, but I’m tired of pretending to be something I’m not. Any advice?

There is a difference between showing respect for your mother and showing respect for your mother’s belief system, and your goal here is to learn to walk the fine line that is that difference. Unfortunately, it sounds like your mother’s religion is deeply intertwined with her identity, so it will be tricky at times to convince her that your rejection of Catholicism is not in any way a personal rejection of her as your mother.  

Right off the bat, you should get comfortable with the fact that you will never change your mother’s mind about Catholicism. This process is not and never will be about the two of you agreeing on religious matters. She’s always going to be a hardcore Catholic, and you need to let her believe as she chooses. Give her the same leeway that you want her to give you. Your eventual goal should be a spiritual détente, one in which your mutual love and respect for each other outweighs your need to see eye-to-eye on religion.

Feel free to politely decline when your parents ask you to attend church with them. Just be respectful, honest and patient with your mother. If she pressures you or starts slathering on the Catholic guilt, be firm in your convictions. You might also consider telling your mother that the priest at your parish was wrong to make her feel guilty. It’s not your parents’ fault that you aren’t keeping your faith into adulthood. It’s the church’s fault, and no doubt that kind of outrageous sanctimony is one of the many reasons you have for rejecting Catholicism.

This is a tough situation, but one that is quite common these days. Worshiping a supernatural deity simply isn’t a forgone conclusion like it was for previous generations, and the resulting rift is most evident in strained relationships with parents.

Mutual love and respect will always be the solution, but such things are always a test of patience.

Good luck.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *