Almost every parent of an adult child who has left Mormonism has one thing in common… The parent will not listen to or discuss the reasons their adult child left the church, with their adult child. In my mind, this is the most common reason the parent refuses to have a relationship with their adult child who has left the church; to avoid talking about a subject that makes them angry, defensive, frustrated, or any other negative emotion, they simply avoid their adult child in order to avoid talking about the subject of why their child left the church.
If the child becomes persistent in wanting to talk to their parent about this, the parent will often totally sever the relationship with their child. Not necessarily because they do not love their child, but because they don’t know how to have a relationship and not talk about what is the most important thing in their child’s life at the present time.
When the parent disconnects from their adult child who has left the church, it may be because they do not want to discuss the details of their child’s departure. In other words, they do not want their adult child to explain to them the reasons they have left the church. The parents say something like, ‘I will not discuss this with you”, or “I do not agree with you and therefore I do not want to talk about it”.
Usually, these reasons do not make sense to the adult child. They are going through a traumatic time in their life and they want their parent to ‘feel their pain’, or ‘share in their excitement’ about this new venture they are on and the new things they have learned about life on their own. But because the parent will not talk to them, they feel like the parent doesn’t care about what is happening to them. In some cases they feel like the parent does not want to see the reality of what is wrong with the church and why they can no longer be a member.
It’s interesting that the adult child wants the parents to understand their new independent developed point of view, but they refuse to understand their parents long established traditional point of view. As an adult child who tried to communicate with traditional parents, I can understand why. In my case, my parents grew up with limited exposure to their environment. They did not understand why their parents did what they did and they did not understand why their life was the way it was. They simply did not ask those questions. They accepted who they were and when they discovered something new in their lives they went with it and suffered the consequences.
In my generation of the 1940’s and 50’s, we asked all kinds of ‘why’ questions: not only about our lives, but about our parent’s lives. We asked ‘why did this happen and why did we do that’. And we looked for answers to those questions. When we confronted our parents about the reasons they were doing things we didn’t like, they ignored us. In their minds, they were the adults and we were the children. They knew everything and we knew nothing. That has been my relationship with my parents.
Today’s parents of 30 year olds, my generation, are different from that. We have researched why we are the way we are and why we believe the way we do. If we agree with our parents or siblings, then they are right also. If we disagree with them, they are wrong and we are right. We look at our parents as if they are well meaning, but really don’t understand the more complicated things of life. So, we love them and tolerate them.
The generation who are currently in their 30’s are different from either of the previous generations. It seems that they really want their parents to understand and accept them with their new belief systems and lifestyles they have discovered and adopted. This rubs my generation the wrong way. That is what we did to our parents. We had to fight hard for the right to do that. We broke old traditions by arguing for our new viewpoints. Now that we are in control, in our advanced ages, we are very proud of what we have accomplished.
Now, our adult children are doing the same thing to us that we did to our parents. They are telling us that we are wrong and they are right. This is very upsetting to us for a number of reasons. First of all, the war is over and we have won. We do not want to fight it again with our children.
Secondly, we are the ones that have discovered the new ‘right way’ to live. We have proved by our successful lifestyles that we are the ones that are right.
As we get older, change is a lot harder. We don’t want to change again. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Anyone can look at what we printed on our T-shirts in the 60’s and 70’s to see the battles we were fighting against the Establishment. Now our adult children are coming along and showing us a ‘new way’ to live and be happy. ‘Not going to happen’ is what we are printing on our T-shirts. We are too old and too tired. So, it is easier for my generation of parents to just shut off the ‘noise’ and ‘chatter’ instead of researching it all over again.
Thirdly, there is the pain of listening to some new belief or lifestyle that I have already researched and made a decision on. Just as the adult child who has left the church feels pain and anger as they go through the grieving process, so does the parent of that child. In my case, the reason I would not read all the new negative historical facts Barry had discovered and was sending me about the church was that it would be a painful process for me to read and process that information. It would also be disturbing to me. So, I did not read all the material because I did not want the pain of reading things that were disturbing to me and I did not to waste my time on facts that may or may not be accurate. It was easier just not to read them at all.
If I read them, I would have to figure out what they meant and how they applied to me. Then I would have to evaluate them to either disprove them or agree that they may be true. If I agreed that they may be true or relevant then I would have to research them to make a judgment on their veracity. This research may be as simple as talking to someone else about the new information or I may have to do some research to find alternative facts or opinions that I could use to disprove Barry’s facts. Either way it would take some effort on my part to come to grips with the new facts Barry was giving me. Because I was sure that Barry was wrong in either his facts or the interpretation of his facts, I didn’t want to bother with them.
However, I did actually talk to Barry about what he was learning and looked at everything he sent me. After doing my own research, I made a decision on how I felt about the material and told Barry about it. At that point, Barry realized that his information was not going to change my belief in the church.
Once we got past that I could talk to him about all the other aspects of his ‘Journey to Enlightenment’. This is when our relationship really started to improve. Because Barry’s life was changing and he was going through the grieving process that became the focus of our conversations. The more we talked, the more I was able to learn about Barry and see how his ideas and convictions were developing. He was not developing ideologically the way I thought he should go, but he was becoming a more independent thinker and developing an ideology that better fit what he thought his life should be about. I have always believed that a person should follow their will and do what they thought was best for them after looking at their options and the consequences. That was exactly what Barry was doing. He was searching for the lifestyle that made him happy.
In the church we say that the purpose of our life is to be happy. We put conditions on that and say that there is only one way to happiness and that is God’s way. We call it the Plan of Happiness. But I have seen that some people can be happy following an alternative plan. That goes back to what I have learned about other people having the right to be wrong. If I think that Barry will be unhappy in any other lifestyle than what the Plan of Happiness describes, then maybe I am wrong. Maybe Barry will develop his own Plan of Happiness and God will be alright with it. I believe that God gives us the right to be wrong also.
My conclusion to this is that Barry has to go on his own Search for Meaning in his life. I have searched for and found meaning in my life. I know what is right for me, but I had to travel down several different paths to find the right one. I want to give Barry the same opportunity to find the right one himself. I hoped that he would follow the one I am on, but I am not going to dictate how Barry should live his life. I have also learned that just because Barry decides on a different path or ideology than me, I don’t have the right to condemn him to eternal damnation. That is God’s job, not mine. My job is to love him as my son and help him find happiness in this life regardless of how that happiness looks to me.