When Parents Accidentally Have Slutty Children

Look at that picture. Are we not an obnoxiously photogenic family? It was 1989 and I could rock pink corduroy overalls like none other.  I’m quite proud of the elegant specimens for parents I have— attractive, smart, successful and charismatic, they gave me an idyllic atmosphere to grow up in. If we lived in a world where adults had to apply to have a child and pass a rigorous selection process with the most stringent of criteria, my parents would still have been the poster couple.  Additionally, a strict Roman Catholic upbringing was imposed upon my siblings and I, and for the first 13 years of my life I never asked why. However, it was not meant to last. I was a headstrong and stubborn adolescent, and religious faith was no match for my voracious skepticism of all that could not be reasonably explained. Much to my parents chagrin, after over a decade of struggling, they learned I was an atheist. What followed was a painful falling-out, from which our collective filial relationship has never recovered.

It was originally not my plan to talk much about my personal life on this blog. My esteemed readers have better things to do than listen to cyber bellyaching. That said, I would be very interested in the feedback of intelligent, affluent atheists on the subject of the disconnect which all-too-frequetly exists between our lack of a belief in a god and our relationships with theist family members.

For me, the crux has been my desire to accept each other exactly as we are, and choose to agree to disagree, which my parents seem completely unwilling to do. For them, the Faith is paramount; and it is their greatest failure that I should not share their value for it. But, even if I should quiet the cognitive dissonance religion inspires in my mind, I would be a hypocrite if I tried to espouse beliefs which I could not justify outwardly. I don’t think I could tell someone with a straight face that I truly believe a human being can walk on water, or snakes can talk, or dead men can rise again. I don’t think I could proclaim premarital sex is inherently sinful, yet secretly enjoy its freedom with every part of my being. This is not an acceptable answer for my parents, because Faith should be accepted unquestioningly, on the grounds that God teaches truths which our human minds may not be able to fully grasp.

In an ideal world, we could discuss our differences without emotional blackmail or wounded egos. We could respect each other as adults who may not agree, but whose relationships with each other are worth more than questionable yet familiar Bronze-aged myths. All we have is the here and now, and once we’re gone there are no more chances for making memories together. As much as I am direct and hate avoiding the pink elephants in a room, I could refrain from discussing religion and politics if it meant a peaceful rapport with the wonderful people who raised me and were so invested in my life for so many years.

The isolation from my family has been difficult, and as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am saddened to think I may be celebrating it alone while my friends spend time with their kin.

How have you folks dealt with this rift? Is the parent-child bond ever able to overcome the revulsion towards atheism? It’s really hard to imagine it getting better, but they say time heals all wounds.

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24 responses to “When Parents Accidentally Have Slutty Children

  1. My parents feel as though they have failed if they think I’m not ready for god’s immanent return. I have shown them I am a good person. We squabble about it very little, and when pushed I’ll leave them trying to solve a logical riddle about their own faith. It keeps the noise to a minimum.

    • I could probably learn to take a page from your book in the future. What kind of riddles?
      My current tactic is to say something along the lines of “Mom, I’d like to discuss this with you rationally, but I feel like you can’t talk about this without getting very emotionally heated, and then we’re not having a conversation anymore. You talk over me and speak in pronouncements.”

      • Ask then to comdemn another… Say, someone who has never heard about their religion or who died before they could,
        then ask what about 15 day old babies? They don’t have answers but often enough are certain they do. I leave them thinking about it.

  2. In all candor darling the rift has less to do with religion—or lack thereof—as to do with fear. Even leaving faith constant the same dynamics happened over things as relatively benign as interracial dating, political affiliation, chosen profession, choice of college; a friend of mine in school was literally cut-off emotionally and financially by her parents for trading her breakdown prone Mustang for a Mitsubishi Eclipse; you see they were a pretty serious Ford family and could not fathom how they managed to raise a daughter that would drive a car made by the people that caused Pearl Harbor.
    When I was younger although raised a Baptist, in Alabama no less, my natural curiosity led me to begin studying Islam—to be more specific the Nation of Islam; to me it was simply assertion of my right to make my own decisions and exercise my own intellectual and spiritual choices. At first my parents reacted much like yours did. However, as a student of history, psychology, and my own family I recognized it as what it was fear of change, fear for my well-being and albeit it primitive genuine love for me. Parents have a very scary responsibility and that is to protect us and provide the “best” opportunity for our well-being and success in life; the safest route to do that is to create incentives (or disincentives) that influence us to be as much like them as possible. It is safe because inasmuch as they can steer you to known paths such as the paths they followed they can be more or less assured of fairly “known” outcomes. From there the job of parenting then shifts to simply improving upon that path instead of plunging you and them both into unknown territory and the uncertainty of life which most avoid at all costs. Whether your choice is “wrong” is secondary and possibly irrelevant to whether it is “unfamiliar” and this can provoke acute intolerance even anger in otherwise controlled conservative people.
    As for me I am not a Muslim and over the years studied academically and worshipped with followers of several faiths as well as their subsets, sects, and denominations. My relationship with my parents and family in this regard as others is today intact and healthy. Although I will not visit them for Thanksgiving this year it is my choice and due to commitment to friends out of state impacted by the recent storms.
    Oh and how did my journey to becoming agnostic (not atheist) not lead to permanent separation from my conservative Christian parents? Sushi. Yes Sushi. I needed to raise and educate my parents as they had me; address and disarm their own fear of change and the unfamiliar. Rather than try to convince them or even debate them that Islam as a religion had redeeming qualities, I laid down my own ego and put the matter aside. I choose to instead find multiple ways to introduce them to the idea that just because something is different is no reason to fear therefore condemn or hate it. So subtly getting them acquainted with falafels, sashimi, crawfish heads, even Chicago style coneys and the different cultures they represented from there we progressed on the other aspects of life. Once they were not afraid they could accept.

  3. In all candor darling the rift has less to do with religion—or lack thereof—as to do with fear. Even leaving faith constant the same dynamics happened over things as relatively benign as interracial dating, political affiliation, chosen profession, choice of college; a friend of mine in school was literally cut-off emotionally and financially by her parents for trading her breakdown prone Mustang for a Mitsubishi Eclipse; you see they were a pretty serious Ford family and could not fathom how they managed to raise a daughter that would drive a car made by the people that caused Pearl Harbor.

    When I was younger although raised a Baptist, in Alabama no less, my natural curiosity led me to begin studying Islam—to be more specific the Nation of Islam; to me it was simply assertion of my right to make my own decisions and exercise my own intellectual and spiritual choices. At first my parents reacted much like yours did. However, as a student of history, psychology, and my own family I recognized it as what it was fear of change, fear for my well-being and albeit primitive genuine love for me. Parents have a very scary responsibility and that is to protect us and provide the “best” opportunity for our well-being and success in life; the safest route to do that is to create incentives (or disincentives) that influence us to be as much like them as possible. It is safe because inasmuch as they can steer you to known paths such as the paths they followed they can be more or less assured of fairly “known” outcomes. From there the job of parenting then shifts to simply improving upon that path instead of plunging you and them both into unknown territory and the uncertainty of life which most avoid at all costs. Whether your choice is “wrong” is secondary and possibly irrelevant to whether it is “unfamiliar” and this can provoke acute intolerance even anger in otherwise controlled conservative people.

    As for me I am not a Muslim and over the years studied academically and worshipped with followers of several faiths as well as their subsets, sects, and denominations. My relationship with my parents and family in this regard as others is today intact and healthy. Although I will not visit them for Thanksgiving this year it is my choice and due to commitment to friends out of state impacted by the recent storms.

    Oh and how did my journey to becoming agnostic (not atheist) not lead to permanent separation from my conservative Christian parents? Sushi. Yes Sushi. I needed to raise and educate my parents as they had me; address and disarm their own fear of change and the unfamiliar. Rather than try to convince them or even debate them that Islam as a religion had redeeming qualities, I laid down my own ego and put the matter aside. I choose to instead find multiple ways to introduce them to the idea that just because something is different is no reason to fear therefore condemn or hate it. So subtly getting them acquainted with falafels, sashimi, crawfish heads, even Chicago style coneys and the different cultures they represented from there we progressed on the other aspects of life. Once they were not afraid they could accept.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my little ramblings, LC. I think you’re exactly right; it is fear at the root of all this problem. Maybe one day I’ll reach a place in my relationship with them where I can slowly introduce them to sushi. 😉 Humans are such complex creatures!

  4. As someone who was brought up in a non-theistic household, I find it very interesting people can come out of a theistic household as atheist. The minds of the young are naturally curious, questioning, but the brainwashing seems to place a block on this, and kids often grow into adults parroting their parent’s views. With my natural curiosity throughout my teens, I ended up reading alot on many different religions, hoping for explanations, ideas, inspiration. I found the stories intriguing, sometimes entertaining, but that is all they were to me: fiction novels and stories, poetry and prose.
    But what intrigues me more is people who are victims of brainwashing of these stories can come away from it on their own accord. Not only is it brave, but also an brilliant feat of the mind. Maybe no kinds of biblical salts can wash a mind on a slutty path, eh? 🙂

    • And that’s the predominant element of my parents’ reactions: “Where did we possibly go WRONG?”
      You hit the nail on the head. Its about what the mind is capable of overcoming, and a victory in favor of reason. I wish there were a way to penetrate the veil of illusion for more children. I genuinely believe that in the more extreme cases like mine religion can be a form a child abuse. That’s part of the reason I started this blog. I want people to think, and question what it means to be both an atheist and a slut. If life is so short, why not be happy?
      Thanks so much for the comment. You made my day!

  5. Religious was never the barrier between my family and myself. They were Hindu and I switched between being progressive while very young to being a fundamentalist Christian in secondary school to being an atheist in Uni.

    I think the greater barrier was that of culture. I was a first generation kid. Even my sister had been born in India. I grew up with a cultural barrier, and even a language barrier if you can believe that. I was what’s called an ABCD: American Born Confused Desi (works for Australians too), but I wasn’t familiar with the term until around 2009.

    Hinduism tends to be more accepting and lacks a lot of the same cohesiveness of other ethnic identities. Assimilation doesn’t just happen, it’s expected.

    I barely know my family in India. Many of us are scattered around the world: everywhere from California to Manhattan to Canada. One cousin is in the merchant navy and constantly on the move.

    Religion was really only a barrier with my sister, who is still a Christian (although not so much fundamentalist any more). At one point she watched Fox News and was anti-vaccination. One Thanksgiving she admitted she had feelings for another woman for two years and told me about the trouble she had with her marriage.

    We got along a lot better once we started living in other states. Now we’re over 15,000 kilometres away and I’m in a country that doesn’t celebrate national diabetes weekend, and with our mother gone, she is the closest person I have to family.

    I don’t really have family I’m close to like yours. I’m not actually sure what I’d prefer.

    …I come from a long line of immigrants and migrants. Today I visited the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. Over 140 million people currently live in a country they were not born in.

    One of the exhibits was about names; how people changed their names. My father’s Indian name is unpronounceable. He changed his name to Dave when he got his citizenship. One of the placards mentioned quotes from a girl, “That’s an interesting name. How do you pronounce it? How do you spell it? Am I saying it right? Where is it from?” I almost broke down in tears.

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  7. To be perfectly honest my parents don’t know the full extent of my defection from the faith. They know I haven’t been to church in almost a decade. They know I write slutty books (which has been a source of embarassment to my mother) And my children’s lack of religious education has come up as an issue a couple of times with somewhat explosive results…., but honestly I’ve tried very hard to avoid the topic and not had to make the full confession.

    My reasoning is simply because they are very old…my mother is 86 and my father 89 and I simply see no point in upsetting them. Ironically I don’t worry that they’ll disown me or stop speaking to me, I just worry that my mother will spend so much time and energy worrying and praying over my lost soul…I don’t want to giver her a nervous breakdown and cause her such pain over something she has no control over. To her credit I think she has some idea of my feelings. How can she not? But she’s smart enough to know that if she wants to stay in contact with her daughter she better keep her mouth shut. So I do appreciate that much at least.

    Now my siblings are another matter. I would relish the idea of coming out to them and having some dialogue about my deconversion. But nobody ever asks! Short of standing up in the middle of Christmas dinner and making the announcement over the turkey carcass..I’m not quite sure how to bring it up! Perhaps they’re afraid of the answer too.

    • wow! thanks for taking the time to comment on here. I completely understand where you’re coming from. You don’t really want to rock the boat because you know even though the status quo is tense (at best), “coming out” would likely not make anything better. Rather, a good deal worse. People process the word atheist in the same category as “child rapist” or “cat skinner.” It’s the darndest thing.
      You wrote slutty books? That’s friggin awesome! How do I get my hands on some? 🙂

  8. As an a LA carte Catholic mother of an atheist son – first, when you have a child the attachment is up close intense. They come out of your body, needy and helpless, you are besotted and exhausted, your whole life expands into a new world. You may see bits of yourself and the daddy in its physical appearance, or other relatives you love (in the best case). All these things you recognize with love help you stay interested in keeping your child alive (evolutionary angle).

    You’ve heard people say “No child of mine would…” or “takes after so-and-so”? It takes a long time to separate yourself from your child and see them as individuals, and that really you may have given birth to an alien (in the sense of ‘stranger’.). When that egg and sperm combine, it’s a whole new person, not just another branch on the tree, but because parenting involves teaching and shaping the child’s behavior so it can fit in someplace and survive, hopefully thrive, it can occupy so much of your perception that you don’t SEE.

    Trying to put this into words makes it seem trite and like old news. In nature it seems straightforward. A peanut is a peanut, a walnut is a walnut. A peanut parent will produce a peanut, not a walnut. Human parents can be really confounded when as two walnut parents, they finally recognize they’ve produced an almond.

    So, you all survive, the kids graduate high school mostly intact, and you think “Cool! Now we can relax and be friends with the kids instead of sweating stuff and bossing them around!”. Ha ha hahaha – not likely! They can’t shake the dust off fast enough or get far enough. So, you kind of sag off, a little heartbroken, but you hope with time you’ve taught them enough good stuff that they’ll thrive and come back around, and as a parent of Faith you consider that one of the good tools you’ve given them, one of the best, because you get knocked around in life and the things of the material world won’t sustain you as consistently as faith.

    Unfortunately, Every orgasm ends, every new car gets old, every body gets old and wears out (start saving for a facelift NOW because, as a poster on another site says – Gravity Always Wins). You’re young, healthy and beautiful now, and life is full, full, full.

    The thing is, Faith is a personal journey, and you can’t give it to someone. When holes started opening up in my marriage and my health started failing, I reached for the material world to fill things up, that’s how I can tell you it’s too fleeting. Even the rush of being born again in faith wears off. I think those people who go around looking blissed-out all the time are…anomolies or faking or high or something.

    But, even after the Bliss wears off, and life in my material world still sucks, I have a solid foundation left. Because I’m flawed and I really don’t intellectually ‘get’ a lot of Faith, I guess I’d call my foundation somewhat porous.

    Anyway, I’d like it if my kids went to Mass with me, I’d like to share the goodness of Faith, but they won’t and faith is so personal that I can’t blame them. (And don’t get me started on how humans have corrupted what Jesus started – I know, you think he’s an illusion and I’m delusional. We’ll call it a draw, ok) I just miss them, and am sorry about my son relying on what exists in the material world and his own strength to sustain him. That’s another part of growing infaith and parenting, acknowledgeing I’m not the boss.

  9. Further proof that I’m not the Boss, of Anything – my spelling program made me an “LA” Catholic, and I didn’t even notice. So I’ll try ‘pick and choose Catholic’ instead.

    Also, it won’t hurt you or your parents if they want to pray for you, right? Unless they pray out loud over you in a mean way? Faith is a journey for them, too. I hope you come to a place where you can enjoy each other.

    As part of my journey, every time my daughter lectures me about something I’m doing wrong, I wince and immediately call my mother to apologize for every time I lectured her 🙂 . I’m lucky she’s still alive so I can do it in the material world instead of sending apologies beaming out to otherworldly directions.

    Thanks for reading

  10. Ha, I owe YOU an apology – I’m sorry, you asked for atheist kids of theists to post. I thought you asked for any combination atheist-theist combinations. Sorry again! Plus, I think I spelled anomalie incorrectly. Rosanne Rosannadanna moment, yeesh. Love your blog

    • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading. I don’t get many Catholic moms on here! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. You’re right, I did ask for feedback from atheists, but your perspective is also very intelligent and compassionate, so I appreciate the feedback nonetheless. I hope you’ll keep following!

  11. So, may I ask some questions? Are you totally estranged from your whole family because of being an atheist, or is it discomfort? Did your parents feel you had to accept the whole RC deal, or it was No Deal? or is their biggest beef that you don’t believe in Jesus at all? Would they be OK if you were, say, Episcopalian?

    Talking over you and making pronouncements sounds pretty heated and rough. Is that her personal disagreement style, or only used for arguing with you about atheism?

    What you related about your Mom’s kissing tutorial sounds like she was roughed up, or assaulted when she was young and naive, then blamed for it. Do you think that’s a stretch? She did tell you the truth about guys
    and respect, though. There are (many?) messed up guys out there. I was horrified at the attitudes I heard my son’s friends express as I drove them home from school one day. Challenging them, what I ‘heard’ was that they felt resentful at guys (themselves) and sex being not special, and judged girls very harshly for having many partners. These boys were born c1985. I didn’t hear much from them along the lines of thinking that guys who had lots of partners were cool though. These guys were smart, attractive, and non-jocks. Their hostility shook me up. I’m proposing insecurity, but does that always turn into hostility?

    I hope that missing you brings your parents around, or further in their own faith journey so they can realize some spiritual growth of their own. I hope I haven’t offended you by being too nosy, and it’s great to infer from the happiness and humor in your other posts that estrangement hasn’t ruined the rest of your life.

  12. I want to tell your parents something. I hope if anyone knows them, they’ll fwd this remark –

    I’ve had some correspondence with your daughter, and I think you’d be very proud to know that in all ways, she’s been kind, gentle and respectful of me in my faith (RC).

    She’s very brave to be so forthright in her writings, and while you may question the wisdom of baring so much that our generation (I’m 59) believes should be private, this is the strength/whatever of real writers – honesty and risk-taking and speculating about truth and the world.

  13. PS to your parents:
    Lest you think I have no clue about your feelings, my son espouses atheism and my daughter left the RC church, enraged about the bad-priest coverup worldwide. Don’t we all need to keep growing and thinking to be people of Faith?

    PS to blogger – thanks for your patience! I hope you don’t feel your blog is being hijacked by theists 🙂

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