Ask Mommy: How To Cope While Living With Religious Relatives

I recently received this question on Facebook,

I’m in a relationship with an agnostic with extremely religious parents. We have recently had a baby. My partner and our child are currently living with her parents while we save money for our own place. I feel like I’m suffocating because I have to filter myself around her parents.

Baby and DaddyI have never been in this situation, myself, but I can give you some things to think about that might make it easier for you to get through.

1. Remind yourself that these people are going to be in your life for a very long time. This can help you remain patient. The thing is, even if you have a falling out with them, and your partner has a falling out with them, and you stop talking to them, they are still your child’s grandparents and he may want a relationship with them in the future. Communication will be the base requirement for making this happen, and a mutual respect will make that infinitely easier to deal with. While it might feel good in the moment to challenge something they say about God, in the long run, you’re going to be making your life that much more difficult. Reminding yourself of this can help you keep your thoughts on religion to yourself long enough to move out.

2. It is absolutely okay to challenge them when they’re addressing your child and telling him lies if he’s old enough to understand what they’re saying. You don’t have to be rude to challenge them, either. For instance, if you catch your mother-in-law telling your child that God is real, you can butt in and say, “Well, that’s what Grandma believes. Some people, like your mommy and I, have trouble believing that. When you’re old enough, you can choose to believe if you want, too.” You can even turn it into a positive with the Grandmother by thanking her for bringing it up, as it was a good opportunity to explain that he has a choice.

3. Engage with your parents-in-law about their religion. Everyone’s story is unique and interesting. Just because you’re an atheist, doesn’t make someone’s story about how they found god less interesting. If anything, I think I am more fascinated by those stories because it’s so foreign to me. You might learn things about your child’s grandparents that make you feel closer, and like you understand them better. You’ll also win some points with them, because everyone loves someone who is interested in their story, who truly listens. If you do this, you have to try and understand things from their perspective. Don’t go into it with your back up, ready to pass judgement. Rather, go into it with an open mind – not about religion, but about why it’s right for your parents-in-law. As time goes by, your own feelings about religion might be discussed. Don’t be rude, don’t be condescending, just explain: “I’ve always had trouble believing any of that” or “I am not very religious, but I can see how it enhances other people’s lives.” If they want to argue about it, stop engaging. Just tell them that your relationship with them is far more important than us all seeing eye-to-eye on the God question.

4. Use that feeling of being suffocated as motivation to work harder to earn enough money to move out, and then remind yourself that this is temporary. There will be an end to this situation. It will not be forever. Just keep reminding yourself of that and keep fixated on your goal.

5. If the cost of living where you are is making your desire to move out near impossible, and you feel like you’re near your breaking point, consider moving to another city. As someone who has lived in eight cities/towns and three countries, and never had a lot of money, I’m always shocked at how convinced people are that moving to a new city is nearly impossible. It’s not. It’s easy if you choose the right destination. There are plenty of cities out there in need of workers, with cheap housing costs and lots of other draws. When I lived in the Mayan Riviera, on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, my monthly expenses were around $1800 USD with a full-time nanny, a weekly maid, eating out multiple times per week, and a brand new condo overlooking a pool. I thought I would love it there forever, but have since discovered I love a place even more, right here in Canada. Moving is easy, finding employment elsewhere can be easy depending on your industry, all that is really needed is to do your research.

6. Follow your partner’s lead. The two most important people in your life are your partner and your child, now, and everyone else comes second. If she blows up at her parents over religious issues, you take her side and support her. You don’t have to be rude or condescending about it, but be sure to stand up for her and your child. Prove atheists can be more polite than the religious by keeping all your interactions polite, but firm while using clear language that lets them know you’re not going to listen to them insult or judge your family.

7. Find an outlet – if you’re in a large urban center, you should have no problem finding a Skeptics in the Pub or some other secular meetup in your area. Even my small, rural town has a Skeptics in the Pub. Go there. Talk to likeminded people. Tell them your frustrations, and get it all out there so you can return home with a fresh slate. Bring your partner if she needs it. You can just search Google for the name of your city with “Skeptics in the Pub” or use meetup.com and search keywords like “atheist”, “secular”, “skeptic”, etc.

All of these points should be considered, and many of them can help with the current situation. If, however, the situation is already hostile or it becomes hostile, you have to get you and your family out in any way that you can. You are a new family and the first years with your child should be full of joy and celebrations, not anger and resentment. Even though your child is still a baby, he can still pick up on tension and stress in the house, and it will affect him. It will also affect your relationship with him, if you’re stressed out all the time, as well as your relationship with your significant other.

I hope this answers your question, and I hope it all works out for you!

What would you do in this situation? Let me know in the comments!

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  • cary_w

    I guess I’m just not as nice of a person as you are, because my advice to this person would be, GROW UP!!!

    I’ll even give this person the benifit of a doubt and assume they got in this situation through bad luck: something like birth control failure and unexpected job loss rather than his stupid and irresponsible choices. But seriously, he’s an adult and a parent now, it’s time to start being the grownup. Your job now is to take care of yourself and your offspring, if the means living in a “suffocating” environment, then suck it up and do it until you can find a better way! Your in-laws have graciously put a roof over you and your child’s head at a time you were unable to do that. You need to thank them every day for it and do your best to live by their house rules while you’re r accepting their charity. Heck, I’d even suffer through going to church with them if that’s what they wanted!

    Nothing bugs me more than the person who takes, takes, takes, then complains about the quality of the gift! Get over it and quit acting like a spoiled child!