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Author Topic: Religious parents and cohabitation
skiesofgreen
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As of January I'm going to be moving cities for a job and, when I got accepted for the position, my boyfriend and I talked it over and decided he wanted to come with me and that we were going to move in together. We've been dating for over two years, we're both excited about cohabitation, and my parents have both expressed really liking him. So no problem right? Except for that they're also both very religious and given that the thought of telling them is giving me a lot of anxiety and, honestly, I could use a little guidance. Or at least help working out what exactly I want to say.

When it comes to my parents themselves I think my dad will be accepting of my decision and, even if it wouldn't be his, and I don't think he'll push it or try to change my mind. My mom on the other hand I'm more concerned about.

She's very conservatively christian and also very evangelical in her beliefs, in a way where I fear she'll not only disapprove but also actively try to change my decision and lecture me on why what I'm doing is wrong and why it's a sin. Ultimately she's never been one for seeing other people's points of view or admitting defeat in an argument (or even agreeing to disagree). And honestly she's the one who I'm most worried about in telling them the news.

I've kept a lot of things hidden from my mom over the years (both me and my sister have) for fear of her reaction. It's taken a strain on the relationship, a relationship that I know she wants to be closer and so do I, but also one I've never felt safe or comfortable having be closer. This will literally be the first time in my life I tell her something about one of my choices that I expect her to be angry/disappointed/upset about. It will probably also be my second fight with her in my life. Confrontation (clearly) is not my strong point.

And as silly as it might sound (and while I know I'm not responsible for her feelings) I'm scared not only that she'll be disappointed in me but that she'll be disappointed in herself or see herself as a failure because I didn't grow up the way she wanted. She has low self esteem as it is and it really does break my heart to think that I'd be adding to that even though I know it's not my responsibility not to.

My ideal outcome from the conversation would be that she accepts my decision and will respect it, whatever her personal feelings about it may be, and that we can continue to have a relationship without it getting in the way. I don't realistically think she'll disown me or cast me aside, I do realistically think it could end in longterm/recurring arguments/lectures about the way I live my life, god etc. Even though my sister (3 years older) and her boyfriend have been living together for multiple years now without interference from my mother I do think this is a realistic possibility in my case. If only because she's never had to face the reality of my sister cohabiting (she moved over seas when she did so), combined with the fact my mother could rationalize it as necessary for such a large move, and because she's never been as protective of my sister/seen her in the sort of idealized way I sometimes feel she sees me.

Ultimately the closer it gets to me needing to tell her (and really we're apartment hunting so that time is now) the greater my anxiety gets. I don't really know where to start with talking to her, or what to say, or how much. Should I tell her this isn't a discussion (my decision's already made) or will that just alienate her more? How do I navigate an unfavorable reaction? Do I respond to her if she goes on about it being a sin, even though I know it's not a discussion where either of us is going to change our minds?

I know you can't really have exact answers to any of these but any advice, or even just some help figuring out what I want to say would be amazing.

[ 11-16-2013, 01:44 AM: Message edited by: skiesofgreen ]

Posts: 244 | From: British Columbia, Canada | Registered: Mar 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Redskies
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Congratulations on the job and the life plans!

Perhaps the first step here is to accept that this might be a hard conversation, that there may well be some conflict, and that you might have some big feelings about it. Your mom might have some big feelings, too, and even express them strongly, but you are not responsible for your mom's feelings or for making them better. You're responsible for how you treat her and how you speak to her, but you are not responsible for any negative feelings she has about any life decisions you make that she doesn't agree with. You're deciding what you want for your life; you're not making these decisions At her.

Generally, telling someone "this isn't a discussion, I've made my decision!" is likely to come off a bit confrontational and even petulant, so it's not usually the best idea. It Is a discussion; it's just not a discussion about your decision and your choices. It's a discussion about how you and your mom navigate your relationship in the light of those choices.

It usually is a good idea to calmly inform the person of the decision you've made and the plans you have. A possible opener might be something like, "Mom, I'd like to talk to you about a decision I've made. I'm really happy and excited about it, and I've thought about it carefully to make sure it's right for me and I'm not rushing it. I know that you have some different values to me and I understand if you're not as happy as I am, but I really hope that we'll be able to come to an understanding and that you'll support my decision."

After you've told her, she may or may not need some time to process the idea or to calm down. If she has reasonable questions, take the time to answer them. If she's unreasonable or repetitive, be prepared to step in and say that you do really want to talk with her about it, but it seems like she needs some time to process, so you'll give her that time and talk later. Leave the room if you need to.

If you're planning this, I'm guessing you've put thought into it. Be prepared in your head with the reasons that you want to do this and the practical preparations you've made for how it's going to work. Moving in with someone for the first time is a significant step, so on one level, it's a responsible and concerned parent's reaction to check in that everything's ok. Be prepared to show that you're being responsible about the move.

In situations where someone keeps questioning a decision in the same ways, one really good technique - after having responded to the concerns and questioning in a reasonable way - is to say "I am happy with my decision.", and to keep saying it.

How does this sound, as a starting point?

--------------------
The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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skiesofgreen
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Hi Redskies,

Thanks for the response. I've been mulling it over the past few days and I think one part that's really stuck with me is the idea of having a discussion, just not about my decision but about how to navigate our relationship in light of the decision. I also really appreciate the advice for dealing with potentially circular conversations.

I think my next step is making sure I have solid list of reasons/explanations to help my mom understand (if only because I often freeze up during big talks and having stuff jotted down before hand tends to help).

On that front here's where I've got so far. If you, or anyone else, has any feedback on these points please let me know.

- My boyfriend and I have been together for over two years and are serious about each other, in a sense where I could see (and we have talked about) this relationship heading towards marriage or very long term commitment. Living together feels like the right step for us at this point in our lives. Both because I want to know how we work together when thinking about long term commitment and also because I want to share my life with him in this way right now. In other words even without marriage or longterm plans working out this wouldn't feel like a waste of my time or bad decision, it feels like how I want to be spending my time right now.

-Although I had some concerns about moving in together before we've both lived away from home in a permanent way, we both do have experience living on our own for extended periods. It also makes more sense to both of us for this move to be one where we end up living together, particularly because we both prioritize staying in the same city and this is how we can make it work best.

-That said even if there weren't monetary/practical motivations for moving in together I feel that we'd be transitioning to living together within the next year or so as it is. I simply would have moved out before now and there would have been a transition period where I was living on my own first. Simply put this job may have sped up our decision to move in together by half a year or so but it is something that would have happened in the near future with or without the move. (for clarification I found out I would be getting this job a while ago and chose to stay home for the time being instead of moving out only to be moving again relatively shortly after)

-As far as practical concerns go, we have and continue to talk about how to share expenses and the living space. We're sharing the work of looking for a place to live and I have every reason to expect that our living situation will be equitable as well.

-I understand that your (my mothers) beliefs say that living together before marriage is wrong and I understand that. However I need you to understand that these are not my beliefs, and that while I respect your religion, it is not something I am basing my decisions around.


That's about where I'm at with that at this point. The more I think about this the more I also think this conversation is also going to be a point where I'm really going to have to directly tell my mother I do not hold Christians beliefs at this point in my life. So I might also have to prepare some points for that. Oh dear.

As always any feedback would be great.

[ 11-20-2013, 12:40 AM: Message edited by: skiesofgreen ]

Posts: 244 | From: British Columbia, Canada | Registered: Mar 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
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I think all of this sounds really great, skiesofgreen. Obviously, how your mother will respond to it is something I can't know, but I think talking about your reasons and feelings, rather than trying to cater to her, is the way to go. Trying to sell someone on something you have emotional investment in never feels good, better to just be real about it and see where it goes from there.

I would say that one common big kind of rite of passage conflict in life that happens to many young people, or heck, people of all ages, is realizing that either religiously or ethically you are very different from your parents or family and sharing that with them. I understand how daunting it can feel, and it is a big thing, for sure.

But if it helps to know, it seems to be a big thing that many, if not most, families work their way through in time. Even if, at first, it doesn't go we'll.

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Redskies
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Something that I think can help when we're trying to bridge large differences in religious or ethical beliefs is to try to find common ground. For example, with your mom, skiesofgreen, it sounds like living with a partner might be outside of her ethical beliefs, and maybe a range of other behaviours are too. It's likely, though, that you and she will have some commonalities, perhaps in a broader or more general ethical picture. What, as far as you know, are the most fundamental things to her in how a person should live their life - anything like kindness, generosity, honesty...? Which of her fundamental values are also in your value system? Keeping something like that in mind can make it easier on you to navigate the relationship and the conversations, and can also be places where you might be able to reach out to her.

--------------------
The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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skiesofgreen
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Thank you both for the responses. I had a full reply written out and then I managed to erase it so when I'm a little more awake tomorrow I'll try getting my thoughts down again.

Over all right now I'm just feeling very back in forth between moments of you can do this and no you really really can't. So it goes, right?

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skiesofgreen
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Thanks again for the responses. I've been talking to my boyfriend and sister about this but you can only rehash the same conversation so many times, so it's nice to have some outside perspective.

It is reassuring to be reminded that this is the sort of thing that most families go through at some point. On some level I'm hoping that long-term this will actually be good for our relationship and maybe end up with more openness between us in the future. Other times I'm not so positive. It feels like all I notice when my mom talks these days are her constant references to god and how god would have us do things.

I hear what you're saying Redskies about the commonalities. I know we do have them, at least in broad ways, but the more I think about it the more realise I don't even really know exactly what my mothers base beliefs are. I've shied increasingly away from conversations about belief with her so much since I've felt our beliefs diverging that I'm not sure where exactly our common ground is.

And Heather I appreciate your advice of being honest rather than trying to cater to her.

At this point I guess I just have to think it over myself and come up with the words to do it.

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moon_goddess
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Hi, skiesofgreen. I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know I'm rooting for you. I hear you on the religious family.

One thing that struck me when reading your post was that your mother might bring up sin and all of this other religious stuff and how you don't identify as Christian. I think it would be a good idea to prep yourself for that revelation coming out as well. I know sometimes when I've been in the middle of difficult situations, I end up saying things that are ultimately true, but that I never intended to come up in a certain conversation, and then I flounder trying to explain my views and can't defend them very well if I haven't thought of concrete things to say about it.

Also, I'd be interested in learning how your conversation goes, especially because talking about cohabitation is something that's going to come up in the next year for me as well.

I have an idea about the anxiety -- do you know what part of it you're especially anxious about? Is it the conversation itself? The probable outcomes? If you're anxious about the outcome, like your mother being very unhappy with you, or calling/emailing you to remind you of how sinful you're being or whatever, you have choices. You can choose to limit your contact for a while if you have to. You could not answer your phone if she calls. You could specifically not respond to emails where she's trying to guilt you or whatever. If you don't actually need (as opposed to want) any support, emotional, financial, etc. from her, you have a lot of power. You can be very selective in your interactions with her and choose not to engage in certain conversations with her in the future. And chances are, eventually she'll probably get over it and get used to you being an adult, with different values than hers.

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crazyhorseperson
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I'm going to have to prepare myself for similar discussions with my mother. While she's not overly religious, she is extremely overprotective (I'm 19 and haven't had a job, a driving permit/license, I have a 9pm curfew with my boyfriend which was recently extended from 8pm, etc) and I really want to get a permit and a job over the summer. However, I know she will throw an absolute fit over me getting more independence - it took me threatening not to come home from college until Thanksgiving break, two weeks into the semester, for her to stop controlling when I went to bed. I still have no privacy, but that's because when I mention it she shuts down the conversation in a way that leaves everyone feeling negative, and I've grown tired of pushing the issue.

Personally, I think you're very brave for bringing this up to your mother at all...if it was me, I would make plans to move out and then not tell my parents about cohabitation (well, maybe tell my dad because he would accept the idea, but never my mom) until things were well set and I was fully moved out of my parents' house. Something that might help is asking for an hour of her time, and dividing the things you want to say into three ten-minute sessions. Then, explain to her that you expect her complete silence for each ten-minute period while you explain things. Give her a notepad so she can write objections down if she wants. In return, you'll give her the ten minutes after you explain to get her emotions out, give her objections, or whatever happens, but after those ten minutes are over, it's your turn for ten minutes and her turn to be silent for those ten minutes.

After that hour (if that's the longest it lasts; you can always add more time if you have more to say, or change the times - it was just an example) calmly say 'I know I've given you a lot to think about, so I'll leave you alone for a while to think. Later, when we're both fully calm from this conversation, we can continue where we both left off' or something to that effect.

That might help, especially if you agree that the ten-minute breaks will be for one and only one person to talk in, but it could backfire if your mother is especially confrontational (I know it wouldn't work for my mother, because she can't be quiet when she thinks she's right about something and *needs* to let everyone else know).

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skiesofgreen
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I thought I'd give you all an update now that the move is over and I'm living with my boyfriend.

I really appreciate all your advice and while I don't think I handled the situation as well as I could have the end result hasn't been bad.

At first I tried making it clear through general conversation what was going on, but avoided saying the words "moving in together" directly (p.s. I wouldn't recommend this strategy).

The first time I tried I had made a plan to sit down with my parents, and had decided that I wanted to make sure they knew that I was inviting them to be part of the process if they wanted. So I went upstairs and asked them if they wanted to look at pictures of the apartments my boyfriend and I were looking at together. I was expecting my mom to start asking questions/being angry at this point and for me to sit down and have that conversation with her. Instead she ignored what I was saying and said "looks nice for one person."

I froze up at that point and never got to the outright telling them point.

I tried this a couple more times without avail, though my dad understood and we talked about it which was fine.

Eventually things got a little overshadowed with the fact my younger sister got sick and it took me a while to get back to trying to have the conversation with my mom. Eventually I just ended up blurting it out in the car after which I endured a long rant about how I was going to go to hell, how my boyfriend would no never respect me and not get a job, and how I was too young to "understand the way men work."

What I learned from that conversation was that none of my preparations from the talk had been useful. None of my talk about thinking it through etc. really had any bearing on her concerns which came from fundamentally different understandings about gender and gender roles.

But while that lecture was incredibly uncomfortable (and I froze up and didn't get much in word wise) I'm happy to say my mother hasn't brought it up since and doesn't treat myself or my boyfriend any differently.

So an ok outcome overall, even if I could have handled it better and the conversation itself wasn't the greatest.

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zeitvogel
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Well it sounds to me like you got the best outcome you could, given what you had to work with, so you handled it perfectly [Smile]
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