Are Your LDS Parents in Pain Because You Don’t Believe? Start here…

Many who experience a faith transition are concerned about the emotional pain of our parents. But it isn’t actually our parent’s pain that’s a problem for us. Our problem is our own discomfort about their pain.

One of the most important exercises we can perform for our mental health is growing our capacity for discomfort. We do this by becoming more aware of our emotions, recognizing that they are physical vibrations in our body that come from our thinking.

Then, we practice emotional discomfort. [I know this sounds scary, but avoiding our emotions only increases their intensity. We decrease the intensity of negative emotions by acknowledging them.]

Contrary to what the survival center of our brain wants us to believe, negative emotions are not dangerous—for us or for our parents.  Mom and dad do have the capacity to handle negative emotions!

With that said, one of the most compassionate things we can do for another human being is to be present with them during times they feel disappointed, afraid, or hurt. We can offer a safe space for them to express and experience their feelings.

In other words, we can accept them and their negative emotions–without judgment and without making them mean something about us.

When it comes to parents, it is useful for us to believe that they love us with their full capacity to love. Some of us may have parents with very little capacity. Others may have parents whose fears get in their way of showing love.

Addressing Common Fears

It might be helpful to your parents if you address some of their fears rather than pretending those fears don’t exist. When you tell your parent you don’t see the LDS church the same way they do, do you really understand what they fear?

Here are some examples of common parental fears and how to address them:

[For simplicity, I am going share the fears as if they come from mom, but dad may certainly have these same fears.]

Fear #1: I failed you. I did something wrong. It’s my fault you don’t believe.

The church teaches that if you “train up a child in the way he should go…when he is old, he will not depart from it.” So, if a child departs many parents believe they blundered.

One way to address this fear:

Mom, I want you to know that my decision to leave the church is on me. There isn’t anything you forgot to teach me or anything you did wrong. And there isn’t anything you could have done differently to prevent me making this decision.

Fear #2: You can’t ever be happy.

The church teaches that staying in the church and living the gospel is the only way to true happiness

One way to address this fear:

Mom, I know the church teaches that people like me are lost and unhappy. That hasn’t been my experience. In fact, I feel more peaceful now than ever. That may be confusing to you and if it is I understand. I just want to do my best to let you know that I’m doing well.

Fear #3: We can’t be together forever.

It’s possible your mom may view your departure from the church as ruining the eternal family. After all her idea of the celestial kingdom included you! If you aren’t there, how can the celestial kingdom be celestial? Your departure from the faith may be adding complexity (and confusion) to her belief system.  

One way to address this fear:

Mom, I know you want an eternal family. I am not leaving the church because I don’t want to be with all of you. I just don’t believe the church holds the keys to seal people together.  I know you believe differently and I’m so sorry if that belief causes you pain. I know you believe in a loving Heavenly Father. Perhaps the best thing is to have faith this will all work out. I’m here for you and I love you as much as ever.

Fear #4: You will go off the deep end.

When you believed in the church, your mom believed you would adhere to clear boundaries, staying away from “dangerous” things like drugs and alcohol. Now she doesn’t know what you’ll do and the uncertainty feels scary.

One way to address this fear:

Mom, I know you’re worried. This is new territory for me for both of us. I know you will probably worry and there’s probably nothing I can do about that. What I want you to know is that I have a good head on my shoulders. I’m going to consider my safety as I make decisions.

Fear #5: If you don’t care about the church, perhaps you don’t care about me.

The church may have offered your mom direction, safety, and support during times of great need. In turn, she may have offered her life (time, money, and talents) to the church. If so, her sense of identity may be so wrapped up in the church that she sees your rejection of belief as a rejection of her.

One way to address this fear:

Mom, I know my decision to leave the church has caught you off guard. This wasn’t what I expected either. I am certainly not walking away from the church in order to hurt you. You mean as much to me as you always have  Although my feelings about the church have changed, my feelings about you haven’t. You will always be my mom and I will continue to love you and be here for you.

Fear #6: You are throwing away your eternal marriage and your marriage in this life will probably fall apart.

Of course, how you address this will depend on your situation. Here’s some options to consider:

I want you to know [name of spouse] and I are on the same page and our marriage is strong.

Or

I want you to know that although [name of spouse] still believes in the church and I don’t, I will continue to support him/her. [Perhaps give details of your plan.]

Or

I want you to know my marriage isn’t going to make it. I wish things were different and I’m grieving this loss as I know you are. The most helpful thing you could do for our family right now is [fill in the blank].

Fear #7: My grandkids might be in danger and so might my relationship with them.

Mom may worry about the safety of her grandkids. She may be concerned about their eternal salvation. She may also worry about how these changes in belief will impact her relationship with them.

Before you address your mom’s fears, you want to be clear in your mind what you want for your kids. Then, you will need to communicate your desires and expectations. Sometimes, you may need to establish a healthy boundary.

As a starting point, here’s something you could say:

Mom, I know you love your grandchildren and they love you, too. I want you to continue to have a fabulous relationship with them. To make that happen, I will be sure to share with you what I feel is in there best interest. You may not agree with my parenting decisions and that’s ok. I concede that I’ll probably make mistakes. Still, I’m their parent and I need to do what I feel is right for my kids.

Remember, Your Believing Parent Can Turn to God

It’s easy for us leaving the church to see our parent’s beliefs as the cause of their pain.

What’s easy to forget, though, is that the same belief system that causes the pain also offers solutions.

One of the most loving we can do for believing parents is to encourage them to use the resources the church offers them for comfort. We can encourage our LDS parents to go to the temple, to receive blessings, to pray, and to seek support in their church community.

We can tell our parents that we have the peace we need and we want them to receive that peace as well—using whatever means most comfortable to them.

Ultimately, we cannot take emotional pain away from our parents. What we can do is grow our capacity to be present for them no matter what they are feeling. Even if they don’t want us around, we can still think loving thoughts about them and have compassion for their pain without taking responsibility for it.

If we’re having a hard time letting go of what our parents might think, it’s ok to accept that’s where we are. We can start by trying to think something like this: I believe it’s possible for me to learn how to let my parents be completely responsible for their emotions. I’m practicing this new skill.

The more we practice loving them in their pain rather than trying to take it awaythe less power that pain will have over them, over us, or over our relationship.

[Consider sharing What Does a Mormon Faith Crisis Feel Like with your parents if you’d like them to better understand the pain you’ve experienced.]

Claudine Gallacher
I'm a life coach who specializes in the unique needs of those transitioning away from Mormonism. I love working with the courageous women and men seeking to rebuild their lives after losing their faith. If you need support and strategies, CLICK HERE TO SCHEDULE A FREE PRIVATE COACHING SESSION!