Child of Mine: When Your Parents Disagree With Your Parenting
I know this isn’t the usual kind of question you answer on the advice smackdown, but I thought you & the other parents might have some helpful words of advice for me.
My husband & I are just starting to think about trying for our first baby. As someone who spent the greater part of her life being freaked straight out by the prospect of pregnancy & parenthood, this has sometimes been a little scary for me, what with the wonky body changes, having to think about things like day care and college funds, and the fateful day I learned what an episiotomy is (good LORD, why don’t they teach us this stuff in sex ed? I bet the teen pregnancy rate would plummet). Anyway, the thing that scares me the most is this: telling my parents that I will not be baptizing this baby.
My parents are pretty hard-core Catholics, and raised me to be the same, but it never really took with me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt at-odds with the Catholic faith, and later on, religion in general. A few years back, my parents and I had a huge blow-out when they discovered I had not been attending church. It was pretty intense – they told me that I was disgracing the family and was destined for hell. It’s now common knowledge that I don’t go to church, but it’s definitely a sore subject that we dance around from time to time. What they don’t know is that – since that monumental argument 3 years ago – I have completely cut my ties with the Catholic church, and I can’t see myself ever going back. I don’t really see the point in telling them, since all it will do is get everyone upset and dredge up a subject I really never want to discuss again.
So, we’re not going to be baptizing our baby. My parents don’t know this. How in the world do I break it to them? I know it’s not going to be pretty, but I need some advice here…even if it’s just knowing that someone else went through the same thing and came out on the other side OK. I really want to get rid of this feeling of dread I have hanging over me about this…this is supposed to be a happy time, dammit!
Thanks in advance for any advice you & your readers can give.
(Why? Why? Four million questions about bangs and blackheads, and I am inexplicably drawn to the one question I really have no easy answer for.)
We didn’t baptize Noah, either. However, for Protestants, baptism (especially infant baptism) doesn’t really carry the same weight. Noah can always choose to get baptized later in life, and possibly our parents comfort themselves with this idea. Plus, we usually dance around our real reasons (that we simply feel no need for organized religion in our lives) and blame the fact that we simply haven’t found a “church home” yet. We omit the part that we aren’t really even looking, but what can I say? We’re WASPs, and are exceedingly good at ignoring problems to the point that they don’t exist — anything to avoid that dreaded and undignified confrontation.
So I don’t have first-hand experience with Catholics and lapsed Catholics and the inevitable tug-of-war over the baby’s soul. I get the sense it’s probably a lot tougher.
But here’s the big picture: Almost every parent eventually faces a dilemma like this. No matter how great your relationship with your parents is, sooner or later you end up doing things differently than they think you should. And you have to put your foot down, because your child is yours, not theirs. And so are your parenting decisions. Mom, we’ve decided not to spank Sara and we need you to respect that. Dad, Billy goes to an international school and we’d appreciate it if you not talk about the damn dirty immigrants at the dinner table.
My mother-in-law strongly disagrees with how we feed Noah (she’s a raw-food vegan), and every time they visit she moves his Harry Potter books out of his room. She really wishes we took him to church, and believes that his speech delay is the result of demonic forces trying to silence his prophetic voice. She is also a wonderfully warm and loving grandmother and Noah adores her.
So we’ve had to think long and hard about what we’re willing to compromise over. If she wants to feed Noah wheat grass juice and dehydrated zucchini while she visits, that’s fine. I’m not hiding the Kraft macaroni and cheese, but hey, she’s getting him to eat vegetables. Score. And then after they leave, I go upstairs and quietly move the Harry Potter books back into Noah’s room. Whatever.
But we have made it clear that there is to be no demon talk around Noah. His relationship with religion is really important to us — mostly because we want it to be very different from what we grew up with — and therefore any Bible storybooks they bring need to be pre-approved by us and deemed child- and damn-dirty-liberal-appropriate.
Anyway. I’ve lost my grip on this question, and I’m sorry I don’t have a simple-three-step skincare line that will satisfy the Catholic requirements for salvation.
In the meantime, try to let this fear go. You aren’t even pregnant yet, and if you sit around and map out every hypothetical problem that could happen to your hypothetical child, you will lose your ever-loving mind. Do you know other former Catholics who have children and have dealt with the family fall-out? Talk to them. Ask questions. Consider any and all compromises you might be willing to make. (Baptism at a more progressive parish? Unitarianism?) If there are none, then stand firm. Consider coming clean about the extent of your break with the church now, so it won’t be such a shock to your family when the baptism talk starts up.Published September 26, 2007. Last updated April 13, 2017.