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Child of Mine: When Your Parents Disagree With Your Parenting

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

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.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Alice_R

    September 26, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Timely post… I’m not yet pregnant but will be trying soon, and am starting to think about things like this, because my mom is pretty much anti- everything I believe in. I know I’m going to have the same problem regarding baptism, but she’s not Catholic, so like Amy said, it’s not exactly the same…
    I actually *just* got into a major argument with her last weekend regarding the choices I plan to make regarding prenatal care and delivery. She has been an RN in the NICU for 25 years and very much subscribes to the whole medicalized OB by-the-book way of thinking. I had to put my foot down already and tell her that while I respect her right to voice her opinion, she needs to accept that the decisions I choose to make regarding my (future) children are mine and my husband’s alone. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from women in similar situations and they all said the same thing: don’t waver. Stand up for yourself.
    I totally agree that there will likely be many things your parents will disagree with in terms of how you choose to raise your child. Setting boundaries is so important to your sanity and your relationship.

  • ethansmomma

    September 26, 2007 at 11:57 am

    I understand the fear of conflict between your views and your parents. I faced similiar fears when talking with my mom about breastfeeding and homeschool vs public school. You have to make your own decisions on what is best for your family and hope your parent’s will understand.
    I was raised Baptist and my husband was raised Catholic but as teenagers we both rejected our respective religions chosen by our parents. We are now very happy at a non-denominational church which I think of as bare bones Christianity without all the trappings of organized religious rituals. However, we did choose to dedicate our baby at my mother’s church because we wanted to profess to the world that we would be raising our child in a Christian home. We also had him Christened in my grandmother’s Methodist church since my husband was christened as a baby. Again it was more of a public affirmation of the way we planned to raise our child and less of an actual belief that our baby would go to hell without a minister sprinkling water on his head.
    I have a hard time believing anyone who was raised in a church would later chose to abandon all religious beliefs. I do understand rejecting a certain religion and its rituals though. Perhaps you could compromise with a dedication cermony in a more non-denominational church to show that you will share beliefs with your child but they don’t have to necessarily be Catholic.

  • Alice_R

    September 26, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    ethansmomma, regarding your statement about having a ‘hard time believing that anyone who was raised in a church would later choose to abandon all religious beliefs’ – unfortunately, if a child is raised in the *wrong* church – or simply a really oppressive religious environment – there’s certainly a good change that they WILL indeed abandon religious beliefs or at least will not want to have anything to do with any kind of church, non-denominational or not.
    I’m speaking from personal experience. My husband and I have no desire whatsoever to attend church or participate in anything relating to organized religion. We consider ourselves spiritual, but not religious, and there is no one religion that we connect with. ‘Compromising with a dedication ceremony’ is not compromising at all for some people. Just because the OP’s parents want her to do something shouldn’t mean she has to meet them halfway. It will be HER baby.
    Sure, having a dedication ceremony just to appease the parents might be an easy way to avoid the conflict for a short period of time, but if she really does not want to incorporate religion into her child’s upbringing, doing so might just be opening the door to her parents insisting upon further ‘compromises’.
    I say, stand your ground and do only what you’re comfortable with. You can’t please people who are diametrically opposed to something you also have strong feelings about.

  • robin m

    September 26, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    At my wedding (since been divorced, thanks) my great uncle who never met my then-husband before came up to us and said, “Promise your old uncle (insert name) that you’ll put your kids in Sunday School.” It was horrifying. I hadn’t talked to him in years and he was guilt tripping me based on the fact that he didn’t have long to go but basically he wouldn’t rest in peace if my ex and I weren’t putting our kids in Sunday School.
    I have to agree with what Amy said above, though. You have to try to choose your battles. Maybe you will get lucky and it won’t be brought up at all, if they know it’s a potential firecracker issue. But, you can’t live your life wondering what your parents will think/say/do with what you choose to do.
    Speaking of “choosing battles” – I will pronounce it in my head “AM-ah-lah” instead of “AIM-ah-lah” until the day I die. Sorry, Amy.

  • Danielle

    September 26, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    This is coming from a non practicing Catholic who baptized her children but has chosen not to continue with sacraments. I totally agree with letting the fear go for now. I think your parents already know you will not be baptizing your children Catholic. Perhaps a part of why the blow up was so big was they not only “feared” for you but for your future children. You absolutely have the right to make the choice and they have the choice to accept you as you are or not.

  • HaLaura

    September 26, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Perfect timing! I’m 15 weeks pregnant and a lapsed Catholic facing the exact same situation. In fact, it was one of the first questions mother asked me, “Will you baptizing your child?”
    The short answer was no, absolutely not, no way, not a chance. The response I gave her, though, was that husband and I need to “talk about it”.
    After a few weeks of thought on the topic, I’ve realized that I’m not against having the child baptized, I’m just against letting the kid-o be raised the way I was, with 13 years of Catholic schooling and a terrible fear of eternal damnation and sin (especially sex). Instead, my husband and I are looking at other Christian places, including a Unitarian church, which does dedications, something I’m much more comfortable with. I think mother will be happy with the compromise, if the option is dedication or nothing, then she’ll take what she can get. We’ll cross the bridge when we get to it, once the child is actually born. There’s plenty to worry about between now and then, so I’m trying not to go insane from all the things that could possibly happen.

  • jive turkey

    September 26, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Hi – I’m the one who submitted this fluffy little question (and I promise to ask one about blackheads next time). Thanks to Amy & everyone else for your advice. It really, really helps. I know I’m stressing over a completely hypothetical situation (one of my many charms), but this conflict between me & my parents is on my mind a lot.
    I didn’t go into the various & sundry reasons why I have distanced myself from religion/Catholicism, but rest assured they’re pretty strong ones. I definitely don’t see myself taking to organized religion anytime soon – which is why it doesn’t feel right to force my future kid to commit to something I have no intention of committing to as well. Looks like I’m just going to have to learn to diplomatically stand my ground on this one (I was afraid of that. Heh.).
    Thanks again. We start trying soon. Wish me luck.

  • jamimess

    September 26, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Just to throw my two Jewish cents in… About 7 years ago, before I even started to think about having kids, we were at a friend’s son’s bris (circumcision ceremony, typically held on the 8th day of the baby’s life), and my mom asked if we’d have a bris if and when we had a son, assuming we’d say yes. Never having thought about it before, I said I wasn’t sure we would… we’d definitely circumcise any sons and have some kind of naming ceremony (official introduction to Judaism). Well, imagine her horror; you’d’ve thought I committed atrocities. It led to a gigantic argument which, in my mind, was somewhat silly since I was giving an off-the-cuff answer to a hypothetical question I’d never before contemplated. The argument blew way out of proportion, and hating conflict as I do, I let it boil over and then tried never to talk about it again.
    Cut to 2004, we have a baby girl and a naming ceremony (girl equivalent of a bris, and you can have it whenever, usually around 1 month). Now it’s 2006, we have a baby boy. Circumcised in the hospital. Which my mom wasn’t allowed to observe because hospital security rules won’t let anyone in the nursery who isn’t mom or dad. We had a naming ceremony much like his sister’s, which decidedly wasn’t a bris.
    And you know what? I’m sure my mom was still horrified (and in her mind, heartbroken) that it wasn’t a bris. Although we’re certainly Jewish, it wasn’t what we wanted for a variety of reasons. My mom (and dad and in-laws) were ultimately gracious enough to let us be the parents and make the decisions, and they came, and they participated, and they rejoiced in their grandson.
    I’m sure there will be lots of other parenting issues on which we disagree, but it just comes down to the fact that we are his parents, and we get to call the shots. Hopefully your parents will realize that, too, and will prioritize celebrating their (future) grandkids over determining how they should be raised. Good luck! And don’t sress about it too much or you will make yourself nuts!

  • heels

    September 26, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    There are these times in our lives when we have to turn to our parents and declare that we really are our own people with our own ideas and ways of doing things and not *just* their children. In my experience, they come more often once we have children of our own who, if we raise them right, will one day turn to us and tell us to mind our own effin’ business about some things. As lovingly as possibly, I’m sure.
    But this will be your child and, for better or worse, your decision. AND this will be their grandchild, and there aren’t many grandparents who can resist a new grandbaby! I’ve seen grandbabies heal family wounds with their mere presence. These things have a way of working themselves out (which is something I need to remind myself more often!).

  • appelsauce

    September 26, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Amy is absolutely right. Something like this is bound to come up in every new parent’s life. When I decided to tell my parents I was pregnant, I immediately had to put my foot down on two things: no, it didn’t mean I was getting married, and no, I don’t want you guys in the delivery room. It was quite hard because I had to argue with them about both points before they even congratulated me! They were a little upset at first, but it blew over more quickly than I had thought it would, and soon they were as excited as I was and very supportive.
    Then my partner and I went through something similar when his parents then decided to visit us immediately after our daughter’s birth WITHOUT ASKING US FIRST. I completely freaked out at first, but we managed to talk them out of coming quite so soon without hurting too many feelings.
    As for baptism, part of his family is catholic, and we’ve been asked many times “when is the baptism?” At first we dodged the question with answers like, “we’re not thinking that far ahead – the baby needs to be born first!” and, “we’re still getting settled into life with the baby. We haven’t been able to make plans yet.” But now we’re just coming out and saying, “you know, it would be hypocritical of us to have her baptized when we haven’t been to church ourselves in years.” Yes, it hasn’t gone over well with some people, but being secure in knowing that our decision is right for us as a family has helped enormously in weather some of the more unpleasant reactions.
    If it’s not the baptism issue, it’ll be something else. You WILL have these kinds of conflicts. It’s not always easy, but it is really worth it to stand your ground! If for no other reason than when your child is old enough and wants to know why her or she wasn’t baptized (as opposed to cousins or other family members), you can tell your child exactly why, and isn’t that better than having to tell them you DID have him or her baptized simply because you didn’t want to piss anyone off?

  • annemie

    September 26, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    I apologize for the following long response… it’s kind of a long story:
    I’m a non-practicing Catholic married to a non-practicing Jew and when we got pregnant, I told my husband that it was up to him to make the decision regarding circumcision, bris, etc. However, at four months along, I started a nursing job on a postpartum unit where I was assisting with circumcision all the time. Couple that with pregnancy hormones, and I was wishing I could take back my offer. I didn’t, but I can’t say I didn’t exert some pressure along the way. We didn’t find out whether we were having a boy or a girl, and I think both of us were praying (well, not praying, exactly…) that we’d have a girl just so we could avoid the issue altogether. Then out popped Oliver.
    So that was a long preamble to say that my husband really struggled with the decision, but within the first few hours of Ollie’s life, voted nay. And then, my MIL – who is generally speaking not one of the more stereotypical Jewish MIL’s – lost. her. fucking. mind.
    She didn’t care that our wedding wasn’t religious. Wouldn’t have cared if we had a circumcision rather than a bris (by her own admission, she’s not so much religious as culturally dedicated to Judaism). However, our decision to leave a small flap of skin on our son’s penis caused her to – I wish I were kidding – threaten suicide. For the first three months of his life, through the sleep-deprivation and the new-parent fog, we had these long, drawn-out, dramatic conversations. My in-laws traveled from DC to NYC several times to try and plead with us and have family pow-wows.
    It was all very difficult, but in the end, we held firm. We had our own reasons for our decision, and tried as calmly as possible to iterate, and reiterate, and reiterate that they were not about her, or defying her, but rather they were the decision we felt we were making in our son’s best interest. Which is your number one job as a parent.
    And now? Having narrowly escaped suicide, my MIL is head-over-heels about her 19 month-old grandson, we’re back on normal terms as a family, and we’ve set a precedent regarding decisions that will hopefully prevent future similar conflicts.

  • Mary

    September 27, 2007 at 1:40 am

    What you need to remember is that your parents, and their parents before them, were probably taught that they were going to hell if you don’t go to church, baptize your children, etc. Nothing like a little pressure there.
    The commenters here are right, you need to put your foot down. My husband and I aren’t particularly religious, but we baptized the kids to avoid conflict. Now my mom is all over my case because they go to public school instead of Catholic school. My brother never baptized his kids at all, and she’s all over him about that. You’re not going to win, no matter what.
    It may amuse you that I’m pretty sure my mom baptized one of my kids on her own. He was born in July and the church wouldn’t do it until late October (scheduling conflicts). We were taking the baby on a plane in September, and my mother was increasingly frantic about it. Then one afternoon she watched him for a few hours and she never mentioned baptizing him again. I’m as sure as I can be that she dunked him in the sink that day. Your parents may decide to do the same.

  • chiquita

    September 27, 2007 at 11:17 am

    two words: united front. You and your husband need to determine your boundaries and ground rules and be strong about them. each partner should lay down the law to his/her own parents.

  • Kourtney_R

    September 27, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I have a very devout Catholic mother-in-law, & a very devout Jehovah’s Witness grandmother. (The rest of the family sort of happily falls into “pagan”.)
    My baby’s education has been a subject of conversation, to say the least. If it comes up in conversation, I make it very, very clear that we are not baptising our girl because we want her to be able to choose her own religion & beliefs for herself. I follow that up with saying that I belive that a choice made as a consenting adult will mean that much more to her.
    The reality (that I don’t voice) is that my husband doesn’t much care, but respects that I feel so strongly & supports me. I very strongly feel that my daughter does not need to have the traditional Judeo-Christian God waving his finger & stomping his foot & promising that she’s going to burn in hell, and also? Because she’s a girl, she’s worth less.
    I think it’s possible to teach children about love & balance & respect without all the negatives (ie: SIN! HELL! DAMNATION!!) that come with most organized religions. Any story books I accept and proofread. When she’s bigger, if she expresses interest, I will read them to her, & answer any questions. I guess I’m going to be the doctrine filter. If it becomes a real source of curiosity/concern, we’ll have a religion tour, including buddhist temples, christian churches, jewish temples, and whatever else we find in the yellow pages under “Religion”.
    And worse case scenario, G, you could always go for the baptism, & then the next day, go to your backyard or favorite outdoor park & make up your own little pagan baptism, celebrating life, & that all life is good, to wash the blood of the lamb off. 🙂

  • Colleen

    September 27, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Catholics generally believe that you NEED to baptize a baby to erase Original Sin and be allowed in Heaven. Some Protestants just see it as a promise to God to raise the child along the Straight and Narrow (so essentially a baby dedication with water, usually to diffuse the Catholics lurking about screeching “water!…where’s the holy water!”). And some Protestants don’t believe (as Amy mentioned) in infant/childhood baptism at all–that only older children (generally around 12 and up) and adults can decide how they will behave and if they want to dedicate themselves to a life in Christ.
    Also…you may change your mind once the baby is born (or you may not, and that’s your decision…not your family’s)…which is what happened to us. I never even gave baptism a second thought when I was pregnant until my son was born…then I wanted to be a better person and wanted to be sure I was doing what I thought was right for him…so me (Baptist-turned-Methodist) and my Recovering Catholic husband had our son baptised in a Methodist church that we found and liked. Prior to his birth, we had only gone to about 5 church services in the 7 years we had been together (including our wedding!). So you never know…
    Good luck in your quest for a baby and parenthood…it’s certainly an adventure!

  • qwyneth

    September 28, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Good luck in your struggles with your parents! As a “recovering” Catholic I’ve been through my share of battles with my family. My father definitely told me I was going to Hell when I began attending an Episcopalian church as a teenager. While I know I’ll struggle with this all again when we have kids, it has gotten better over the years. (There is hope for you!)
    I want to reiterate what Mary said above: your family may take it out of your hands and baptize your children without your knowledge. The church officially left Limbo behind, but obviously a lot of people still struggle with it. Accordingly, baptism is a sacrament that can be performed by anyone, of any faith, with just regular tap water. Nurses will even sometimes perform emergency baptisms if they know the family is Catholic. My husband and his siblings were all baptized as children by his grandmother when she was babysitting them one day. (Oddly, this was useful when explaining to my very Catholic grandfather why we weren’t marrying in the Church–I explained that we didn’t have a baptismal certificate for him, which was required. It was much less combative.)
    Anyway, since there’s not really anything you can do to prevent such a stealth baptism, hopefully you can draw solace from the fact that since no one but them know, it won’t make any difference. 🙂

  • Harper

    October 6, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    I appreciate reading all of these different perspectives on this issue! I went through a similar thing with my family and ended up baptizing my son when he was 18 months old. I’m still not sure whether it was the right decision or not, my feelings on this issue tend to be kind of complicated. But it’s so reassuring to know I’m not the only one conflicted on the issue.
    The reason I’m posting is to clear up an issue for the Catholics on the board – I’m pretty sure that recently the Church has abandoned the idea of “limbo” for unbaptized infants who die. They no longer believe that they will spend eternity in Purgatory because us parents were too horrible to baptize them. (How “they” know this or where any of us will end up is beyond me.) This was a relief to me so I had a good answer for my horrified aunt who couldn’t believe I would take my 3 month old on a plane to meet his family on Christmas before having him baptized. The first thing I thought to say – that driving him in a car home from the hospital was more dangerous – didn’t make her feel any better.