Ask Erin: Will My Parents Choose Religion Over Me?

 I'm afraid my parents will choose religion over me. (Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.


Q.

Dear Erin,

I grew up in an extremely religious family with what I now see are rather fringe beliefs. Growing up was very dysfunctional, and all of that was tied back to religion. Punishments for very small things — yelling and screaming — all tied back to religion. Everything was a sin; everything was extremely controlled. It controlled what we did, where we went, and even what college I had to attend.

I have moved further and further away from these beliefs since adulthood. And, I have been happier and freer than I ever was before. I feel like a weight has been lifted.

However, I am now getting married, and my family acts like it's a given that we have to be married in the church, go through prep classes, and have the wedding in a very traditional ceremony. 

I wasn't 100% opposed to compromising, but I found out that I couldn't have the venues I want, the music I want, the vows I want, or anything else, and the cost of having the wedding in the church is over a thousand dollars more than any other venue I have even considered. In some cases, well over a thousand. There are a ton of people I would have to pay, including being forced to use a church choir and pay for it, and I cannot have the flowers or decor I want. Even if I had the reception I want, the locations are all too far away from the reception venues.


I feel like I gave up so much of my life to these beliefs, and they aren't what bring me spiritual fulfillment. I also feel like the regulations are just there to force out a major payment for the wedding, as they absolutely refuse to have it outside or in another location.

I know I should just tell my parents that it's my wedding, that my fiancé and I are paying for almost entirely, and that we don't want this. He isn't even in the same religion.

However, I am terrified that my parents will choose their beliefs over me, and that would break my heart. 

I am terrified they would give me some sanctimonious reason not to attend and make me the bad guy for not paying a priest $1500 before even accounting for any other wedding costs. That's more than they are even willing to help me pay. My fiancé is in school, and I have had a lot of medical bills. I can't afford it. It isn't best for my well being. And it isn't what we want.

But, I am so scared my family will abandon me if I choose otherwise. I just want something in my life to be happy and normal and not dictated by some tyrannical religious presence. My mother sends me regular articles about how politicians I like are the antichrist and about spirits and the end of the world. I feel like she would choose this over me. And it would break me.

What can I do?


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A.

My heart goes out to you. I can see how much you are struggling with what to do here. 

When possible, I encourage people to accept their parents for who they are, with all their limitations. And, to do what they can to maintain some relationship with them while upholding their own boundaries. But, in your case, I need to say something that may be hard to hear. 

Your parents have been abusive behind the guise of their religious beliefs. 

You mentioned your childhood was dysfunctional. But, honestly, it sounds emotionally abusive. I will never understand or condone a parent punishing a child for their “sins” and using the fear of god to do so. 

I don’t mean to trample on any religion, but any religion that encourages that is fucked up. I don’t believe in a god who is down for punishing people. I don’t believe in parenting that operates from a place of fear and intimidation. 

And I don’t believe in maintaining toxic relationships with people just because you are related to them. 

I know that stepping back from them sounds impossible and devastating. But, do you want to live the rest of your life like this? More importantly, if you choose to have children, do you want that poison getting into their psyches through their grandparents? 

Now, it may not be impossible to have some sort of relationship with your parents, but it’s likely not going to be as close as you’d like it to be. 

For the sake of your sanity and the sake of your marriage, please do not go along with their demands for your wedding. 

As you said, you can’t afford it,  it isn’t what’s best for your well being, and it isn’t what the two of you want. I can only imagine how relieved your fiancé will be.

Come up with a plan, with your husband, to set out exactly what you two want for your wedding. Let him be there to support you and tell your parents. 

Now, it is quite probable that they will react poorly. You have no control over their reaction. You never have. And your fear of their reaction is a big part of how they controlled you. 

What you do have control over is the boundary you set and stick to. 

I highly recommend that you seek the help of a therapist. A good therapist will be able to walk you through the complicated feelings you have around setting this boundary. 

Lastly, I wish I could hug you. I wish I could go back in time and tell little you that you’re not going to hell for making a mistake, that you don’t deserve punishment and the wrath of god for being a human being. 

Please lean on your fiancé and his family and your friends. You don’t have to keep people in your life, even your parents, out of familial duty. 


The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendship, depression, sex, consent, Pyrite, what I’m reading, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at askerin@ravishly.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo
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