Beliefs Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

10 ways former Mormons can reconnect with devout family members

Mette Ivie Harrison
Mette Ivie Harrison

(courtesy of Mette Harrison)

Mette Ivie Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

This post was inspired by those who responded to my post in November about how devout Mormon families can work to make family gatherings less painful for those who have left Mormonism. I’m looking at things from the other side this time, on how those who have left Mormonism themselves can manage family relationships.

Before I go into suggestions, I need to say that you should take the time and space you need to process your faith transition and feel comfortable about it. It’s best when you’re trying to reconnect if you can put aside anger or accusations of betrayal to family members and offer love and kindness. If you can’t do that, you may want to wait until you can. I recommend therapy and medication for mental health issues, if they work for you.

I like lists, so I’ve made ten suggestions of what you can do to help make things a little smoother:

  1. Meet beforehand individually with certain family members. If they are allies, you can ask them how to help you specifically, as in steering large-group conversations away from certain topics. If they are the people you are having difficulty with, try to make a clear list of what you need and present it in the kindest way possible. People listen better when it’s in their own best interest to listen to you. Aim to have a family meeting that is peaceful and loving.
  2. Send out communication to the family as a whole. Again, it’s important to do this in the spirit of love and kindness. Without pointing fingers, you might reference past family relationship problems and ask for cooperation to avoid certain topics. Suggest subjects that you think people can unite on or at least talk about without blood spilling. Sports? Catching up on the younger generation? Childhood memories (if those aren’t painful)? Games?
  3. Show respect when and where you expect it. This means doing your best to allow others to show love in the way they know how. This also can mean allowing them to talk about church-related things in general ways, so long as they don’t press them on you. For our immediate family, one concrete example of this has been my non-Mormon kids participating still in FHE. They listen quietly when other family members plan gospel-oriented lessons. They sing songs with gusto and plan their own lessons about music or history, or set up trivia games. And who can’t enjoy a family game and treat?
  4. Accept that things may never be the way they once were. This can be sad, but also liberating. Recreating the family from ground zero means that many things can also be better than they used to be, even if you are saying farewell to things that won’t come back.
  5. Plan breaks in between family events. If at all possible, this means not sharing a living space with others. You should always have a space to retreat to. Family mending is hard work and you’ll need to take a breather in between encounters with your family, just like you would between long workouts.
  6. Accept that other people are flawed. Most of the time they aren’t deliberately hurting you, but are simply limited in their capacity to see another point of view because they have so much crap of their own to deal with.
  7. Try to avoid “never” and “always” thinking. (This is one of my own biggest stumbling blocks.) Instead, try to think in terms of “for now” and “until I feel better.”
  8. Offer to help plan family events. Being part of the behind-the-scenes organizing can enable you to have more structured activities, if that’s what you feel like you need to make sure things don’t blow up. You can also end up choosing a neutral space for the event (not a church building, for instance) and you can be in charge of handing out other responsibilities to those you think will carry them out well. Those who are willing to do the work get to make the choices. If you don’t want to step up, shut up.
  9. Accept that other people may make unfair assumptions about you and your motivations for a faith change. Kill them with love in response. You know what a lot of the fears about ex-Mormons are. Out-casserole them. Out-card them. Out-give to them. When family members see that you’re not the stereotype of an angry ex-Mormon, they may breathe a sigh of relief and stop being on their guard.
  10. Talk about the elephant in the room with regards to your problems with the Church, from historical polygamy to truth claims, LGBT issues, or even specific ecclesiastical abuse. This isn’t always the right thing to do and I will have to leave it up to you to decide when or if you should do this. But explaining your reasons for leaving Mormonism in a concrete way, without any recriminations, can be a great opening for conversation. If you’re open to questions, even stupid ones, this can be a moment to move on and clear the air.

Love is my main message here. Showing love should be what religion teaches us to do best, but I suppose it is hard to show love to others in the way that they need to be loved, especially if their way is very different from ours. I’m not a big fan of the 5 Love Languages book, but at least it gets people talking about differences in receiving love.

Just because someone keeps saying “But I love you so much” isn’t enough. They need to be reminded that their feelings of love, if not translated into something others can experience, are rather self-serving. But on the other hand, if they can figure out how to show love in ways that can be received, the other problems may feel less pressing.

 


OTHER POSTS BY METTE HARRISON:


 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

8 Comments

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  • It’s hard. After being excommunicated my family was outraged, but then quickly wouldn’t talk to me. It’s gotten a little better. We’ve tried building the bridge, we went to my sister’s daughters’ (twins) baby blessing and her son’s baptism and they were shocked we came. In the same spirit we invited them to our daughter’s ordination as a deacon but they didn’t come. I do feel that part of the reason may have been that we do the temple ceremony publicly and she received her first endorsement. But it still hurts that we support her branch of Mormonism while she doesn’t reciprocate. Thankfully they still visit on the holidays. Only time will tell what’s next.

  • Cool. Thanks for the well-thought-out discussion and advice. I made some classic mistakes when attending an extended family reunion last summer. Cousins who felt a sense of loss because of my several years of total inactivity were a bit pushy in trying to animate me toward reactivation. I was not very PC about letting them know that I was not appreciative. While I have not taken my name off the rolls, and still consider myself more Mormon than any other kind of Christian, I don’t see myself ever being active in the LDS Church again. I suppose the bottom line for me is that I am a very private person and the first words that come to mind when thinking about activity in the Church and when thinking about active members are “too intrusive.” That sense of busybody intrusion is far more repulsive to me than the “magic” rock in a hat origin of Joseph Smith’s “translation” of the “Golden Plates.” Being a fan of Science Fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein, I am open to the idea of Joseph Smith being both a fraud and the real deal as a prophet of God, but I don’t want pushy busybodies getting in my face and then misjudging me in the process of their own intrusiveness.

    Twenty-plus years ago, my wife had a miscarriage after the 14th week of pregnancy. She had trouble staying pregnant and never wanted to share the fact until after the first trimester. A local Mormon busybody told everyone, when I would not spill my guts about our loss and anguish on the doorstep, that we were fine because since we had only just announced the pregnancy, it was no big deal, just a late period gone bad. Our bishop, relief society president and home teachers all bought into the false gossip and no one said anything to either of us on the “advice” of the ward busybody, just because her father-in-law was a General Authority. Back then, I remained active but gave everyone a strong piece of my mind. Nowadays, it’s just another memory to remind me why it’s useless to trade unwanted intrusion for the sense of inclusion that Mormons so famously claim to offer but implement as intrusion instead.

  • It’s the Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship. We do home worship because of our small size and global membership. It’s not an officially organized church at the moment.

    cjccf.org
    priesthood.cjccf.org
    reliefsociety.cjccf.org

  • Cool. I like the premise of it and the explanations that I could read, but the “Book of Rembrance” links did not go anywhere to finish those explanations. Still, cool. It feels like it would be a better fit for someone like me than the more traditional Alt-LDS experience of the Community of Christ (RLDS).

  • I’m not Mormon or formerly Mormon nor is my family but this is a great article for our family too. Thank you. We’re Catholic, Jewish, Agnostic, Protestant and non-practicing Buddhist, so thank you, Bridges are always worth building.

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