what rights should a grandparent have in influencing their grandchildren in fundamental beliefs such as religion when they are contradictory to the parentsí own beliefs?
It was a long time coming.
I guess it wasnít really baked in the cake until my wife and I decided to actually have our first child. From that point, there was no doubt that this conflict would come up eventually. Iím not sure when it really sunk in that I would have to deal with this, but it has been a source of concern for years now.
I was raised in a non-denominational protestant Christian household. Church every Sunday, but not over the top bible thumper like some of the people Iíve met in my life. They are, however, true believers. And I was, too. Until I wasnít.
I donít have some watershed moment where I rejected my given faith, but it eroded somewhere around 13 to 15 years of age. Influence of friends asking the questions in open hearted talks that donít get raised in church. Wish I could say that I always knew that the faith was ridiculous, but I canít. It made sense to me. It provided assurance. It felt right. And so, it was a painful thing to shed. Actually impossible to shed fully. Iíve had to redefine things and twist concepts that are foundational in my mind to make them acceptable, or to sooth the fears and uncertainties of this life, absent the warm blanket of faith in an overseer.
I know that my rejection of my parentsí faith causes them great anguish. Whenever that scab is picked at, it causes a good deal of heartbreak. Guilt on my part for not accepting what they have given me, and reactive anger that I feel any guilt over it. Guilt on their part that they somehow failed both me and their god. Despair on their part that they feel they may lose me for eternity because of my recalcitrance. Frustration on my part that they believe in such a god that would eternally punish them and me for my insistence on being rational about this.
And now Iím raising my own child. Iím not passing on this belief that I know has been passed on for centuries. Itís only natural that a parent desires for their children to believe what they believe, since it is their best estimate of the truth, as they have discovered it in the course of their life. I certainly donít want my children to have beliefs that are comforting fictions that will have to be painfully abandoned as they were for me. (assuming that they adopt an outlook that is hopefully at least as rational as my own)
So, even knowing that it was inevitable, it was a bucket of cold water the first time my oldest boy was riding in the car with us and mentions Jesus.
So far, I had been handling it gingerly, steering the conversation with questions. Knowing that they werenít being saturated with religion, I felt it better to simply give food for thought that might provide some prophylactic doubt for my boy (who really amazes me. If I believed in reincarnation, I would swear heís been here many more times than me..)
That seemed to working ok, but my younger son has since said things to indicate that thereís more influence than I am comfortable with. And his acceptance is such that I need more than just offering questions to think about. I reaaaally didnít want to confront my parents about this.
I hate confrontation with people I love.
It came to a head recently when on multiple occasions, my younger son (who is headstrong and headlong) has put himself in a dangerous situation. The last time being running towards a stray dog in the neighborhood that looked very much like it might be rabid. Upon telling him that he *must listen to us when we tell him to stop* because he could die, he responds that we need not worry because it doesnít matter if he dies. Heíll live forever, and canít really die.
Goddammit. Now Iíve got to confront them.
I explain to my boy that that isnít what Grammy meant, and even so, we donít believe what they believe. He looks at me with a look of patronizing pity just like she would have. And says words just like she would say. I swear to god, I heard her voice come out of him. ďWellÖ you just donít know, Daddy.Ē
And so I steeled myself for the confrontation. Thought about it a good deal. And the shit part is, that I totally understand their position. And given where they are coming from (which I am not going to be able to change one whit) they are doing absolutely everything they do from a position of love and benevolence, misguided as it may seem to me. So asking them to not try influencing my kids to believe what they believe, is me asking them to allow their failure to perpetuate. Itís asking them to not only say goodbye to their son for eternity (*rage/pity*), but to allow their grand kids to be lost as well. I canít expect them to simply agree without great consternation. Theyíre true believers.
Furthermore, I canít really hold them in too much contempt because I know I would be even more undermining than them, if put in their position! If, despite my best efforts, one or both of my boys grew up to be bible thumpers, then when they had kids, I would be the absolute devil in trying to steer my grand kids away from that crap. Without a lick of guilt or hesitation. and i don't even believe in eternal consequences! That seems very significant to me.
So, I had to confront my folks in a very personal and painful conversation, telling them that I rejected them in a sense, and that I want them to back off of the boys. If they donít, then I wonít feel comfortable leaving them alone with them. Which to them, of course, seems like blackmail.
It was, as expected, heart wrenching.
There were tears. There was anger. There were the most painful flavors of love.
It ended with the kind of hug where you arenít saying some final goodbye to each other, but goodbye to a past where this inevitable wound hadnít been cut yet. A wound that we all know wonít heal, but hopefully scar over without infecting everything.
I feel like everyone did the only thing that they could be expected to do, and nobody acted with mal intent.
The question that I am left with, is what rights should a grandparent have in influencing their grandchildren in fundamental beliefs like this when they are contradictory to the parentsí own beliefs?