You Say To-May-To and I Say To-Mah-To

I am sure that I am not alone in this, but I am a bit lost in it : addressing religious and political differences amongst family members. Specifically, I want to find a way to ensure that members of my family respect one another’s religious and political views regardless of whether they agree with them or not. This sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Kinda like a don’t-ask-don’t-tell situation, right? Notsomuch.

Some members of my family are devoutly religious and evangelical about their faith. These same family members are of a different political persuasion than I am as well. I can appreciate this in them; I admire their faith and enthusiasm and their strong convictions about their beliefs. What I am worried about and will not tolerate is my family members pushing their beliefs on my children and/or not respecting how we choose to raise our children. Honestly, I have yet to openly encounter this situation (there have been inferences and conversations that my children do not yet understand), but it’s one I am worried about in advance.

As parents, my husband’s and my goal is to try to make sure that our children are exposed to a wide variety of religions and political views and to encourage them to make their own choices and to have their choices respected as their own (within reason; we would not hesitate to guide our children in a different direction if we found that their viewpoints were unkind toward or intolerant of people who are different from them). My fear is that some of my family members might use their position of authority to “push” their beliefs and views on my kids. I very clearly remember these same family members trying to “scare me straight” with threats of eternal punishment if/when I didn’t follow religious guidelines and of them making harsh judgements of my character for not rejecting people of other faiths or with different lifestyles than the one I was raised with. In my late teens and early 20s, I turned completely away from the family members that were behind these judgements and threats, and I turned away from the religion that they are part of. As I have gotten older, I have mellowed a bit and gotten a little outside of my self-centeredness…enough to realize that I was making the same judgements by rejecting these family members and their beliefs. In the past 10 years, I have reached a level of peace and acceptance with these family members (and have rebuilt injured relationships), and I have matured enough to gently ask them to change the subject when we come upon something we don’t see the same way…most of the time. I am still not sure how to have certain discussions with these family members, and most importantly, I am not sure how to go about ensuring that they respect our parenting and our children’s feelings about religion and politics (to whatever extent is possible at their ages and stages).
AdvertisementI know that the discussion will become an emotional one in which at least one of these family members will become very concerned for my children’s souls if they happen to not be the same religion that he is. This is okay, but scaring them into believing in eternal punishment for not believing the same way is NOT okay. I also worry a lot about these family members chastising the kids for friendships in which their friends are of a religion, culture, or lifestyle that my family members choose to condemn. Again, this goes back to our wanting our kids to be exposed to as many different kinds of people as possible and being allowed to make their own way without threat of rejection or punishment if their way doesn’t align with family members’ ways.

I’m probably overthinking all of this since my kids are currently preschool and toddler age, but I am a little hung up on how scared I was to think differently from these family members when I was a child/teen/young adult. I don’t want my children to feel scared to think differently than these family members. Considering that the kids are pretty sure one of these family members hung the moon, I am 100% certain that any kind of rejection or judgement from this family member would cause my kids to second-guess themselves.

How about you? Have you encountered a situation like this? How did you handle it? Do you have wise words or a good conversation opener for me and anyone else that finds themselves in this situation? If so, please share!

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