It’s Saturday night, 9:30. My husband is out of town on business. My mother-in-law texts: “Do you want me to pick up the kids in the morning and take them to church? I thought you could use a break.”
As I read the text, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I’ve seen lots of exmos on the Internet talk about the need to set boundaries with their TBM family members. I’ve read horror stories about TBM grandparents secretly having their grandkids baptized behind the parents’ backs or interrogate the kids to find out if their exmo parents drink alcohol or coffee or tea. My story is not so dramatic (thank goodness!) but really got me thinking about the need to set some boundaries with our families.
A few months back we sat down with my husband’s parents and told them that we no longer believe the truth claims of the church. They obviously knew something was up, but we finally told them what it was. The awkward Sunday morning texts of “should we save you a seat?” have slowly tapered off since that conversation, but that just led to these new offers to take the kids for us. Usually we have an excuse because we have planned something fun to do instead of church, but this time, I had no excuse. I could make one up, but I didn’t want to lie. The more I thought about how I wanted to respond, the more frustrated I got. My response ended up being a simple “no, thanks.”
What I really wanted to say was “yes, I could use a break. I could almost always use a break. Can I take you up on your offer to help out sometime besides Sunday morning? The kids are actually the main reason I don’t want to go to church. I really don’t want them there. I might not mind going to church myself every now and then if it wasn’t for the kids. I miss my friends from church. I miss the feeling of community. I think maybe I could even find uplifting messages in the talks and lessons. But I know how to separate the crazy stuff from the edifying stuff. My kids aren’t capable of making that distinction yet. I don’t want them sitting through primary being taught that they are better than everyone else just because they were born into a Mormon family. I don’t want them taught that modesty is all about the length of a sleeve or a skirt or that their value lies in their ability to repress all things sexual. I don’t want them to be taught obedience over critical thinking. I don’t want them to be taught that their parents or their parents’ friends are bad people for drinking coffee, tea, or alcohol. I don’t want them to be taught about a God who would never let a prophet lead the church astray and then never mention polygamy, polyandry, the priesthood ban, or sketchy banking schemes. So, no, I don’t want you to pick up my kids and take them to church. I know you mean well and you think you are being that praiseworthy grandmother who takes it upon herself to make sure that even though her child has strayed, she can at least make sure her grandchildren are raised in the church (you know the one…there’s at least one of these grandmothers in every ward). Or maybe you just think its an easy time for you to watch the kids for me since most of that time they are in primary and you don’t even have to watch them yourself. Whatever your motivations, please don’t ask anymore. If I want the kids at church, I will bring them myself. But don’t hold your breath.”
In defense of my mother-in-law, and for full disclosure, she does offer to help me out with the kids at other times too. For the most part, we really enjoy living so close to them, but its definitely time to set some boundaries.