I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter whose mother has been taking her to an evangelical Christian church her whole life. I’m not a Christian and think that organized religion is harmful to her development into a rational adult. Her mother and I split up right before she was born, but I’ve been a very active parent and have her every other weekend. As my daughter has gotten older, she has become fearful that because I’m not a Christian, I’m going to hell. When I try to explain my beliefs (that I don’t believe in God or a higher power), she cries. I’m not trying to deny her mother the right to take her to church, but I don’t want to cut my two weekends a month short to take her back to her mother’s to attend church. When I even try to broach the subject of religion (mentioning my belief in evolution or that homosexuals are not sinners), it upsets her greatly. This isn’t what I want, but I do want to be able to communicate to her what I believe. Her mom thinks I’m denying her freedom by not taking her to church when I have her, but I’m just trying to help her to see that other people believe other things, and that having an open mind is a good thing. What should I do? And how can I talk to my daughter about this without making her cry?
This is a tough one. And it’s also the reason my mother pulled me out of parochial school. Even though the public school I ended up at was much worse for me academically, I stopped having the nightmares about my relatives being burned alive for all eternity. At 13, the girl is old enough to start respecting other people’s beliefs. But if she doesn’t feel she can miss church on the weeks she’s with Dad, she’s also old enough to go by herself, or go with friends. Is he also “denying her freedom” by serving broccolli when she wants pizza?
And seriously – Dad needs to get used to the idea that sometimes kids cry. Especially thirteen-year-old girls. If your thirteen-year-old girl never cries, there’s either something wrong with her, or you’re doing something terribly wrong. Maybe this is a side effect of only having her for two days out of every fourteen; he’s just not used to the tears like he would be if he saw them every day. But they’re not only normal; they’re unavoidable.
I am a 44-year-old adoptee who found her birth mother a little over a year ago. We e-mail, talk on the phone, and have visited each other’s homes a couple of times. While my reunion with her was a welcome one, I still have an issue I need resolved. She was very happy to introduce me to her siblings (who were happily surprised) and best friend, but has yet to tell her children that I exist. Recently, my half sister—her daughter—was diagnosed with a brain tumor and has undergone surgery. My mother flew out to be with my half sister to help care for her and her children during the recovery. I was told that I would receive a phone call when she, my birth mother, returned home, but I haven’t heard anything. I am extremely irritated about this whole situation. She also said she hadn’t told my other siblings about me because they were dealing with problems of their own. While I understand my birth mother may have ambivalent feelings about telling her children about me, I really want to meet them. With the situation involving my half sister, I feel it’s even more important that I meet them. Should I push the issue with my birth mother? I don’t want to alienate or embarrass her, but at the same time, I feel after 44 years, what’s the problem? I really want to meet them! What should I do?
Prudence advises not saying anything, but she seems to be completely missing the point that the writer is afraid that her half-sister will die without ever getting to meet her. As long as she can keep the conversation calm while still being honest, I see no reason why she shouldn’t say something like, “I’d really love to meet your other children. Do you think they’d be interested in meeting me?” Then at least everybody would know where everybody else stood. It’s called opening a dialog. I can understand the mother being uncomfortable, but she seems to be missing the point that it isn’t just about her own feelings.
The main reason I decided to start this blog is that I have a guilty pleasure. I love reading advice columns, especially The Slate’s Dear Prudence. Although I think she’s the best of the bunch, like many readers, much of the time I think I can do better. So, what I plan to do is give my own answers to Prudie’s letters here whenever there’s a new column.