Ask the Experts: What to do when the MIL shares her faith

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on Jan 3, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: We are not a religious family. However, my mother-in-law is quite religious. I found out recently that when my kids are at my in-laws, my MIL reads them religious books, watched religious television and recently encouraged them to talk to my husband and me about going to church. I am really uncomfortable with this and my husband thinks it is all harmless. How can I address my concerns without hurting feelings?

Answer: Good question! This is a tough area, one in which everyone can have strong feelings. The best place to start is for you and your husband to decide together what you believe. Explore how you want your children to be exposed to your beliefs and those of others. Any discussion of this is best done together as it could cause a relationship discord between you and your mother-in-law if done alone. You may be able to help her understand what your wishes are if you gain an appreciation for the genuine feelings behind the sharing of her faith. When something is very important to us, the impulse is to want to share with those we love the most. Your discussion with her may start out something like this:

We know that you have a strong faith and really love sharing it with the children. We can appreciate your efforts to teach them, and how much you love them. Since we have different beliefs, we would like to talk together first about what sort of things about your faith you want to share, and how it compliments or contrast with ours.

There are a couple of things for which to be mindful. Spiritual beliefs, no matter what they are, can be of key importance in helping your children find meaning in life. Faith traditions and values, yours and hers, can be important guiding tools to help them understanding right and wrong. Over time your children will need to learn about all kinds of religious and political views, including those that differ from yours. Our culture has roots in many faith traditions and some knowledge of those will help children in their understanding of our art and literature, as well as informing their own worldviews. Many people spent their childhoods regimented in certain religious faiths, and yet go on to make their own choices once they become adults.

Another thing to remember is that the relationship that you and your children have with your in-laws is a very important one. When it is not good, it can interfere with your marriage and your happiness. Choose wisely anytime you address concerns, and do so with love.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website and click on “Referrals.”

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