What should I do about my mom?

My mom recently found out I don’t believe in god. She was searching through my room and she found a satanic bible (I’m not a satanist, promise.) I like to study religions because I like to know the world I am in. She found a paper that I printed out months ago about Judaism and she told me “So now you’re a Jew?!”

But once she found it she has been yelling at me everyday and she told me it was my fault she lost her job because I brought demons into the house.

Now she took all of my stuff away that she just doesn’t like. She took my door, my phone, my posters, my CDs, and most of my clothes. She made me get naked to look for tattoos. She also made me write an essay on god and the whole bible, and it wasn’t a short essay. She has all-of-a-sudden bought christian stuff and put it all around the house. I’m not even allowed to see any of my friends, It has been longer than a week and I doesn’t seem to get any better. What should I do?

I’ve tried talking to her but right now, she has it stuck in her mind “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

She said next to go is mine and my brother’s bathroom door.

I’m 17-years-old by the way.

Thanks much.

Posted: November 14th 2009

flagellant www

Firstly, you have my sympathy for your position but, because that will not solve the problem with your Mother, you are in need of some careful advice.

You might be tempted to think that, because your Mother is under extreme pressure, principally because she has lost her job, this explains everything. However, that doesn’t excuse the behaviour you have described: we all have to deal with life’s problems in the most appropriate way, even when we are stressed. And, because adults have rather more experience than their children, one is entitled to expect a mother to set an example to her kids.

You may now be able to show your Mother how you are a mature adult. By being restrained and sensible, you will allow her to see your forbearance and, if these recent incidents are not typical of her, you may be able to calm her down just by being reasonable and cooperative.

I wonder what triggers your Mother’s animosity. You have simply been researching religious belief; you are not intending to join any particular faith. Therefore she has no right to infer anything from your research. She is certainly wrong to associate what you are doing with the loss of her job. If there is anyone to blame for the loss of her job, it’s herself or her employer; it’s certainly not you.

You do not say what your Mother’s religious beliefs are. Does she perhaps belong to some cult or simply hanker after the certainty that irrational belief gives to some people? Does she find that your research increases her uncertainty? Atheists find that the simple mention of well-known facts, such as evolution, can evoke aggressive responses from the religiosi.

Amid all this, it is important to maintain your integrity. When in a complex and emotion-charged situation, it can be difficult to keep a sense of perspective. Do not doubt that you are right and reasonable, and that it is your Mother who has got it wrong. Do not react aggressively; do not make any agreement with her that you could later regret; reserve your position whenever you can. You could try an approach such as saying to your Mother that you can see how upset she is and that it might be better for you both to cool off a bit – even though you’re being calm and dignified, and she’s the one blowing her top – before talking about the matter again. It’s possible that she will secretly thank you for saving her face by giving her space to become less angry and extreme. Remember that there’s little she can do to change you, short of brainwashing. And, if you have concluded that there is no god and that you are an atheist, then that is what you are, no matter what your Mother may say. I would suggest, though, that even though it is natural for teenagers to question almost everything, you do not draw your Mother’s attention to your beliefs; keep them private if possible, and stick to the 'research’ explanation. Do not forget, either, that your First Amendment entitles you to freedom from religion, as well as freedom of it.

If, after all your careful handling, your Mother continues to behave bizarrely, you will need to adopt other measures: her behaviour suggests mental illness; she is certainly abusing you. If she continues, you will have to consider invoking an external agency; others have made some excellent suggestions. However, since most 'clergymen’ in the US – with the occasional exception of people like John Shelby Spong – are so narrow-minded that they could neither mediate nor advise objectively, I therefore suggest that you avoid them: most are unlikely to take your complaints seriously.

That you have chosen to ask for our advice says a great deal for your resourcefulness. This makes me think that you will handle the situation well and make the right moves. Good luck!

And, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s an example of a mother being upset at the revelation that her son’s an atheist. You are not alone.

Posted: November 18th 2009

See all questions answered by flagellant


Even if this all finishes up not very pleasantly, your personal integrity is your priority. You are not responsible for your mother’s behavior. You come first.

Professional help needs to be obtained for your mother (perhaps a relative/friend/trusted teacher can assist you in obtaining such professional intervention) as her behavior is indicative of her cracking under stress (she may just not have the psychological skills to handle the stress of unemployment and an atheist child), then listen to the professional guidelines she/he will give you concerning how to relate to your mother during this crisis.

And it is a crisis. It is destructive behavior on her part to blame your so-called dancing with the demons as a reason for the loss of her job. That is just plain, out-right psychologically abusive for a child to hear that. Make sure you tell the professional that.

If professional help is not available or your mother refuses it, there is nothing you can do except to focus on your own well being. As an atheist, you do not believe in miracles and your mother snapping out of this without professional intervention would be a miracle.

If the stress lessens, that is, she finds a job or gets some kind of financial assistance, it is possible she will function better but it won’t mean that she has learned how to handle stress better. Any increase in stress could set her off again.

You can’t make your mother learn how to handle stress better, but you can learn how to handle stress better because you do have control over your inner state.

When she insists on her putting limits on your privacy, look at her facial expressions/physical mannerisms and listen to the tone of her voice, realizing that she is in a crisis state. Observational skills are good to develop – they come handy when you will eventually go out to the big, old world.

My own mother did similar restrictions to all five of her children, and all of us psychologically suffered – though in different ways because we are of course all individuals and maladapted to stress in our own ways – because of them. I do not want you to make light of the fact that no one has the right to do what your mother is doing (including your mother despite her obvious stress state) to you. Your brother also needs support to enable him to learn how to handle this stressful time. See if you two can do some enjoyable activities together outside the home, where you can talk in private and can discuss the difficult state your mom is in and what you two can do to support each other emotionally. Give each other a hug, too.

You may have to put up with this off-the-wall behavior until you can leave your family home. Until then, focus on the fact that she is not functioning within normal parameters. You can love her to tears but if she does not cooperate with medical professionals, your love can’t and will not pull off a miracle. Of course, your love for her can remain intact throughout this very difficult time, just realize that you are two separate people – her pain is not yours, her angst is not yours, her distress is not yours, etc. Know where she ends and where you start.

I would emphasis that during this time what is important is doing well in school (without an good education, you will not be able to get a good job which is essential for your eventual economic independence.) If your grades are suffering, tell the counselor at your school that you are having pronounced problems at home. Perhaps free or low cost tutoring is sponsored by the school and attending such tutoring will allow you to spend less time at home.

To counter the restrictions placed on you by your mom, spend more time in the public library and use their multi-media services. At the public library, you can continue your research into other religions (which is so admirable of you that it brought a smile to my face). If she continues assigning religious homework, focus on your writing/spelling/grammar skills, paying no attention to the dubious content.

All in all, I have confidence that you will weather this storm and come out better for it, because you have have already asked for help after a week of extreme restrictions, thereby clearly showing the ability to identify the problem and seek out solutions. Kudos.

Posted: November 15th 2009

See all questions answered by logicel

Paula Kirby www

I’m so sorry you’re going through such a difficult time with your mother.

She has reacted extremely irrationally and aggressively, so I think the first thing is to be very clear in your own mind that you have the right to investigate whatever knowledge you want to, to read whatever you want to, to think whatever you want to, and that her response is totally unreasonable. Disagreeing with you, worrying about you, trying to persuade you – these would all have been reasonable reactions from a deeply religious person, but her response has gone well beyond that. So it is important that you remain clear about this and don’t allow her to bully you into thinking you’re a bad person or anything silly like that.

Beyond that, it gets more difficult, because so much depends on your circumstances and background.

It doesn’t sound as if there’s much point trying to reason with her. Not just now, anyway, as she sounds to have completely freaked out about it. You will know whether this is extreme, out-of-character behaviour on her part, in which case it is likely to pass and you may at that time be able to talk to her sensibly; or whether she has always been prone to such excesses, in which case there’s almost certainly no point even trying.

Personally I think I would try to ignore her strange behaviour as much as possible, and just try to carry on as naturally as you can. In other words, don’t allow yourself to be infected by her insanity or caught up in it: the more normally and naturally you behave, the less attention you pay to her rages, the more likely she is to realise that they’re not working and stop. So talk to her as normal about other things, be nice when she’s behaving sensibly, but simply try to ignore her when she’s in one of her panicky rages. Leave the room, go out for a walk if necessary. Don’t react, don’t get sucked in. Try to stay calm. Not easy, I know! But when someone is in a rage, ANYTHING you say is likely to make things worse, so just not reacting or just going out can be the quickest way to make the other person see how unreasonable they’re being. Don’t comment when she puts religious symbols around the house: quietly take them down if she puts them in your room – it’s YOUR room, after all – but don’t reward the behaviour by commenting on it.

I realise that the UK and the US are very different, but it’s hard to imagine a 17-year old boy in the UK simply submitting to writing punishment essays, or to a strip-search by his mother, or to having the door of his bathroom removed. You are a young adult now, and entitled to some privacy and dignity. What would happen if you simply refused to do the things she is demanding of you? If she removed the bathroom door, it wouldn’t be so very difficult to replace it and it would quietly make the point that you’re not prepared to accept her behaviour. I’m talking about quiet resistance: do try not to get sucked into shouting matches and blazing rows: they will only make matters worse. The calmer, saner, and more rational you can stay through all this, the better it will be.

These are just some suggestions, but you will appreciate that it is impossible to advise, really, without knowing much more about you, your mother, your circumstances, whether this behaviour is unprecedented or something that has always been there beneath the surface. So you will have to assess any suggestions you receive here and decide for yourself which, if any of them, might work in your circumstances.

Your mother’s behaviour sounds so extreme that I will say this too: you need to do everything you can to protect your own safety, and hers. I find it hard to imagine that there isn’t some kind of law preventing the kind of invasion of privacy and sheer humiliation that she has been inflicting on you. So if the situation continues at this pitch (and it may not: a week isn’t all that long really: you may find that things are looking different in another week or two), I think you should consider getting advice from your local equivalent of what we call Social Services in the UK; or even from the police. Or do you have a welfare officer at school, or anything like that? You really shouldn’t have to deal with this on your own, and I am sure there must be help out there somewhere.

Perhaps you have a friend you could go and stay with for a few days to get yourself out of the house for a while? If the friend has sensible parents who might be prepared to talk to your mother about all this, that would be even better. You don’t say how old your brother is, but if he could get away for a few days too, your mother might see that she’s just driving you away with her behaviour, and that might make her stop and think.

But the other aspect is your mother’s health and well-being. You say she has just lost her job. That’s a terrifying thing to happen and it could well be enough to push someone over the edge if they are already a little unstable. When you get chance, when things are calmer (NOT in the middle of one of her outbursts), it might be an idea to suggest gently and kindly that she’s not herself at the moment and ask her whether she has thought about seeing a doctor. She could be going through some kind of nervous breakdown related to the stress of unemployment, and it could well be that medication and/or counselling would help her. Or perhaps she has a sister or brother who isn’t as prone to religious extremism as your mother is, and could spend some time with her, calming her down? Or a friend?

The very fact that there are so many things to consider, and that it does all sound very intense and difficult, does suggest that it’s too much for you to be able to deal with on your own. I think you would be wise to seek some guidance from someone you can talk to face to face: a trusted teacher, perhaps, or some other sensible and responsible person. If the pastor at her church is a more reasonable person who does not share your mother’s extreme views, perhaps you could ask him to speak to her? (Of course, this won’t work if he is the person she has got these horrendous ideas from in the first place.) Or you could perhaps even talk to your family doctor yourself, saying you’re worried about your mother, and asking his or her advice.

You are in a terribly hard situation, and I really do hope you are able to find someone to talk to who will help you to deal with it. I’m sorry I can’t be more help.

Posted: November 15th 2009

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby


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