Leaving the church has family consequences

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Dear Amy: I was raised in a heavily religious family and recently decided to leave the church.

This religion is highly restrictive and it can be fairly obvious (even by my clothing) that I am no longer a participating member.

I cannot tell my family this, because when my brother left the church they cut his inheritance. I would also no longer be allowed to even visit my sweet, special-needs sibling. I am very close with this sibling and would lose my primary caregiver responsibilities if my family found out I’ve left the church.

My mother keeps stopping by unannounced and even rifling through my cupboards. Because we have left this religion, I know she is looking for signs (alcohol) that we have left the church.

Whenever I ask her to stop, she retorts “What are you hiding?” Do you have any advice for setting boundaries or adjusting to the idea that I will never be able to be honest with my family about my feelings?

— Worried

Dear Worried: You needn’t say that you are “hiding” anything when your mother rifles through your cupboards. You need only to say to her, “I’m not hiding anything, but I am protecting my privacy, and you need to respect it.”

Given the extreme cost to you regarding your relationship with your special-needs sibling, I suggest a “don’t ask, don’t tell” (or rather, “don’t tell) approach. Tell your parents that you simply aren’t willing to discuss this with them.

You are an adult and you have the right and responsibility to lead your own life in a way that reflects and celebrates your own values.

You should prepare yourself for the possibility that no matter what your parents will come down hard on you. Don’t let the withdrawal of an inheritance be a factor, but move forward assuming that the inheritance is already gone. If you do, you will remove this as a way for your parents to continue to control you.

Dear Amy: Church friends of my high school graduate son spent $500 on a sky-diving experience as a high school graduation gift.

The parents didn’t solicit my opinion in advance. My son told me about the gift. Their eldest daughter was to sky dive as well.

I had grave safety and financial concerns about this gift. I’ve spent years as a single parent, keeping my son safe. I only have an heir, not a spare.

At my insistence, the gift was refunded, so they are not out financially.

I had a meltdown about this. I was very hurt and puzzled by this choice of gift. This meltdown affected my relationship with these friends.

My son thinks the world of this family and is invited to parties, and often vacations with them. I still feel very judged and excluded (they are now avoiding me at church). I feel as if my son has been hijacked by this family.

In your opinion, was this sky-diving gift appropriate?

— Grounded Mom

Dear Grounded Mom: Many people would gratefully accept and enjoy this gift. But given how extravagant and potentially dangerous it was, the family should have run it past you in advance.

Given your extreme reservations, you took the appropriate action after the fact to control your son’s access to it, and refund the cost to the family.

I take issue with your expression that you “have only an heir, not a spare.” Your implication is that people with more than one child somehow value their children differently (or less than you do). This is quite offensive, and I can only assume that your meltdown conveyed this, along with your lack of appreciation.

Your son is growing toward adulthood, and you will simply have to find ways to accept his choices as time goes on. He is fortunate to have an affiliation with another family that obviously enjoys his company.

At this point, you will have to accept the fact that you and this family will not be friends, regardless of how your son feels about them.

Dear Amy: “Burned by Grandma” told of her mother sending her an invoice for expenses incurred during her granddaughter’s three-week stay. I think that maybe grandma sent this invoice because she was insulted that her daughter sent along $300 for the girl’s expenses. This was retaliation for the insult.

— Also a Grandmother

Dear Grandmother: The grandma in question could have easily torn the check in half and sent it back. Instead she sent an invoice for additional expenses.

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