Dealing With Non-Pagan Family and Friends

THE WONDER: Science-Based Paganism

29-08-2022 • 38 mins

Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at

S3E29 TRANSCRIPT:----more----

Mark: Welcome back to the wonder science based paganism. I'm Mark.

Yucca: And I'm Yucca.

Mark: And today we're here to talk about a situation that really. Affects many of us in the pagan community generally. And in the nontheist pagan community specifically, which is what do we do about longtime friends or members of our family who are hostile to.

Our way of being they, they disapprove of, of atheism or they disapprove of paganism,

Or they disapprove of both because as we were saying before we started recording, we kind of get it from both ends. So, This is something that many of us struggle with. And especially those who have left more authoritarian kinds of religious contexts.

It's not uncommon for parents or relatives or friends to be to be caught up in this idea that you must be the way that they want you to be, or or there's something wrong with.

Yucca: Right, right. Or just the, the programming that you know, in, in some beliefs that, you know, they love and care about you, but they're really worth, you're gonna go to hell. Right. And they truly believe that the stuff that you're doing is gonna make you suffer for eternity or, you know, something like that.

Mark: right. Which is in theory, that's a. of generous and charitable thing to think about someone else, but when you really get down to it,

Yucca: That's pretty patronizing.

Mark: it, it, it is. And it's also I mean, it's something that. I would think, well, okay. I, I have the perspective of having been raised with no religion. So I can't really, I can't speak with any authority about this, but it seems to me that it it's an additive to the health of a person to get out from under that. Extortion right. To get out from under that, the threatening nature of the story of heaven and hell.

And I think that there is a lot of resentment that happens on the part, particularly of parents who raised you a particular way. And then you say, well, I'm not that way. Some other way. And. They as, as people that are in an authoritarian framework because they practice an authoritarian religion, the fact that you've rebelled can lead to a lot of anger.

It's, it's not just about wanting, what's good for you. It's about wanting them to be obeyed.

Yucca: yeah, it's a commentary for them on, on their self worth and, and you know, how good a job they did and, and all of that.

Mark: Right. Right. So it's a tangled web and in some cases, more reasonable parents can be talked with parents, siblings, relatives, whatever they are. In more reasonable cases. You, we can talk with them. We can explain that we are following a path that makes us happy and that we see as fulfilling and that we really just need them to let us do that.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: In other cases, things are so bad that you really need to distance yourself. And that I can speak with, with some authority because my parents were incredibly toxic people, both of them. And I they're both dead now, but my mother, I hadn't seen for 16 years before she died and my father for more than 20.

So, I just didn't have anything to do with them.

Yucca: Well, and, and you, you split or you cut that off. Long before the, the pagan part of your life began even right.

Mark: Yes. Yes. But, and, and I don't know, I mean, going into the specifics of my particular situation, aren't important, but one of the ironies to me is that I was raised in this non. context. And then my father married, my stepmother, who was a devout Catholic, and suddenly he was a Catholic, even though he was a scientist.

Yucca: mm-hmm.

Mark: And I don't know, I could go on for some time about hypocrisy and my father, but rather than do that, because it won't be of interest to anyone but me. The, the disapproval of the pagan stuff definitely did creep in late. You know, when I made a couple of sporadic attempts to try to get along with them but there clearly was no interest on their part to engaging me at all.

All they wanted me to do was a reflective mirror. To the glory of their narcissism and I wasn't gonna do that. So, so I cut it off and it can be very hard because particularly for parents, because we carry with us a, a societal archetype about mom and dad, we an idealized vision of what mom could be like, what dad.

Coming to grips with the fact that, that ain't, what you've got is a long, slow and painful process. Because you know, deep inside us, everybody wants a mother. Right. And if you figure out that you don't really have one, that's super painful.

Yucca: right.

So I think a, a good place to start and we can circle back around. There's so much to talk about in this, but is thinking about your own needs in a relationship. And being able to really reflect on that and see what your needs and what your boundaries are because we're. And, and I think some of this is, is more, there's a lot of gender issues going on as well.

But I know at least for, for my side is, is being a woman that we're not really supposed to have boundaries, right. We're supposed to give, give, give, and a relationship is about what you can give and you're not, and you're selfish and that, I don't think this is true, but this is what we are taught is that we're selfish to, to.

And stand by those boundaries. And at the end of the day, I think that's very unhealthy. Right. I don't think that that's gonna serve us very well, and you've got to, to be able to take care of yourself.

Mark: right,

Yucca: And so that's the first thing to figure out is what do you, what do I need?

Mark: And it's particularly challenging in those authoritarian contexts where the parents are very, you know, power over dominant, because what they will tell you is you don't have any rights. You don't have a right to privacy. We, we have the right to know everything about you. We have

Yucca: for your own good

Mark: Yeah for your, for, for your own good.

We, you know, we have the right to search your room. We have the right to read your diary. We have the right to do whatever we wanna do. However, invasive, it may seem because we have the right to own. You. In effect. And especially once if you come out of that context as an adult, it can be incredibly challenging to tell your parents, you know, my religious life, not really your business, you don't need to go into great detail about your non theist pagan, worldview and practice.

If you know that it's gonna send them ballistic, you can just tell them. Sorry. I, I'm not interested in talking with you about that. Let's talk about something where we can connect,

Yucca: Right. And so hopefully, hopefully they'll be able to leave it. There will be sometimes for some people, the, the case where they, they can't right where the, the parent or, and we're saying parent, but it may be somebody else. Right. But, but often it's gonna be a parent just because of that, that power dynamic there, but that they might not be able to, to let go of that.

And that might just be something that, that you'll need to draw firmer Bo boundaries with.

Mark: Right. Particularly, I'm thinking about going to church.

Yucca: Right

Mark: You know, there may come a time when you do now. I mean, you may decide that discretion is the better part of valor, and you'll just kind of suck it up and go to church with them when you visit them or whatever that is. But you can also very legitimately decide.

I don't want to put any more energy into this institution that I find toxic. And sorry, mom, I'm not going to church with you this week. I don't do that anymore.

Yucca: Right. Or if you've got your own kids, that's gonna especially be an issue with parents or parents in laws that, you know, they have a very strong idea about how you should be raising your family or whatever it is. And you may not wanna put your, put your kids through the same thing that you were put through or that your partner was put through.

Mark: Right.

Yucca: And

Mark: there's harm. There's potential harm there. If you're trying to raise your kids, you know, with body positivity and a sense of gender equality and, and inclusiveness for lots of different kinds of people and sex positivity and all those kinds of good progressive values that will make them healthier people as adults. may very well have to say, no, I'm not gonna let you take my kid to Sunday school. I'm not gonna do it. That's gonna fill their head with stuff that I don't want 'em to have. And you know, maybe, maybe this is a deal breaker for you, but if you wanna see your grandkids, we have to have some agreements about how you will talk with them about these things.

Yucca: Right. And that can be a really tricky thing when it is the, your partner's parents and the partner, and you have different approaches to the boundaries with those. With those parents. And that can be a big issue even when there aren't kids involved. Right. As you know, how do you dealing with the other person's family?

Mark: Well, that then is a, an issue in your relationship,

Yucca: yes, right. And that's

Mark: it's not just a thing about your relationship with the in-laws, it's a thing in your relationship, you know, how are you gonna stick up for me? In relation to your parents' disapproval of whatever, because you're my partner and I expect you to stick up for me.

Yucca: right. So those are, those are things to, to figure out. Right. And, and it sounds like mark you and I share a lot of views on. Where those boundaries might be, but for the listener, that's a, that's a personal thing to figure out, right. Maybe we seem kind of extreme to you or, or like we're taking it too easy, but really starting by figuring out how do you really feel about it now?

How do you think you should feel? How do you really feel and is that what you do want to feel? Right. And if it isn't, do you wanna work on. On practice, a ritual to try and shift that right. And to try and change what, what some of your positions are, but you gotta figure out where you're at and be clear about where you're at,

Mark: and what you want.

Yucca: what you want.

Yeah. To be fair to yourself and to the other people in the relationships, right. To be clear with them. So that it's, you know, they're not guessing about what your boundaries.

Mark: Right.

Yucca: Today it's okay. But tomorrow it's not. Okay. You know, you gotta be clear.

Mark: that sends a terrible signal to everybody. If you're kind of, Kneely mouthed about these things and sort of trying to walk a knife edge for one thing, no one will thank you for it. You know, the people that you're trying to protect will think that you're insufficiently, you know, Viewing to their line and the people whose, whose boundary setting, you know, who need you to set boundaries are gonna see you as weak and ineffectual and not very committed to what you say you're committed to.

So it's important. It really is very important to understand, okay, this is my life. What do I want? What do I want out of this relationship? Is that possible? Out of this relationship. And if it's not, then maybe you have to make some hard decisions about ending communication or, or strongly controlling communication.

I know people who will not let their in-laws go off with their kids,

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: they will only let the in-laws visit when they are present.

Yucca: sure. Right.

Mark: And. That's just how it is for them and the in-laws aren't happy about it. I, yeah, I

Yucca: see the grandkids.

Mark: right. Yeah.

Yucca: That's the condition. Yeah.

Mark: yeah. And maybe that's. You know, and this takes courage. It bears saying, you know, drawing these kinds of boundaries takes courage and, you know, you can end up getting a screening voice on the other end of the phone.

You can end up getting long screened emails that tell you what a terrible person you are, because you're, you know, trying to deprive them of their grandchildren or whatever the is. Especially when you're a parent, you have to think not only for yourself, but for your kids. And think about the wounds that, that religious background put in you, that you're working to transcend what a favor you can do for your children by not letting them be wounded that way.

Or, or buffering them as much as possible from the, the messages that the society gives them about, about their sexuality, about their gender, about their body shape, about their color, about

Yucca: whatever it is. Yeah. And, and we do know that with. With our kids one day, they, they will be exposed to those

Mark: mm-hmm

Yucca: but but that buffering could give them some time to develop and have some literal brain development and self esteem and all of those things to develop first before some of they have to be, you know, smacked in the face with somebody being racist or sexist or whatever it is to them.

Mark: Right. And they know that you're in their corner.

Yucca: Yeah,

Mark: Because you're affirming who they are in all ways. So when they are confronted with that kind of bigotry, they can come back to you for support

Yucca: right. And maybe have some tools to deal with it that they wouldn't have had when they were five or when they were nine or whatever it is yeah. That they can deal with. There's another component that I think is really important to bring in, in this piece of the, the self-reflection and the drawing your boundaries is to really be mindful about what is actually in your control and what isn't in your control.

And when you're setting those boundaries, are you actually setting boundaries for yourself or are you trying to control somebody else's behavior?

Mark: Mm-hmm.

Yucca: And just be, just be mindful and clear about that because that's something that can be a little bit slippery sometimes.

Mark: And people can use things that are in their control in very subtle ways to make it hard for you to draw a boundary or stand up for yourself. One of the things that my parents did is I had to go to their house. It was the only, the only way that I could ever see them or my siblings cuz I'm the oldest of seven was to go to their territory, a house that ran by their rules, where they were the authorities

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Mark: and it became quite clear.

That, that was one of the many ways in which they were deliberately disempowering me as well as, you know, bad mouthing me to my siblings and all that kind of stuff.

Yucca: Right. Hmm.

Mark: So, you know, maybe. You know, maybe you set some conditions on the relationship, you know, if you want, see me, come see me. Right.

Yucca: Or neutral territory,

Mark: yeah. Well, we'll, we'll, we'll meet at the aquarium and look at fish.

Yucca: yeah.

Well, that that actually leads to kind of the second part that I, that I wanted to talk about which we've started with the, what do you do when the relationship actually is very toxic, right? That's what we've been talking about, but there's also, and I hope this is gonna be a little bit more common of a situation than what we've been talking about, the situation where it's just uncomfortable.

They have a particular set of beliefs and you have a different set of beliefs and you don't really kind of agree with each other and maybe you don't really wanna talk about it, but how do you still be able? So you've, you've set boundaries and they're respecting those boundaries. How do you then get to still have a meaningful relationship and share things with them without, without this your choices and their choices about.

You're religious and, and personal lives being a relationshiper. And when you brought up the aquarium, that was one of the things that I was thinking about. You know, I have some siblings who are not pagan, right? My family's very split. We have half of us who are pagan and the other half who are, are quite Christian.

Right. And you know, we still love each other deeply and share things, find things that we both value. And share those particular things. And they are things that I think are, are pretty pagan personally. Right. Let's go look at the fish together. Let's go on a nature walk like to me, like, yeah, that's, that's super pagan, but they're not gonna frame it that way.

I'm gonna frame it that way, but I'm not gonna rub it in their face. Right. I, I'm not gonna be like, oh yeah, you know, we're gonna go do our pig, anything. Also speaking of query, you've got an aquarium shirt on don't you

Mark: Oh, oh, I do Monterey bay aquarium. Yeah. It's Monterey bay aquarium a collection of sharks,

Yucca: Ah, sharks are great. So,

Mark: know, that sharks predate trees. Isn't that amazing.

Yucca: It makes sense when you say it, but wow. Yeah, we went to the aquarium. I took the kids to the aquarium recently, and this week we went to the zoo. And they, they lost their minds with light, with all of the animals.

Mark: Mm-hmm

Yucca: So, but their favorite though, were the PFO. So there was a P H with her little chicks following behind.

And even though it was like there's lions and polar bears, they got to actually like interact with the, with the peacocks and they just were so happy. So anyways,

Mark: Cool.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So, yeah. I think really understanding, maybe even drawing a Venn diagram, you know, what, what are we sharing common? What are our common interests and passions? You know, if we both really love gardening, we can do some gardening together and you know, that doesn't, or, or, you know, or hunting.

Yucca: mm-hmm

Mark: Um, I'm not trophy hunting. I would hope because that's. Awful, but you know, food hunting going out and, you know, getting, getting stuff to eat what, whatever it is

Yucca: That was my brother. Yeah.

Mark: Whatever it is that you share an interest in and are willing to kind of meet them in the middle,

Yucca: Mm-hmm.

Mark: then you can build a relationship around those kinds of things.

It's so much harder to build a relationship that's spending all of its time, dealing with stuff where you don't meet eye to eye.

Yucca: Yeah. Or trying to prove things to each other,

Mark: Right.

Yucca: right. I mean, if you both, if, what you're, if what if your Vinn diagram has debate club in the middle, maybe that's different. Right. But , but otherwise, you know, that you can spend your energy, you've got a limited amount of energy to spend on things. So what's it gonna be, right?

Is it gonna be those shared things that you, that you love and can you have a relationship with this person without needing to, to agree on. Certain things. And I think that that's a good approach for not just family members or close friends, but also the community at large. Right. Are you in a community that, that generally has a different take than you do?

Well, what, what is it that you do share together? Right. And connecting with each other on that really human level makes it so that that's a wonderful experience to have. First of all, but also later on, when you have a disagreement, you see each other as human, because you had that connection about, you know, the park or the gardening or the library or whatever it is.

Mark: right. Yeah. And to me that also brings up the, the necessity of finding support for yourself.

Yucca: Mm-hmm,

Mark: Because when you have these kinds of challenges in your family, finding support from people of common values and views, and also potentially from professional therapists, right. Becomes really important. As you're working to kind of emerge from the shadow of a family that. In most cases has felt like it can tell you what to do and what to believe and who to be and all that kind of stuff. It's really important that you find people that are gonna help you stay strong in your boundaries. Stay clear about your priorities and enable you to be yourself, right? People who affirm you in who you are.

Yucca: We've already been waving it in a little bit, but do we wanna talk about some strategies and activities?

Mark: Sure let's do that. Yeah. Why don't you start.

Yucca: yeah, so, I mean, we mentioned things like the, the zoo and aquariums and parks and all of that, but For the, the family members that, that you can have that more accommodating relationship with. What are some activities that you would suggest

Mark: Well, what comes to mind immediately to me is, you know, finding, finding neutrally. Posed places like a zoo, for example, doesn't really have a whole ideological piece to it other than animals are cool,

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: which is something that generally, you know, people can agree on whether or not they're pagans or Christians or whatever it is.

What's more challenging is when. There isn't a choice of, of venue. Like, you know, being invited over for Christmas,

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: you know, what do you do there obviously? I mean, especially if you have children, the children are gonna be really amped about the presence and probably the sweets and you know, all the other things that tend to go along with celebrating Christmas and it can be very hard. To be in that context, if somebody starts, you know, saying grace over dinner or, you know, going on about Jesus

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: and my take on that has always been it's similar to my take on, you know, going to theist pagan rituals. It's like your house, your rules. I'm not gonna pray with you, but I will sit quietly. I'm not going to protest. And that is kind of the strategy that I encourage. Now, if somebody gets all bent outta shape at you, because you don't close your eyes and bow your head or say amen, then they probably are more controlling than you can deal with in that way.

Yucca: Right. Yeah. Then we're kind of back to the, the start of the conversation.

Mark: Right.

Yucca: Yeah.

Another thing to, to consider when you are going to say like the Christmas situation. And especially if there, if there are kids involved is making a list, a priority list, right. Of what, what is your top thing that you're gonna have your boundary? Right. Is, are you going to be, you know, do you have certain dietary restrictions? That is the thing that you need to be just really vigilant about, and then you kind of let the other stuff slide because you're a guest, right? Or, but, or what is it? The, what is the, what are the things and how important are they to you in this situation, right?

Where are you willing to be giving a little bit in this, this situation where you. in their space, in their home versus what is the big picture of overall

Mark: Right. And the other thing you can do of course, is you can invite people to come have Christmas at your house,

Yucca: mm-hmm

Mark: and then you can maybe make your statement of gratitude to the earth for all the wonderful things that spring from it and keep us alive. And. Sort of leave it in the lap of the people who have come over as guests, if they feel a need to jump in with a statement about Jesus.

Well, maybe that's okay. Maybe you can have both varieties of invocation. It seems as though in many cases, accommodation can be made unless. Unless the primary orientation of the people that you're negotiating these boundaries with is about control and anger at lack of control, because you're an adult, you don't need somebody else to control you. Maybe they haven't got their mind around the fact that you're an adult yet. But it's time, right? You're an adult, especially, you know, you got your own kids, like, come on.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: I'm I'm not 10 anymore. It's time. It's time for you to respect that. I can have my own opinions about things and live my own life.

Yucca: Right. Well, and this gets into other philosophies, but, and with mine, They don't need to be controlling the 10 year old either.

Mark: Mm-hmm

Yucca: They, they are people too and get their own opinions. Now, do you need to keep them safe from not burning themselves on that stove or, you know, that's, there's levels there, but, but you don't magically become a person when you turn 18.

You've been a person the whole time, right? Yeah.

Mark: right. As soon as you're old enough to have. Tastes and opinions, which probably means by the time you're six months old, something like that. Then it's time for those

Yucca: before.

Mark: tastes and opinions to be respected. Right. And they don't have to be explained, you know, it's like, if you don't like strained carrots, you just don't like strained carrots.

We're not gonna feed you strained carrots anymore. And This is something that for, for parents of previous generations, particularly can be very hard to get their mind around because the traditional parenting model in our society is quite authoritarian. And in patriarchal, it's very much about, you know, the man ruling the roost and. being in a power hierarchy where the children are at the bottom

Yucca: Right.

Mark: and if

Yucca: And even a hierarchy within the children based on age and gender and all of that. Yeah.

Mark: Right, right. Absolutely. So, so hopefully that's dying out at least in some places. But. Those places are not everywhere, you know, and we certainly see plenty of toxic masculinity around us expressing itself in that same sort of outraged way of, you know, how dare you have your own opinion, how dare you be your own person?

How dare you not count how to my wishes.

Yucca: yeah.

Mark: And so once again, it, it really comes down to this thing where you have to balance out what do I get out of this relationship versus what am I being what's being demanded of me? Because I mean, that was really, that was really what. What settled it for me, all I was getting from my relationship was with my parents was criticism and anger and efforts at control and gas, lighting and mockery.

And it had been that way since I was a little tiny kid.

Yucca: Hmm.

Mark: And it was like, you know what? You don't have anything good to offer me. I don't, I'm gonna stop drinking from this particular tap because it tastes really bad.

Yucca: Right. And you didn't know him anything.

Mark: Nope.

Yucca: Right. And that, that's one of the stories that is, well, you know, we, we raised you and sacrificed for you and guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt. But it at really at. They are responsible for their emotions and you're responsible for yours

Mark: mm-hmm yeah.

Yucca: you know, it's, you don't have to be, and you probably wouldn't have ever been able to make them happen anyways,

Mark: Oh

Yucca: it's a choice on their part.

Right. No matter what you do.

Mark: they were miserable people and that, I mean, that's part of. I think what infuriated them so much about me is that I was not interested in being miserable. You know, I just didn't wanna be the way they were. So, you know, getting away from my example, particularly, I think. Especially in, you know, some of the, like really conservative, evangelical versions of Christianity. It's like the default position is sort of moral superiority and anger at everybody who doesn't follow along. That's that's not a particularly healthy. Thing to draw from, if that's, what, if that's what you're getting from your parental relationship, then maybe it's time not to have that relationship.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Or to distance it a lot and say, you know, I'll visit you once a year or, you know, I'll talk with you on the phone every six months or whatever it is. There are gradations of estrangement, right? But what I found was that I came away from every communication feeling, yucky feeling really devalued and gaslit to the degree of being told that I was crazy and all that kind of stuff, it was just like, no, I don't need this.

I got better use for my time. Life is short.

Yucca: right.

Mark: And it doesn't mean that I haven't gone through lots of pain over that loss over time. And I, even though they're dead, I can still, you know, have pain over the loss of the idealized parent. You know, the dad that actually valued me, the mom that actually loved me, you know, I can still grieve those ideas.

I'm not, sorry. I don't think I missed out on anything by not communicating with them over all those years before they died.

Yucca: Hmm. Yeah.

Mark: So remember, it's your life?

Yucca: Right.

Mark: Yeah, it's your life and you get to live it. You get to make the decisions that seem to be best to you. And some of them are gonna be fuckups, but that doesn't matter, you know, that's, that's the nature of being a human. Having someone else tell you how you're supposed to think and act is not something you need in your life.

Yucca: right. Because they're not in your shoes. They're not you.

Mark: Nope.

Yucca: actually, nobody really knows what they're doing.

Mark: yeah. Yeah. Yep.

Yucca: It might seem like it. But I think about this a lot. Do you remember being a kid and looking at adults and thinking that they knew what the hell they were doing and now that you're adult an adult. Do you feel like, you know what you're doing? Nobody does. Right.

Mark: well, I mean,

Yucca: to some degree, but

Mark: But, but parents often represent themselves as these competent authority figures to their children, because that's where they get the authority to say, don't do that. Right. And. Yeah, it's all affront. And you, you talk with any parent that will be honest with you about it, and they'll tell you it's all affront it's like, I

Yucca: terrified. I dunno what the hell I'm doing?

Mark: right, right,

Yucca: I'm messing them up. That's what? That, what we all worry.

Mark: right.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Well, In my experience, the thing that somebody needs more than anything else as they're growing up is the sense that there is some adult somewhere who finds them valuable and lovable and is in their corner. No matter what if there's one such person, whether it's an uncle or a grandparent or a family friend, just one such person, it makes all the difference in the world.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So be that for your kids.

Yucca: Mm-hmm or your niece or your nephew, or

Mark: Right?

Yucca: right. And for yourself too,

Mark: Yeah.

Yucca: right?

Mark: Yeah. And that can be the hardest of all of those challenges because we hold ourselves to such impossible standards. And that internal critic voice that we've talked about before, it can be so incredibly cruel.

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: Just really over the top cruel, you would never talk to another person the way that that voice will talk to you.

So it's a good idea to find ways to curb it, get it, to get it to calm down and shut up.

Yucca: Yeah, well, you know, this was really fun. We, we went kind of all over the place with this and it was a, it was a great conversation.

Mark: Yeah, I think so too. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Yucca.

Yucca: Yeah. Likewise.

Mark: Okay. We'll be back next week.