real life

'When I rejected my ultra-religious upbringing, my parents rejected me.'

No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, my desire for acceptance from my parents will never go away. I grew up in a strict Catholic home, where religion was the foundation for our family.

There was a lot of love in our home; no one could argue that. But everything revolved around the church and I learned as an adult: without religion, there wasn’t a solid foundation for our family.

When we were kids, our parents built our daily life around a church schedule. Catechism classes every Wednesday, which my parents both taught. Thursday afternoons were for altar server practice. Confessions were on Saturdays, which we could not miss, or else we’d be forbidden to have Sunday communion.

In our family, our relationship with God was more important than our career, our well-being, our education, and our family.

As I grew older, I became confused with most of the practices in our Catholic home. I wish they didn’t ground me for questioning certain rituals – like why it was necessary to confess to a priest every week.

I wish they didn’t tell me my body was a temple only for God, and I wish they didn’t teach me anyone who had sex before marriage was a sinner and in desperate need of my prayers.

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In high school, my best friend lost her virginity and she called me crying after it happened. She was confused, scared, and needed someone to talk to. I responded with anger. I was only mimicking what I learned was appropriate in that situation.

In her vulnerable state, I told her I was disappointed and I would pray for her soul. I was that person. I didn’t know better then, and I’ve asked for her forgiveness since, but it still kills me to remember my initial reaction.

As high school progressed, I fought everything the church had taught me.

I started to hate everything about religion because it was forced into every part of my life. When I wanted to skip church to hang out with friends, they grounded me for considering missing a Sunday mass. I started arguments about abortion and masturbation as a teenager because they told me those things were one-way tickets straight to hell. It only made my parents force more religion onto me, and I couldn’t wait to move out.

As soon as I left for college, the world opened.

I was finally out of my restricted religious bubble and I felt a freedom I had never felt before. The most shocking lesson I learned was when I made friends of different faiths. My friends were supportive and even though I wasn’t the same religion as them, everyone respected the others’ beliefs.

Did you know it’s possible to still have your faith while also being happy for others, even if they don’t share your views? I didn’t.

When I came home from college, I was no longer attending church, and my parents were disappointed. They didn’t approve of my lifestyle, even though I was making the Dean’s list every semester in college. For as long as I didn’t consider myself Catholic, I was a disappointment. My father actually said the words aloud, “I’m disappointed in you.”

His statement stays with me as a reminder that the words we use matter, no matter how casual we say them in passing. I know his spectrum of disappointment is objective, so I do not use it to weigh my own opinion of myself.

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But all my life, I had been trying to make them proud.

I navigated my high school years with the intent of qualifying for the full-ride scholarship for an in-state school – and I did it. I was over the moon with joy. My parents were more concerned about whether there was a Catholic church on campus. (There was.)

In college, I made the Dean’s list and scored the internship so many of my peers were competing for. I decided I wanted to graduate early, so I took it upon myself to take extra classes to get my bachelor’s degree in 3 years instead of 4. And I did it.

I wanted my parents to be proud of me. And they were; I know they were. But they were more preoccupied with my spiritual salvation and my abandonment of the Catholic church than anything else.

My relationship with Catholicism has always defined me as a daughter and a person in their eyes.

If I wasn’t a part of the church they spent so many years raising me in, they had failed as parents, and I had failed as a daughter. So…I stopped trying to convince them. I no longer wanted to share my accomplishments with my parents. Unless it had something to do with religion, they didn’t see it as something to be celebrated. I learned how to fight that innate desire to share my joy with my parents.

Since I left Catholicism, I have struggled to accept the reality of my relationship with my parents. I know they love me, but they do not accept the woman I have grown up to be. But for anyone else who has felt the genuine disinterest and disapproval of their parents, you are not weak for still wanting their acceptance.

We will always be their children, and we will always want their love. It doesn’t make me weak for still loving them and wanting the same in return. But I am practicing self-care by not spending so much energy on a relationship that will never be mutual.

I don’t plan on ever having children myself, but I have learned a few things about parenting from my childhood.

When your children ask you questions about your faith or beliefs, encourage their curiosity. Praise them for thinking outside of the box and compliment them for their desire to learn. Do not shut down their questions, even if you don’t have the answers. When a child is punished for being curious, they will learn to stop asking questions.

Love your children no matter what, and tell them you are proud of them, even if they grow up to see the world differently than you.

Can you relate to Jessica’s experience growing up in a religious household? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Northern Arizona University and a Master of Science degree in family and human development from Arizona State University. In 2018, she left her career in the mental health field to pursue her lifelong passion of writing. She is currently working on a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium.

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