© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

ode to a mother-in-law

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< Sadly, the very first thing that comes up in a Google Image Search for "mother in law"

There’s a laugh line in my seminar that isn’t meant to be a laugh line. It’s entirely serious, but they always chuckle.

In the section on extended family issues, I recommend letting your kids go to church once in a while with trusted relatives — and they chuckle at the word “trusted,” just a bit. It’s a knowing chuckle, of course. There are both trustworthy and untrustworthy religious folks, and many of us have both in our extended families. The untrustworthy are the sneaky proselytizers, the ones who tell our kids in whispers that Jesus loves them, that “I’m praying for your mama and daddy,” or even drop little hints of hellfire — not as a threat, of course, but as the thing they’re working so hard to save mama and daddy from.

The trustworthy are those who preface their input to my children with “I believe” statements instead of presenting everything as…well, gospel, and respect our decision to let the kids work it out for themselves in the long run.

It is my very good fortune to have a mother-in-law in Category #2.

The daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, graduate of a Baptist college, and devout churchgoer, she nonetheless has been absolutely fabulous about respecting our choices with the kids. I am quite certain she’d rather her grandchildren were being raised in the church, but she’s never pushed the point. When our kids do attend, perhaps 3-4 times a year, it’s always with her.

Her stock has begun rising even further with me lately. A few weeks ago I heard (secondhand) that a member of her church asked if it bothered her that neither of her sons-in-law is a Christian.

“Pfft,” she said. “You listen here. Those two boys treat my girls like queens. I can’t ask for more than that.”

She’s also been known to suggest that I’m more Christian than many Christians she knows. Considering the source, that’s a compliment I’m very pleased to take.

As I talk to nonreligious parents around the country, I encourage them not to assume too much about their religious relatives. Even those who are very serious about their own faith are often more willing to bend than we sometimes think. It’s not always the case, of course. Some will do their level best to put you in hell well before you’re dead, and once you’ve seen that in action, it’s more than an assumption. But I’m convinced that we jump to that conclusion too often. And I’m glad to hold up my own mother-in-law as an example.

Happy Mother’s Day, Babs!

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This was written on Friday, 09. May 2008 at 15:30 and was filed under belief and believers, diversity, extended family, My kids, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. I loved your suggestion during the Dallas seminar to introduce the BeliefOMatic survey (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/76/story_7665_1.html) as a conversation starter.

    I’m only 20% Catholic nowadays! I’m more Hindu and Islamic than that (37%). Then I’m 75% Taoist, Nontheist, and Mainline Christian Protestant! Of course, I turn out to be 100% Unitarian. ;^) My sister may as well.

    I was thinking of sending the link in an email, and betting certain members of my family that even if they think they’re 100% Catholic, they might be surprised otherwise.

    Comment: treeless_hippie – 09. May 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  2. I loved your suggestion during the Dallas seminar to introduce the BeliefOMatic survey (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/76/story_7665_1.html) as a conversation starter…I was thinking of sending the link in an email, and betting certain members of my family that even if they think they’re 100% Catholic, they might be surprised otherwise.

    A TERRIFIC idea! Honestly, if everyone took that quiz, it would change the face of religious discourse in this country. I’m planning to post on that sometime.

    Comment: Dale – 10. May 2008 @ 12:45 pm

  3. Ooo! Great idea. BeliefOMatic is going up on my page right now.

    Comment: Ryan – 10. May 2008 @ 3:19 pm

  4. treeless hippie (fab-U-lous name, btw), I’d totally forgotten about the Belief-o-matic! I hadn’t taken it since I “lost” (threw away? realized I didn’t have it anyway?) religion, and now when I answer honestly, I’m 100% UU (hey, who wouldn’t be?), and 98% Secular Humanist. I can dig that.

    Dale, I cant’ wait to see your post with the B-o-M in it. Fun stuff!

    Comment: meanderwithme – 12. May 2008 @ 1:16 am

  5. “Those two boys treat my girls like queens.”
    I guess she’s thinking ‘devoted husband’ rather than ‘Henry VIII’ ?

    Comment: sphagnum – 13. May 2008 @ 7:35 am

  6. “Those two boys treat my girls like queens.”
    I guess she’s thinking ‘devoted husband’ rather than ‘Henry VIII’ ?

    One of the first times ever I have been genuinely tempted to use the acronym ROTFLMAO. But I won’t.

    Comment: Dale – 13. May 2008 @ 10:39 am

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