Since my husband and I left the church, my mother-in-law won’t speak to us. She was formerly very kind, but now says she has nothing nice to say about me. It’s heartbreaking to see someone sever important relationships because of a delusion. I’m tired of the church touting itself as “all about families” when the reality is very different. When people value their religion above the very family they claim their religion is “all about”, there’s a problem. (Though, thankfully, there are always those who are awesome, like my best friend’s parents, who have been the best example of love and kindness possible since he announced his decision to leave. Shoutout to Mormons who make love their priority!)
To highlight the problem for far too many, I asked some ex-Mormons about their experiences with family members since leaving the church. Here’s what they said. I hope this will make at least one person with ex-Mormon family members understand how wrong these kinds of approaches are. Some names have been changed out of respect for family members, and those without names are Reddit users.
“My in laws are thinking of changing their will so my husband is no longer executor of their estate. Only thing that has changed was we left the church.” – Charlie
“My mother, who used to say I was the best mom she knew and would praise my kids, now tells me she’s worried I can’t adequately parent, gives unsolicited advice, and blames anything and everything bad that ever happens to us on my leaving Mormonism. She thinks my kids will grow up to be valueless and immoral (her words).
My mother-in-law says my kids will probably grow up to be murderers, because they now have no moral compass or fear of God. She told me that if I’m not careful they will grow up and murder me in my sleep. Mind you, these are the same amazing, kind, smart, high-achieving, sweet, loving, polite kids as before. The only thing that’s changed is our church membership.” – Susanne
“We were not as close with our LDS friends and relatives anymore and they made us feel like we were pathetic and on the wrong path.” – Erica
“We didn’t invite my father-in-law to our wedding because he blamed my husband leaving the church (and obviously it was I who caused it, even though he hadn’t been to church for a few years before we met) for my mother-in-law and father-in-law getting divorced.” – Erin
“My wife left me, and then posted on LDS singles that she needs a real man, one who would take her to the temple.” – Derek
“My brother’s wife left him after he left the church. When her dad died (of cancer) she was very outspoken about how my brother had killed him by leaving the church and breaking his heart. I guess leaving Mormonism can cause cancer to your in-laws….” – Suzanne
“As a daughter of a dad who doesn’t believe and a mom who is 100% believing, I feel the burden to keep all the relationships together and keep the peace while she refuses to hear our perspective objectively and has a destructive attitude toward us for not believing. This causes major anxiety.. non-authentic relationships.. frustration and anger.. Life is short and the church steals time that could be spent enjoying each other and the moment without worrying about what’s going to happen when we die.” – Hillary
“I could write you a novel from my point of view how it has been a major point of contention from the time I was 12 up to this current day. My sister is nasty to me, told me if I can’t accept and love her religion I can’t accept and love her. She has sent me texts about how I am using my parents because I don’t believe so I can’t love them and need to stop going to their house. I have been through LDS marriage therapy and can tell you they never address real issues, just reinforce church teachings and tell people the lack of faith in Mormonism is why the marriage is falling apart. My ex used my inactivity during the divorce process to paint me as a bad father. My kids still go to church and think there is something wrong with their dad because he doesn’t go. My mom is scared to death that I wont be with here after this life, and feels she needs to testify and use my kids to bring back.
Guilt trips are great. When I first got divorced my ex would tell me I had to watch the kids because she had a church activity. Singles wards do stuff every night, I gladly took the kids (in fact for being such a bad non believer her and her friends didn’t have an issue making me a full time baby sitter. I watched three to four different sets of kids during these activities), but she expects me to rearrange my schedule and drop what I am doing every time the church has something. I’m the one who fixed my parents roof, replaced their washer, dryer, and stove. I’m the one who cleans up the yard and I pay my kids to mow it. I am the one who fixes my elderly parents dinner two to three times a week and actually visits them. None of my other siblings do that, but I am not good enough because I don’t believe. For my kids I am the one who coaches them, does homework with them, pays for everything they do in addition to child support. I see them all the time, but I am not a good father because I don’t believe. I am constantly having to reeducate them that just going to church or not doesn’t make you a good or bad person. I am teaching them they can have friends outside the church, because they are told something different every Sunday. That isn’t even going into my troubles growing up in the church.” – Derrek
“I officially left the church last year. I emailed my siblings and mother (most TBM, one brother NOM) about my general reason for leaving, how I was willing to talk about it in further detail if they asked nicely, and that they do not tell other family members, because I wanted everyone to hear from me personally.
A few days later my older sister visits (highly unusual btw). We have a good time chatting for a bit, and then she gets to her goal– she starts digging into me about my disaffection with the church, how I am hurting the family and made my mom cry (and then SHOWS ME A PICTURE SHE TOOK ON HER PHONE OF MY MOM CRYING). She ends with saying how “I was never a truly devoted mormon growing up anyway.”
“My younger sister took issue with my family crest tattoo, saying it goes against everything our family stands for and that I’ve been trying to run away from my heritage since graduating from HS, then wouldn’t talk to me for months because I pointed out that the crest pre-dates JS by several hundred years.
My father took the opportunity to lay the non-believing guilt on me and my exmo brother (plus our partners, both of whom are nevermo) last time we spent Christmas together. Have not had a family Christmas since.
When my exmo sister was pregnant with her first child (out of wedlock, however she is still happily married to the father), our grandmother writes a letter from the baby’s perspective about how sad he was that he wouldn’t be born in the church. She sent it in my sister’s birthday card that year.
Same grandma sent me a birthday card a few years later in which she had written “No drugs, no alcohol, no sex.”
“My mother won’t speak to me about it but she talks to everyone in the family (extended too!) about it behind my back. She’s told my wife that I am wrong and can’t possibly have a legitimate reason for leaving and frequently sends her ensign articles and talks about how faith is a choice and to resist evil influences and keep your nose in the scriptures and it will all be okay.
I’ve heard from multiple people in the family that she has confronted them about it looking for more information about me and why I left only to bemoan how hard it is for her. I live 15 miles away from her. I see her weekly. She has never even hinted at asking me about it.
My father in law has point blank told me on multiple occasions that I need to get over it and get back to church; that I’m confusing the culture with the doctrine. My mother in law thinks my children will be ruined forever.
My wife has threatened divorce, but it’s been much better recently. My father supports me because he wants me to be happy. No strings attached. But he has terminal brain cancer and will be dead soon. I have one uncle who has asked me why I left and he said he understood if I felt I needed a break.
Overall, no one treats me the same. There is an air of disappointment any time I’m around family. It’s just an accepted truth that no matter what I do in life, I’ll always be a failure until I repent and return to the church. Until then I’m damaged goods and a bad influence on my wife and children. That’s how I’m viewed. It’s made me feel more alone than I’ve ever felt in my life.
I know my story pales In comparison to others. But I feel so alone.”
“Some family members didn’t say anything, just cut me off completely and I no longer exist in their world.”
“I was told that I should give up my unborn daughter at the time, up for adoption, because she deserves someone better than me. My dad didn’t speak to me for 2.5 years, and acted like I didn’t exist at family gatherings. My mom blamed me, because my dad couldn’t go through the temple, because he hated me. Not a cult, right?”
“I broke the news about a month ago.
My father said my mother’s cancer diagnosis was better news than my leaving the church. He said he can never look at me the same way, and he’s too angry to even think about my husband (who left first). However, we’re still part of the family and he hopes this doesn’t become a problem between us.
I got an email from one sibling, “not to lay a guilt trip,” over breaking our parents’ hearts, forsaking my sacred covenants, abandoning our eternal family, etc., although things are better with that sibling now. Still delicate, but better.
I suspect another sibling has unfriended me on Facebook (haven’t confirmed it yet, because that one still isn’t speaking to me).
My in-laws and most friends still don’t know, since we moved right at the time we left the church. I’m not sure what will happen when the news comes to greater light.”
“I told my wife about some of my reservations about the church in the most diplomatic/non-threatening way possible and in less than one month, she files for divorce.”
“My mom won’t talk to me or my wife since we left the Church. Every time I try to initiate conversation, she mumbles a response and walks away from me. She won’t answer phone calls or text messages. I might as well be dead to her.”
“I left the church while away at college around age twenty, after having been SO MORMON growing up. Around that time, I had zero life experience, and no more support network, since becoming an apostate and all. A series of relatively normal but tough life experiences sent me into a tail spin, and I had to move back home – suicidally depressed. During this time, there were a few gems:
My dad told me he “wept openly in church for the loss of his daughter”. During fast and testimony meeting, he shared personal details of my troubled path and how hurt he was. Because I turned my back on “what I knew to be true”, we would be separated in the eternities, and was lost to him forever – never mind the fact that I was still here, and literally part of his daily life.
My married sister used to drop by briefly, ostensibly to borrow things from mom… But it quickly became apparent it was just an excuse for a propaganda fly-by. Every time she left she’d call out something like, “the blessings of the temple are real!” or “the book of Mormon is true!” No conversation, no preamble. Just desperate attempts at reindoctrination.
She also sent me a fancy, embossed birthday card in the mail. I was touched that she had gone through the effort to cheer me up with a sweet gesture … And then I opened the card. She wrote so much “testimony” that she had to insert extra paper. It contained the usual stuff: I was clearly struggling because I had fallen off the straight n narrow; the church is the only way to find true happiness; yadda yadda. It was heartbreaking at the time, but I’ve since thrown it away.
Part of my anxiety at that point was fear of the future, and huge college debt, specifically. My parents told me that they’d pay for my entire college education… If I’d go to one of the BYUs. Another attempt to bring me forcibly back into the fold. Can’t go too far astray with the Honor Code breathing down your neck. (I’m happy to say I had the wherewithal to say No – a word I was still trying to get ok with saying).
Honestly, I just remember feeling so lonely. I didn’t feel I had allies, people who prioritized my mental health or emotional well-being. My family and “friends” from church perceived my depression to be a byproduct of my apostasy, instead of a symptom of someone who felt alone and unprepared to cope with the real world.
It’s been 12 years, and things have improved – though I don’t have a warm relationship with most of my siblings, we all try to find common ground, and my apostasy is treated as a non issue (at least to my face). I’m sad sometimes that we won’t ever have close relationships like some of my friends have with their families, but Mormonism isn’t known for producing members with any amount of self awareness or emotional vulnerability. At least our distance seems to have less to do with my leaving the church now, and more to do with our inability to connect on meaningful levels.
Edited to add: I remember a conversation I had with my folks, before I left for college. They told me no matter what, they’d always be there for me. I remember specifically that they said even if I got pregnant, I could come to them for support. Sex and a baby out of wedlock? Sure, ok! But question the tenets of their faith in a well reasoned and respectful way? That’s just a bridge too far. And that doesn’t seem to have been unique to my family! The mormon perspective just baffles me. (sorry for the wall of text).”
“My mother: Has purposely put a huge wall up in our relationship despite me trying a ton of times to mend it. I know she is capable of a healthy mother/daughter relationship because her and my TBM sister are best friends. I guess it’s impossible for her to be close to her dirty apostate daughter. I told her straight up she chooses her religion over her children and she looked at me and said ‘you’re not my saviour’. She has also manipulated me and made me feel like shit about myself over the years. I’m now trying to mend my self esteem from her abuse. The worst part? She doesn’t see how bad it hurts me and how much it has damaged me. The church has stroked her ego so much I’m pretty sure she thinks she’s close to perfect because she never admits she’s wrong.
My Father: To put it simply he’s a mysoginstic pig. He has double standards for my sister and I that he doesn’t have for my brother. My brother and I are ex Mo’s who both left the church in our teens. We both have had multiple sexual partners in our life. One day my mom brought up our multiple sexual partners and how it’s bad. My dad said ‘yeah but [your daughter] is a woman so it’s worse,’ it pretty much shattered my self esteem. He has also made comments about me showing my porn shoulders and how I look better when I’m ‘dressed’. He’s called me fat on a couple of occasions.
He also likes to passive aggressively shove the church in my face. He will leave the ensign open on the kitchen table, he’ll tell me to read some random church book, he’ll try to bring up politics and how the government is trying to stomp out Christianity. Basically he has no boundaries like many Mormons.”
“My stepmom and dad would often punish me more harshly because I wasn’t a member. On a number of occasions they had said I would get privileges back if I would meet with the missionaries. On my 18th birthday, I was kicked out. I was given my present and told to leave. I had known it was coming and had been able to find a place to stay but even if I hadn’t, they would’ve still kicked me out and let me be homeless. Because I “refused to join the church and see the truth.” We’ve mended our relationship some years later but it really did take a toll on me.”
“My wife and I received a torrent of verbal abuse from multiple family members.”
“When I told my dad I didn’t believe anymore he said he wished I would’ve died rather than leave the church and that his own brother’s death was easier to handle than my lack of faith. Since then he’s walked back these words and apologized profusely, but still that was pretty heavy to deal with at the time.”
Family shunning is a huge problem when someone leaves the LDS church, but apparently it’s just another price that the leaders of the church are willing for people to pay in the name of their “truth”. I’d love to see the prophet come out and say something that actually helps families in these situations, rather than the damaging stuff that came out of Elder Holland’s mouth last conference.
Share your experiences with family members since leaving the church in the comments below! We’d love to hear some more positive ones.