I grew up Baptist, then Pentecostal – going to church 3-5 times a week with my mother and one brother. My parents fought a lot, and our family wound in this sort of odd division. My one brother, myself, and my mother were the “believers”. My other brother and my father were the “non-believers”. I was born again and loved God whole-heartedly as a child. I completely believed everything the church and my mother told me, including that my own father was going to hell. I was baptized early on, and even thought I was filled with the holy spirit later on. I went around trying to “save” my friends, as well as my father, on a regular basis.
Sometime in my teens, I began questioning things I had been taught and believed my whole life… I started realizing things weren’t adding up… and I started rebelling. Against my mother and the church, and also against my father’s strict double standards. Many things, like how God could love us yet send so many of us to hell, really never sat well with me. My mother read my diary when I was 17, and that was the beginning of the end of my going to church.
But, there was more to it than the religion. There was another elephant in the room my family wasn’t acknowledging – and that was my mother’s mental illness.
Mom’s a Religious Nut
And, when I say “nut”, I’m referring to her being a bit more than your typical “fanatical born-again Christian”, who was a little full of BS. No, I came to (slowly) realize that my Mom was sick. She was dealing with some type of mental illness, however, none of us knew it. I wish I had known, my life would have been less confusing and frustrating. I would also have not resented her as much.
I’m not positive about what kind of mental illness mom had/has. Maybe some mild form of SZ… but, she’s never been diagnosed and she has never even remotely acknowledged that she MAY have anything wrong with the wiring. But, her mother (my Grandmother) definitely had SZ, and so did her one brother (my Uncle).
My mom isn’t like them… they have been institutionalized most of their lives… and my mother is completely independent and has never been hospitalized like them. My mom has spent her whole life trying NOT to be classified with the likes of her mother and brother and, I can’t say I blame her. And, I would not even say myself that she is like them. Luckily, she really isn’t. They were to the point of being institutionalized and could not take care of themselves even. She is not like that. She is very capable, intelligent, and self-sufficient. I give her a lot of credit, actually.
Something’s just not right.
I was told once (by a doctor that had been counseling her and my father) that my mother is “okay” 99% of the time. But, there’s that 1% of the time that she looses touch with reality. And, when that happens, she makes up things to fill in the blanks. To her, they are true.
I know she does this because I’ve witnessed it myself time and time again. She is very VERY religious – so, she thinks she is experiencing “miracles” or “visions”… but, some of the things she has told me (and others) are really out there. She also falsely accuses people of things… blames people for things… flat out makes up things. I think she hallucinates sometimes, so she believes what she is saying. She is not lying on purpose or anything. She talks herself into believing things.
When my brothers and I were kids, we figured out early that she made up things. But, we were kids… and we just thought she was full of BS or really forgetful or something. It was “normal” to us. Nobody ever told us she might be sick… so, it never crossed our minds.
Most things weren’t anything worth arguing about anyway… or anything you could really argue… just really far fetched, or strange, or inaccurate memories of things. You can usually tell when she does this, because she will change the story as she goes along… almost like she’s trying really hard to remember something… and then like she does remember… but, if it is questioned… she changes it until it “fits” in her mind.
We use to jokingly tell our friends to just “smile and nod”… and not try to understand, reason, or argue with her because it wouldn’t work.
I also use to tell my friends that it was like she would “think something, then say it out loud (sometimes over and over), and THEN believe it”.
Luckily, my (atheist ) father was always there
to “set things strait” when she would start to go a little too far. Like, if she started to get TOO overboard with the religion – he would step in and over-ride her. We knew we had to listen to him…. but, that we did not always have to listen to her.
I think Dad knew that she was sick, deep down, but he didn’t want to say it… or maybe want to believe it. Maybe he was afraid for others to believe it – for fear that people would think we (the kids) were too. ??
Instead, he’d get mad at her when she’d say or do something irrational. He’d act like she was lying or making things up on purpose. He’d get frustrated and mad at her… (Lots more on my Dad here… and here…)
They argued a lot. A real lot.
Loudly, and dramatically. She told us lots of times that he use to beat her… but, none of us ever saw that… and I can’t picture him doing it. I did, however, witness HER hit HIM on more than one occasion. I remember her punching and hitting him while he looked like he wanted to hit her back, but didn’t. Once I watched as she went ballistic on him, and took her shoe off with a wooden heel and began repeatedly hitting him with that while he just shielded himself. They never really hit us kids or anything, but, their fighting each other was a constant. It was intense and scary for me as a kid. I would go cry and hide. A couple times, I yelled at them to stop. But, they never did.
It was obvious they had a bad marriage… they openly agreed they didn’t love each other. He slept on the couch all the time. There was absolutely no sign of love. I often wondered why they didn’t get divorced… and often wished they would.
Mom always said she didn’t get divorced, “because it was against her religion”.
Dad said he didn’t get divorced, “because of the kids”.
I remember telling a friend when I was about 14 that I wished my parents would get divorced… they were always fighting. My friend, (who’s parents were divorced), told me to never say that again… and that at least my parents both cared about me. I knew she was right. They were terrible husband and wife…. but, they both tried to be good parents.
I also realized much later on in life… that IF my parents HAD divorced, most likely my mother would have been granted custody of us…. that was just the way it was back then… and THAT is a scary thought. Having my Dad around was the one thing that kept our home life steady. He was the voice of reason around there. If we didn’t have him to keep her in check on a regular basis… I know things would have been so much worse.
So, we watched them fight a lot. My brothers and I usually agreed with my dad… and were thankful that he opposed her on many issues. We often would go to him with something she was asking us to do that we didn’t feel was fair… and if he said we didn’t have to do it… we didn’t do it. Even so, my brothers and I often felt sorry for my mom. We didn’t want to have to listen to her and obey her all the time… but, we still felt sorry for her for getting yelled at by my Dad. She was always crying and playing the part of the victim. We felt bad for her. Dad seemed so tough and strong – so, even though we were glad to have him sticking up for us, it was easy to feel sorry for Mom. Hard to explain.
We grew up looking to Dad for most real advice or guidance.
Something that made my mom pretty jealous and upset. But, her advice was always the same – “pray”. And, while that might help some people some of the time, it didn’t help much when you were 6 years old and couldn’t find your shoe or something. My Dad would give real life advice with real life answers (“did you look under your bed?”).
Everyone always liked to talk to my Dad. Even our friends sought out his advice. He was caring, attentive, genuinely interested and wanting to help. He was also funny, and easy to talk to. So, we all did talk to him. Again, something my mother resented. She often acted paranoid like we were ganging up on her. She frequently accused my dad of “brainwashing” us.
And, while we witnessed them fight like cats and dogs, any my dad made it clear he didn’t love her, he still wouldn’t let us kids be disrespectful to her. We were not allowed to flat out be rude to her, or disobey her. Even though he would “over-ride” her parenting often, there was still a sense of respect instilled in us kids. If we ever tried to argue with her they way my Dad did, he would yell at us, ”DON’T you talk to your mother like that!”.
I never thought I was abused – but, looking back, I think there was emotional abuse. Maybe not terrible… and surely unintentional, but still…
I witnessed so much fighting between them… but more than that – there was the CONSTANT put downs of my father to everyone and anyone by my mother. She constantly talked really, reeeeeally badly about my Dad behind his back to anyone that would listen, including us kids.
Even more abusive, I think, though, was all the religious guilt and pressure I dealt with from my mother (and the church). Mom acted like Dad was the devil himself. She made us pray for him all the time, and told me he was going to hell all the time. I was scared for him. Not just him, but anyone I thought wasn’t “saved”. Hell was a very real and constant threat for me when I was a child.
She (and other adults in the church) used me to confront him and try to get him to go to church with us. She said he would do it for me if he loved me. Sometimes he did… but, eventually, he wouldn’t. So, I wondered if he loved me or not… even though he was always the most loving father. Of course, she, and “they” did all this with the best of intentions. They thought they were doing God’s will… and, lives were at stake. I guess everything is fair in love and conversion…
Everything was “evil”, and that can be scary to a kid.
My dad being evil seemed to be her biggest obsession, but, he wasn’t alone. Rock music, all our friends, T.V., sex, or anything remotely sexual…. Almost everything and anything were “bad” or “evil” to her. It’s a nerve-wrecking life to always be on the lookout for the next “evil“.
The topper was when she accused my father of sexually abusing my niece. That was shortly after I moved out of the house (the last of us kids to do so). My parents finally got divorced after that – but not before my father, and my family, were completely devastated.
Police, neighbors, family, friends, and doctors of all kinds – everyone was involved. My poor little niece, who was 3 at the time, had to undergo tests of all sorts.
In the end, everyone said my mother was wrong… and that she needed help… and that the accusations were false.
The hardest part was that she wouldn’t admit to this. She accused everyone of being brainwashed and/or paid off by my father. It was a VERY difficult time to say the least. That was the final straw in their marriage, and they finally divorced after that. By then, my brothers and I were all married ourselves and out of the house. My father wound up coming and living with me…. And my mother sold everything and decided to become a missionary in China. I think, she wanted to run away… and, conveniently said this was “the lord’s will”.
Dad passed away a few years ago. He lived with my husband and I, and our first child right up til he passed away. After all he’d done for me, I couldn’t not be there for him. I took care of him his last few years with the help of my brothers, and hospice care. I was 6 mnths pregnant with our 2nd child when he passed. He was like my best friend – and I miss him terribly.
After several years of missionary work in Asia, my mother is back in the area now… and, we are in touch frequently. She is doing ok – but, still annoys me so bad whenever we do get together because she STILL insists on constantly bad-mouthing my father and preaching at me. Learning more about mental illness, and everything is helping me better understand and handle our relationship.
She still will not admit she has any problems. She is mad that I won’t let her baby-sit my kids by herself – but, drops it when I tell her why. Our relationship is strained – but, I do try and all in all, I think we get along pretty well. I feel sorry for her. I wish I knew what really was her problem and that she would get help – but, she won’t.
I also admire her more and more, the more I learn. She’s overcome a lot in her life. I wonder how much of her problems is because of how she grew up, and how much is due to an actual illness? I’m convinced it’s a combination for her. All in all, she’s doing very well for herself. She’s no dummy… and, she’s got courage. She’s also got a lot of musical talents and a good heart. She means well. I know that. After many years, this blog is helping me really finally understand her better, and our relationship, and let me let go and forgive things that weren’t really her fault.
And now, finally, I am also realizing that I have probably been impacted by the way I grew up way more than I ever knew. I am doing very well for the most part… married 16 years.. 2 kids… lots of friends and family… good job… and most people see me as very strong, caring, and intelligent. Yes, I have my own battles…. and I am now realizing that maybe – just maybe they are all tying together with my childhood, etc.
I started researching this all… I’ve been reading a lot of books on ACMIP, and SZ, and more. I’m learning that I was pretty lucky. Things could’ve been a lot worse. It’s interesting to me to learn about. I’m learning that some of the issues I deal with, and personality traits that I thought were just “me” – are very common with people who grew up with a mentally ill parent. Things like feelings of guilt, and anxiety… It makes a lot of sense when you read how things can develop.
Even many of the more extreme things and situations that I can’t relate to personally, I figure my mother probably could. She must have had a terrible childhood, with her Mom in and out of institutions her whole life. So, I’m gaining new insight on her and how she must’ve felt growing up too.
I wish I would’ve researched this more a long time ago. Knowledge is power and the more we understand the better off we are. I think just talking (or writing) about it is so therapeutic too…
Anyway, this is the basics behind this blog called “my mother is a religious nut and my dad is an atheist” . It’s about my childhood, and struggles with religion, and dealing with a mentally ill parent, and just processing it all. It’s my story about growing up VERY religiously, and confused, and how I had to learn to decipher what was real, what was not. It’s my story about how I came to be the non-believer that I am. It’s my chance to vent, and recall things, and maybe learn something new along the way. And, if anyone else stumbles crossed it and it helps them in any way, all the better.