21 answers

Upset Because Mother Is Overstepping Boundaries AGAIN!

I have a very strained relationship with my mother as it is. She is controlling and judgemental, and we're all certain she is bipolar (all siblings agree). That being said, I have tried my best to allow her to have a grandparent relationship with my child. She continously crosses boundaries that have been laid (diet, schedules, etc), but I am so angry from her latest stunt. A little background: I do not appreciate the religious umbrella she raised me under. My siblings and I got mixed messages, and we saw her live a very religiously hypocritical lifetyle that caused major trauma to us as kids. I have gone to years of therapy, read books, and eventually branched out and found a comfortable place for my own spiritual beliefs. She does not agree with them (simply because I am not mainstream Baptist like her), and that's okay. It is my life and choice. And I don't judge her for her beliefs. However, I have made it clear that my husband and I will expose our daughter to various religious concepts when she is older and ALLOW HER TO CHOOSE her path as she feels led. We have made this clear again and again. We have asked that neither side of the family give her any "religion specific" gifts or "preach" their beliefs to her in any regard. We live our life by the golden rule and teach our daughter morals/ethics. In essence, we try to lead by example and we find truth and beauty in all religions. We instill values of charity and service and graditude. We have been blessed with a beautiful little girl who has a sweet soul!

*Now fast forward to Mother's Day. I had to work, but my mother had invited my other siblings to dinner. My sister was sitting for me while I worked, so naturally my daughter was there for the meal, too. This morning I find out that my mother made my daughter pray a Chrsitian prayer before the meal. My daughter was confused, and my mother pushed her, made her bow her head, repeat after her and say "amen". My daughter just turned 3, and I am so MAD. This was not her place. And I would be just as mad if someone forced a Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or any other religious ritual. I have specifically asked her not to do this! This is up to the parents I feel.

What should I do now? My husband doesn't want our child to see her at all. And I feel hurt that every time I get courage enough to "let her back into the picture" she does these types of things. If she's doing this to a 3 year old, I can only see it getting worse over the years. The last thing I need is my crazy mother forcing my daughter to "pray for my lost soul" when she knows nothing about my private spiritual life and beliefs.

Would really appreciate advice on this. And yes, I tried to call her this morning. And soon as I started discussing the events of yesterday, she made an excuse to get off the phone in a hurry. This is typical.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you so much for your encouragement. Amy G., I really found your response so helpful and loving. Most of you were so non-judemental and supportive...Michelle P, Laura, Beverly S., Jodi D.--thank you thank you! Some of you were asking clarification--I do want my daughter exposed to different cultures/belief systems. But my issue is that she was forced to actually participate in a public restaurant. Observing and explaining what others are doing (from me and her dad)is one thing, but you shouldn't have to get baptized just to to understand someone else's beliefs if you know what I mean. I have spent years visiting temples, mosques, churches, and various spiritual celebrations. I do have an open mind and respect for all practices that are kind and loving. But I want my child exposed to people who walk the talk of their religion and respect our boundaries. That's all I am asking. Again, thank you all so much for your responses!

More Answers

I am so sorry for your strained relationship and your pain. Have you asked your sister what the prayer was exactly? It seems you may need more information from an adult. If it was a "God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food" sort of prayer, then that does seem like a simple, harmless exposure to her grandmother's faith. We pray before meals at our home and our guests respect that, as we are in our home and following our family customs. Just as when we visit other families who do not pray, we respect that. It may have been confusing to your daughter, but it is also an opportunity to learn that is they way that Grandma expresses her faith-- just like your next door neighbor has a Christmas tree and the woman down the street wears special clothing on her head.

If your mother is mentally ill, perhaps she needs some medical help? If she is mentally ill, then she may not be capable of having the type of relationship with you that you desire. It sounds like you are wanting to raise your daughter with a strong sense of compassion, love, and tolerance. May I presume that respect for elders is part of that list? If so, then showing your mom some grace and gently explaining to your daughter that all families are different and Grandma does things differently at her house than we do at ours is one way to handle it. Letting her see that you disagree with your mom but that you still treat her respectfully and compassionately is a great lesson.

If she is a Christian, then I am sure it is very concerning to her that your beliefs are different than hers. You have a very open mind set when it comes to faith, but she does not. To her it may not be just a matter of customs and rituals, but a matter of whether or not you will spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. I am not saying this to judge you at all. I am just saying that as a mother yourself, and even though you completely disagree with her religious beliefs, can you put yourself in her shoes for just a moment and see that her actions may come from love and fear for you and your daugther, rather than a disagreement equal to schedules or diet? Now if this is her true concern, there are good ways and bad ways to go about sharing that concern. And, it sounds like your growing up years were filled with hypocricy which would understandably harden you toward her example and way of thinking. And, when the time comes to really expose your daughter to different religions, you would probably want to choose a Christian example for her that truly lives out her faith without hypocrisy rather than your mother. Just as I am sure you would choose in the other faith examples, too. (A loving Muslim neighbor as opposed to a terrorist on the news, for example.)

It sounds like you love your daughter very much and want what is best for her. I would caution you that she is watching and learning from you-- including the way you relate to your own mother. I am hoping that in light of Mother's Day, you can find a way to calmly talk with your mom about your concerns and set some healthy boundaries that still allow you to have a positive relationship with your mom in some capacity-- even a formal, somewhat distant yet respectful relationship seems like a better option than a close/tumultuous one.

My heart hurts for you all,

2 moms found this helpful

Well, I realize that she has offended you, and potentially did it with the intent to over step your boundaries. That said, however, I thought you planned on exposing her to all sorts of religions and allowing her to chose for herself. This sounds like exposure to a religion to me, and there is no reason you cant explain that to your daughter. If I were to go into a Jewish home for example, I would follow their lead in any customs or rituals..it is their home. When we invite people into our home, we pray like we usually do, and people respect that, even though it may be different. This is a great time to teach your daughter about religious respect and tolerance. She can begin to understand that at grandmas house, this is what we do. Now, if she really was forced to "pray for your lost soul" then, obviously that is a different story!!! And it sounds like this is more about a habit of overstepping boundaries. But, while I do agree that you should raise your daughter how you would like, I also think that this might be one thing to let go of. Pick the battles that mean the very most to you, and know that the rest will make your daughter well rounded and able to understand that she can respect all people, even if they are not like her. Good luck!! ~A.~

1 mom found this helpful

You're letting your mother and her actions get to you! I also have a 3 yr old (and 6 yr old) and we don't typically pray before sitting down to a meal, however, when we go to my mother's house or out to dinner, we DO and it has NEVER resulted in any confusion where my children are concerned. If and when they do have questions, I will answer them as calmly and honestly as I possibly can and, as their parent, will demonstrate, by my behavior, a tolerence and respect for other people, their faiths and their beliefs. If you truly intend to raise your child to be open to all religions, as you say, then you are the one being the hypocrit by reacting in such a angry manner to an innocent dinnertime prayer. I'm sure the problems with your mother go WAY back but don't expose your child to that by constantly bickering over the little things. It's not as if your mother is abusing your daughter, which would be the ONLY reason that you should ever consider not allowing them to see each other. (If there comes a time when your mother does start to verbally bash you and your husband in front of or to your child behind your backs, then, at that point, yes, I would put my foot down but not until I knew FOR SURE that derogatory comments were being made. - I could understand "grounding" grandma from further visitation in that instance.)

I sorry, but I really think you are being overreactive and immature. You should be showing your child proper behavior in these situations. You're letting your mother control your emotions and that is defining how you relate to your child and is causing stress between you and your husband. Don't give your mother that power.

If you're child acts confused or asks questions, just shrug it off and say, "Oh honey, that's just one of grandma's silly quirks!" and MOVE on. Seriously, at 3-yrs old, your daughter isn't going to be interested in any long, drawn out religious lecture so don't worry about it. It's not worth the family drama, trust me!

1 mom found this helpful

How frustrating and trying. I was raised Unitarian Universalist, which is a very liberal, non-christian religion, while my dad's family was Catholic and my mom's parents were Quaker. I often had a hard time explaining, or even defending, myself to friends and family. For whatever it's worth, there were definitely times when other people forced their religion on me in various ways, but I think in the end it was okay. I think it helped that I did have the UU church as my base, so I felt that I had a real church of my own backing me up as it were. While at mass with my cousins, during communion, they asked if I was baptized, to which I said no, and was promptly sent up to get a blessing from the priest - wish I'd had the guts to just sit down! So now I'm blessed and it's all good. Mom and Dad were even going to let my Catholic grandmother baptize me as an infant, just to make her happy, but turns out the Catholic church isn't too big on that kind of arrangement, understandably! My Quaker grandmother used to send me the "God letter" about every year, basically telling me that my religion was fine, but that when I was ready to find God (her version), he'd be there for me. So finally in college it was one letter to many and I had my mom call her off. I also used to say grace and prayers with friends at their houses and churches. I guess my point here is that none of these things had a lasting negative effect on me. If anything, they just caused me to ask more questions and think more about my own beliefs as I grew up. (I just remembered my parents even sent me to Vacation Bible School as a pre-schooler - which I think was actually really good because I learned the basic bible stories that are such an important part of our culture and literature.) I completely understand your frustrations, but I would encourage you to try to take a step back and decide how important each "infraction" really is. I completely agree that your mom needs to respect your religious beliefs, but maybe her influence on your daughter won't be as strong as you think. Good luck - this doesn't sound easy.

1 mom found this helpful


I can certainly appreciate your feelings and viewpoint on this one. There are some things you might just consider accepting about your mother that just won't change. A great way to make boundaries clear is to take away the priviledge for a short period of time, just like she did to you. What I mean is, if she gets overly religious and you are not comfortable, just say (without the emotional charge)"oh, looks like we gotta get going now mom," and leave immediately without any further explanation or dialogue. Let her figure it out. As for your daughter, might I suggest bridging the gap by simply teaching that it is good to express gratitude to and for all things in life. An example would be to say a prayer of gratitude for meals to "Great Spirit" or some other expression that aligns with your beliefs. It is a good thing for children to learn to be grateful and to express it to the One Source. Gratitude paves the way for more abundance. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you do not teach her this or that you are not grateful. Simply that you can transfer a knowing of a Higher Power to a child and let them decide what that means for them. We started saying night time prayers with our children and we teach that it is important to bless all things...with the energy of Love, which to us, is what God is all about. If you are doing some kind of prayer or blessing (or meditation, whatever you want to call it) with your child, it won't be quite so confusing. I can imagine that your mother was heavy with it; just explain to your daughter that it is simply grandma's way of talking to God and we all have different ways. At the age of three, children really understand much more than we give them credit for. If you don't neutralize your charged emotions regarding religion, you will transfer the same issues to your daughter, whether you speak about it or not...it's in your energy field. Hope this helps. Wow, I just read some of the other responses, and you got a lot of great advice. A big huge hug to all you moms out there who embrace the little girl, the mother and the sister in us all. Brillant and insightful responses. You didn't even need mine!

1 mom found this helpful

Hey-- I feel your pain. My in-laws are 'fundamentalists'-- Catholic. They are very involved in the church. My husband and I do not embrace mainstream religion, and we do not want our kids exposed to the type of "brainwashing" that we were as kids. In the beginning, it was very hard for them to keep this at a distance because it is so much a part of who they are. They still do little things to irk us, like say a prayer at our dinner table or mention "Jesus" to the girls... and that is okay. We explain to them that they are very firm in their beliefs and that not everyone believes the same and that NOBODY has the truth because nobody knows anything for sure. We tell them that religion is a personal belief and we balance that with scientific facts. I think that your child is a bit young to begin explaining all of this to, but in a year or two, she will begin to understand. In the end, she will write off "crazy grandma"... and likely still be able to maintain some relationship with her. Just know, I feel your pain...

1 mom found this helpful

I know you got a lot of good advice...

And a note to those moms who got bent out of shape because they didn't like how KM reacted to the "prayer situation": 1) KM has her own spiritual path to follow - you don't know what that is, so to assume she is not a faith based person is wrong. 2) to assume that her mother is a good person or harmless because she is religious is also wrong. Hypocritical behaviour is hypocritical behaviour - if you say you are a Christian, faithful person and do not act that way, it is obvious, and you are a hypocrite. We are not perfect, but there's a difference between making mistakes and ongoing harmful behaviour. 3) it's not the exposure to faith that is the issue, it is the forcing of the issue. If everyone at breakfast bowed their heads and said 'amen', it's a moment the child could participate in. But if this grandmother is, in fact, as bad as KM says (and I have one like this myself, so she could very well be), she may have gotten in that poor child's face. That's wrong.

KM - here's some support to the limiting contact side of things. I have a very superficial relationship with my mother. She lives in another state, thank goodness, so I don't have to deal with this on a regular basis. That said, I would not leave her alone with my child if you paid me. I do not trust her or her judgement. I am polite, but she is a toxic person (regardless of the fact that she's "gotten religion"). 2 years ago, my sister had an appendix attack, a miscarriage, and an infection and was hospitalized 3 times in 2 months - and my "godly" mother did not visit her then, and still has not. It was a 5 hour drive that my older sister and emphesemic father were able to make. That was truely the end for me. My first responsibility is to my husband/child.

If she is truely toxic to your family, beyond just annoying, just see her in groups, and when you're present. If a situation like the one you describes should come up again, you need to have your siblings on the same page and have them stop your mom in your stead - after all, if they're babysitting, they're standing in for you.

Good luck, and I'm sorry you're going thru such pain. It's hard, and you'll always feel sad about the lack of relationship, but you have to do what is best for your family.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi. I know you have received a lot of responses, but I wanted to add my perspective. My response is more about the grandmother situation rather than the faith issue. I'm sorry you have a strained relationship with your mother. It's obvious she hurt you, but also obvious you want what's best for your child. You are right to let your daughter have a relationship with her. There is no such thing as too many people to love your child. Even if you had a great relationship with your mom, the reality is that most grandparents are going to break lots of the rules. Schedules, diet and on & on & on. I feel that we as parents need to allow it to a certain extent. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Kids know there are things they can get away with with grandparents that are completely off limits at home. This is universal! And if she prays at grandma's & not at home, so what? Exposing her to her grandmother's faith is part of letting her decide. If she isn't exposed to it you are limiting her options. My mother raised me in her faith, but taught me to not blindly believe what someone says-- to study on my own & decide what I belive. Raise your daughter in the faith you believe but let her know she need to use her own mind & heart to chose her path. If she understands your faith, she won't allow grandma to persuade her. And let her pray or participate in all her friends'/family's different faiths. Sheltering her doesn't help her choose. Good luck

1 mom found this helpful

So, I'm a little confused, did your mother force your daughter to "pray for your lost soul" or did she simply have her bow her head for the family meal? Huge difference in my mind-- the 1st is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable in ANY realm, the second, I would say give her a break- if the worst thing your mother ever does is to have your daughter bow her head and say "amen" after the meal-time prayer-- thank God that your daughter actually IS being exposed to various religions AND their practices!! Again, I agree that if she was in any way, shape or form maligning your relationship with your daughter or speaking negatively about you/your religious beliefs with your daughter then YES, speak to her about it, but saying "amen" after a prayer isn't exactly a problem in my opinion!
Good Luck!

1 mom found this helpful

If other siblings know of your choice, why didn't the custodial sister stop the event? I agree that your mother isn't respecting your boundaries, but other adults were there to step in and offer the prayer... they didn't. If all bow down to your mother, you may have to find another sitter since your daughter is so small. You cannot protect her from all and this is as someone else mentioned a form of religious exposure albeit not a good one when forced to pray. Teach your daughter to say no in these kinds of situations as at her age people can start to prey upon her.

You are overreacting. It is a parent's responsibility to guide their children and grandchildren. If you do not want to teach your child to pray, let your mother. It is a huge mistake on your part not to teach your child prayer.

(I wrote this before you posted your response. I understand better now)

First, I am so sorry. I know how upsetting this can be. When people mess with our boundaries, especially with our kids, it is hard to separate the problem with the actual offense with the fact that a certain someone has, again, stomped right over us. Been there, done that. It sounds like you are angry about way more than religion here. I think you will do both yourself and your daughter a disservice if you don't really try to separate the issues and deal with the one that is really the problem here.

But, if this is about faith,...(this is long, sorry)...

I think there is a difference between a)raising a child with NO exposure to faith and expecting them to pick something up along the way (which likely will not happen); and

b)exposing them to many faiths, really educating them, and letting them go to where they are comfortable spiritually.

If your choice is the former, that is fine and you can then deal with the fact that you have no right to tell your mom how to worship in her own home or anywhere else, and you can limit your child's exposure to that household. That is a legitimate choice. It appears from your language that you do judge your mother for her faith and dislike her faith, and that it caused you pain. It sounds like, while you want your child to learn about lots of faiths, you DO NOT want her to learn about your mom's. I get that. But that is a very different stance than wanting your kid to be exposed to all faiths, and requires a different solution.

Or, you can embrace the teaching moment that this represents and start finding a way to objectively explain the similarities and differences of the world faiths to your daughter. "Grandma believes there is one God and that he sent his son to Earth....etc." "Other people believe...." "I believe that..." Of course, this will actually require you to jump in and really learn it all too so you can educate her instead of indoctrinate her. That is really a lot of work, but really interesting, soulful, and gratifying work that will be good for you and your child.

I think you need to really decide though, if your attitude toward choice of religion isn't more about distancing yourself from, and rightfully shielding your child from your MOM's brand of faith. If you are just still angry about your own upbringing and your mom's faith, you need to own it and deal with her and your anger towards her and set a specific NO GRANDMA RELIGION boundary. She may have, in her own twisted way, thought she was doing exactly what you wanted her to do, exposing her to one those interesting world religions. (boundary crossers are notorious about finding the loopholes in what you ask, aren't they?) And, again, teaching your child how to respectfully observe (as opposed to practice) a prayer of someone else's faith is a good thing that you can teach her, and frankly is the only way you will ever really teach her about other faiths...seeing them in practice. I can see however how you might ask your mother to respect this distinction of allowing the child to observe, but not practice Grandma's faith.

The fact is, in this country of many interesting faiths, you can't get away from religion and you can't insulate your daughter. Everyone brings their faith background with them every time they open their mouths.."God bless you" after a sneeze, "one nation under God" in the pledge". You owe it to your daughter to put on your thinking cap and START talking about it. There are a million amazing kids books on all of the faiths. (check out the Jon Muth books for Zen Buddhism...lovely) And it is a great challenge for a parent to actually explain belief systems objectively without falling back on the magical language that is at the core of most faiths. But kids are quite open and interested in all of these ideas. You be her guide, or someone else (your mom) will. It sounds like your child is being raised in a wonderfully ethical and moral environment.

I say all of this as a mom who has made a similar choice as you. I don't think I can tell my child what to believe because I am on my own journey, but it is a journey of study and education. I am dealing with the limitations of my childhood faith while really analyzing the drawbacks and strengths of others. I am of one faith, my husband another, and her school is affiliated with another. I have to answer A LOT of questions from a very aware 6 year old now, and it is pretty wonderful.

All this being said, if your mom actually made your daughter "pray for your lost soul", all bets are off because if you mom did that...it is abusive.

Good Luck. I hope I haven't said anything hurtful. This is sensitive and painful stuff.

Your little one just said a prayer...I think you are going way overboard. Since you say your daughter can pick the religion she wants then you shouldn't be upset because every religion has a god and every religion prays so I don't see anything wrong with it.

I say she only has visits at your home with your supervision. My mother is not allowed to be alone with my daughter because she is the same. My mother LOVES to undermine me. I, like you, have determined to expose my daughter to various religions and allow her to make her choice teaching her right from wrong and love of all cultures.

There are other reasons my mother is allowed only short visitation with my daughter, but I will not go into that. For your sanity and your family's, I would go with your husband and either not let her have access to your daughter or limit the access.

Your child should not be stressed or confused because her grandmother has an agenda. Protect your baby and your relationship.

You can't change your mother. What you can change/control is the amount of time you spend with her. Don't give her so much power in your life. Yes, she is your mother, but she is hurting you and your family relationships. Don't buy into this idea that they sell on tv, movies and in books that for some reason you are obligated to give her free reign in your life. She causes great distress. Just let go. It doesn't make you a bad daughter, just an adult. She is going to do what she wants, when she wants. But, you can do the same.

If you have always had a strained relationship with your mom, is it possible you are always on the edge with her on all things? I've been there and everything that another family member does I ALWAYS pick apart. Thus making me stressed before I even walk through the door. You said that you are going to let your daughter choose her religion and will be open and expose her to all beliefs. Maybe instead of distancing your family, you could make this a learning process. Let your daughter know that grandma has different beliefs and while you may not share them, you will respect them. If you go to someone elses church you stand and sit as they do, so maybe this approach will relax the tension a little. You also said that you teach by example/ethics, could this not be put to use with your mother? I'm not trying to preach, but I've had this kind of relationship with my mom and brother/sister inlaws ever since I can remember. All it's done to me is cause lots of stress. I choose to not visit as often and now that our children are raised, they were the ones who suffered. They really don't know my mother and the older she gets, I regret my decision. I read the book "The Shack" and I have changed the way I think about a lot of things. I kept letting the little things fester and they became big things for no reason. Just some food for thought, good luck.

I don't really have any advice on the situation but I can definitely relate to what you are going through. I have the same challenges with my grandmother. It's easier to limit the contact with a great grandmother and when my kids are around her I make sure I'm there to supervise. Good luck!

I don't see what the big deal is? You should be glad someone is teaching her about prayer.

Unless you loosen up, you've got a very long battle ahead of you. I agree that you are totally overreacting to the situation, and with your daughter only 3, you've got a whole lot of years ahead of you. In a few years, she will be asking to make her own choices and chances are those choices are going to really test you and your own resolve to let her explore and make her own decisions.

I remember years ago that I got nearly hysterical about my daughters going to church with their grandparents when we'd go to spend a weekend. I wanted them to have the freedom to explore, but the fear that they'd be brainwashed was intense. I've done almost a 180 degree turn since then.

My in-laws' church is an integral part of their lives and their community. They live in a rural area and this church has been their church for over half a century even though it has changed denominations a couple of times. Their social lives revolve around the church and the funeral home. I eventually would accompany my in-laws to church as I began to explore my own beliefs in more depth. It helped me to discern that their faith was not large enough to encompass my needs. Eventually, I found own place and sanctuary.

I got upset about the books about God that the kids were given by family and by friends who were concerned about their souls. I went through the same kind of stuff as a kid with friends trying to get me saved.

I could go on and on, but the main message is that faith and religious beliefs are a dynamic force. We are constantly growing and adapting and expanding our belief system. There are many events in our lives that challenge us to find a context big enough to encompass our experience. It is a journey that we all face in our own ways no matter under what umbrella we try to shelter ourselves. The only win-win situation is for everyone to explore and come together regularly to share your experiences with each other and develop a common understanding of each other.

Hi KM,

I know you already received a ton of responses, but I just wanted to add this: someone wrote that your influence over your daughter outweighs your mother's influence (or anyone else's, for that matter). That should be comforting to you. My MIL is crazy and does things regarding my kids that I cannot stand, & people remind me that my influence over my kids is so much more than hers will ever be. I also have a very strained relationship w/ my mother - she is also crazy. She is a miserable person, and it sounds like your mother is also miserable. For many reasons, I found it unbearable to live my life locally to my mother, and so I moved far away from her, and it changed my life for the better! I know it was extreme (but worked great for me), so let me just put it out there that if you and/or your husband can find work elsewhere, maybe you should do that? Putting geographical distance between your family and your mother might be the only solution. Your anger cannot continue - it will destroy you. So, if you can't accept the way your mother is (and I don't blame you for one second), then moving could be a great answer for you and your family. I can't stand it when people don't listen and respect you (my inlaws have no boundaries). I also agree w/ someone who said that your bipolar mother needs help. If she is bipolar, do not leave your daughter alone with her. It's a tough situation. Best of luck!

Hi K!

I agree with Jodi. I too limit my mother's exposure to my children. She is only allowed to be around them while supervised and at that...it's only for 2 hours max a week. People who don't have this issue simply can't really understand the danger involved in giving your mother more slack than that. Protect your children. Your alliegiance is to them, not your mother. My girls are 4,3 and 1. It's taken me a while to get here. I recommend a book called Boundaries. It is a christian book, but please don't let that stop you. It's not really pushy or anything...there are great ideas and concepts in there that could help you.

Good luck!

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