Freckles in April: Mixed Faith Marriage and the "Big Days"

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mixed Faith Marriage and the "Big Days"

When I've written in the past about marriage after a Mormon faith transition I promised that life goes on and it looks mostly the same. The exception to this is the "big days." Blessing days, baptisms, weddings. These days, which should be lovely and happy and joyful end up being a little more...fraught.

Our first "big day" after I left the church was The Caboose's blessing day. I was having some anxiety over the idea of blessing her at church so we opted to bless her at home with only family present. I thought about asking to hold her during the blessing but, when it came down to it, I didn't feel the need. It was, as you can tell from the picture, really casual. My house was a disaster. Aaron was barefoot. We had an easy dinner afterward. The pre-big-day anxiety was way worse than the actual day.

Our next "big day" was Oldest's baptism. I didn't want him to miss out on the full experience due to his mom's belief system so we did the "normal" thing: invited lots of friends and family and planned a big pancake brunch at our house afterward. My emotions in the days leading up to the baptism were running really high. I personally feel 8 is too young to make the choice to get baptized and I didn't feel like he was choosing baptism because of a particularly strong belief but because it was expected and everyone else was doing it.*

On the day of the baptism I barely held it together. There were a ton of kids getting baptized that day and the chapel was PACKED. I don't remember much about the actual service but I was relieved when it was time to go home for the party.

Except the party was actually worse.

Well meaning friends came up to me and said things like, "Oh we're just so happy and relieved that he chose to get baptized!" While I stood there awkwardly, a smile pasted on, NOT saying, "Oh, you're so relieved he chose not to follow me?" The day was full of congratulatory texts and expressions of satisfaction with his choice. Sent to me. The person they knew didn't believe anymore.

A few days later I was talking to my friend Camille and she said, "I saw that Oldest got baptized...that must have been really hard for you!" I immediately burst into tears. She was the only person to acknowledge that that day might have been rough and less than joyful for me.

I understand that my child's baptism day is not remotely about me but that small expression of understanding meant the world.

*my intuition was right on this one. Six months later he declared he didn't believe in God or Jesus and he hated church.

Our most recent "big day" was Middle's baptism a couple weekends ago. I was less worried about his choice because he seems to be a real believer. He loves Jesus and enjoys church and I felt like he genuinely wanted to be baptized. However, I was dreading sitting through the talks again, the expressions of joy and relief from friends, the celebration afterward. In the weeks beforehand I'd occasionally joke with believing friends about how uninvolved I was with the baptism planning and would just get uncomfortable silence in return. My emotions started rising in that old, familiar, awful way.

Aaron and I discussed my concerns and decided to keep the baptism small- family only. We also decided not to do a party afterward. We thought maybe we could go out and do something, just the five of us.

After how awful Oldest's baptism was for me, I was braced for the worst.

And was fine.

It was structured differently- we were in our own room and never combined with the other groups getting baptized that day. My mother-in-law gave one talk and my mom gave the other. Our group was really small, which kept it casual and light. We're not a particularly musical group so the closing hymn was hilariously painful as none of us knew it and none of us can read music. When we went outside afterward the weather was so nice that we decided to all go get some lunch somewhere we could eat outside. I didn't have to stress about feeding everyone or cleaning my house or anything. It was easy and comfortable.

Also, multiple people checked in with me throughout the day. Friends texted to see how I was feeling, how it had gone, how I was handling things. That care and concern meant the world to me and it was really nice to respond that I was fine, things had gone well.

If you're in a mixed faith marriage, here's my advice for the "big days":

1. Keep it small and casual. It might help reduce the pressure on the non-believing spouse.

2. Know that the anxiety leading up to the day is almost always worse than the day itself. Aaron and I both have to deal with my big day anxiety and it's unpleasant. By the time the actual day rolls around we are both on high alert. And then the day passes and it's usually not nearly as bad as I'd imagined and we both breathe a sigh of relief.

3. Do what you need to protect yourself- For you this might mean inviting people who will serve as a buffer between you and people you can't handle on the "big days". It might mean building in some alone time afterward to decompress. For me this means a new dress. In my brain, clothing is armor but it also gives me something else to focus on during the lead-up. I can't tell you how many dresses I ordered and returned in the search for a good dress to wear to Middle's baptism. It was a weeks-long search and it was exhausting but you know what else it was? Distracting. Which was good for my anxiety.

4. Skip extras if you don't feel like you can handle them. The party afterward? Not an actual part of the ordinance (and, I've learned, not super common outside of areas that are heavily Mormon). You don't have to take fancy pictures. You don't have to create a special program. Do what you can and don't worry about the rest. I do recognize that kids might have their own expectations. I'm lucky in that my kids are pretty happy with the minimum but you may have to work with your kid to figure out what they are expecting out of their baptism day. Maybe you can negotiate a bit- a big party with friends to celebrate the birthday and a small baptism with family might be an acceptable option.

If you're a believer with an ex-Mormon friend who is going through "big days", here's my advice for you:

1. Acknowledge your feelings but also acknowledge that theirs may be different. They might want to cry. They might be really grumpy. They might be totally fine. You can say, "We're so happy for Timmy but how are you feeling? I can see how today might have been rough for you." If you're not prepared to deal with their uncomfortable feelings then maybe you're not very good friends after all.

2. Be open. Acknowledge awkwardness. Laugh together about it. Ask questions if you have them. When you refuse to acknowledge that things are different or weird or unique you are probably just making things MORE awkward. Don't make their exmo status a taboo subject. This applies in general but I feel like things get real weird with friends and family around the "big days" when I awkwardly try to ease the tension and everyone else shuts down and changes the subject and doesn't know how to handle it. We're all learning together- isn't it better if we can laugh and talk about it?

Your mileage may vary, of course, but this is my experience and advice from some of the "big days" we've had over the past four and a half years since my change of faith. If you're going through it, I just want to send you love and hugs. If you're in a mixed-faith marriage, I'd love to hear how you've handled the "big days" in your family!


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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. Being exmo myself I understand. :)


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