Dear Care and Feeding,
My in-laws are pretty great in every way, but there’s one major point we disagree on: religion. My husband is atheist; I was raised agnostic. His parents Catholic, attend services weekly, and participate in tons of church activities. They were absolutely shocked when we had a friend marry us instead of a priest, but other than the occasional cross necklace for my birthday, they haven’t really bothered us about our lack of faith. However, they have started to push religion more now that we have children. Our daughter is 3; our son is a newborn. My in-laws been regularly gifting things like holy water and children’s Bibles that I’ve carefully set aside, should the kids show any interest when they’re older. Recently my mother-in-law texted us to mention that she bought two fairly ornate crucifixes she would like to hang above the door to each child’s room. They are somewhat graphic, in my opinion. We firmly refused, saying we were not comfortable hanging such things in our home. But the decision seems to have hurt my in-laws’ feelings, seeing as they haven’t spoken to me since. I’m not sure what to tell them about future gifts, or if and when they ever want to take the kids to church.
—Clashing Over Crucifixes
Dear Clashing Over Crucifixes,
I hope when you firmly refused, you did so while acknowledging your in-laws’ good intentions, their love for you and their grandchildren, their devotion to their faith, and your love for them. If you did not, I would follow up by doing so now. This is unlikely to be the last time such a thing comes up. And in fact it’s not the first—it’s only the first time you weren’t able to sidestep without a confrontation. You note that your in-laws already know you and your husband are nonbelievers. There’s nothing wrong with the two of you making it explicitly clear you aren’t raising your children in the Catholic faith. But there’s also nothing wishy-washy about recognizing that your in-laws mean well. If you make yourself absolutely clear (right now, and again and again as necessary), it will get easier, I promise. It will take fewer words each time. You may be tempted to make a blanket rule about this—no gifts related to religion ever, no church, no proselytizing—but I wouldn’t. I’ve found that people are often tempted to try for one big fix, hoping they’ll never have to deal with a version of that problem again. But this hardly ever works (unless one counts an angry confrontation that leaves everyone with bitter feelings as “working”). I would take each thing as it comes up in the spirit with which it is meant until your in-laws finally get the message and give up. (Or until the children are adults and their grandparents still haven’t gotten the message, and it’s their own problem to deal with.)