Family ; ‘When to sever ties?’ My parents’ religion has shattered our relationship


Often we turn to anger in the throes of breaking apart, writes Eleanor Gordon-Smith. But a relationship needn’t be entirely bad for you to want to let it go

Eleanor Gordon-Smith
Tue 4 Feb 2020


‘When we let go of things that had a little good in them we tend to leave fingernail marks behind.’ Photograph: National Gallery of Art

After a health scare 10 years ago, my father was baptised into an extremely conservative, fundamentalist Christian church. My older brother joined him shortly thereafter and after years of living with the threat of hellfire and damnation, my mother joined as well. I have attempted to keep the lines of communication open with them, to try to understand their perspective of the world, but their impossible standards mean my relationship with them is shattered. I am 36, married, have two children and own a small business. All of this to them is “worldly” and a barrier to me having the “right” relationship with God. When is the time to sever the cord with the parents who once meant the world to me?

That’s a lot of hurt and anger in a few lines. But the part of your letter that strikes me most deeply isn’t your understandable hurt and anger. It’s that you say your parents once meant the world to you. It makes me wonder whether you’re hesitating because it feels too severe to cut the cord with them, like you’d be serving them the sentence we use for abusers or toxic manipulators, when your parents are just the people who once felt most like home.

I wonder whether saying “enough” feels so harsh that you’re waiting for someone else’s permission to really feel the things you write: that you’ve tried to save the relationship, that it’s exhausted you to try, and that it might be a relief to cut the cord. Maybe it feels like that still isn’t enough to legitimate walking away from a relationship when you know it once contained so much good.


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