My devout Jehovah’s Witnesses parents and I are estranged. Occasionally, they remind me that I will be welcomed back into the fold when I “come back to Jehovah.” “Coming back to Jehovah” is code for subscribing to the tenets of their patriarchal, controlling, fundamentalist religion.
I am as likely to return to the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society as I am to fit into my size five acid-washed jeans that I wore in high school. Neither the values nor the outfit fits the adult that I am now.
That means, however, that for the past two decades, I have had to parent without parents. My son has never spent summers with Nana and Grandpa. My daughter had no extended family at her high school and college graduations.
My children are beautiful and brilliant and creative. They deserve to be loved and buffered by multiple generations in an extended family. But the price that my parents exact in exchange for that inclusion is much too steep.
When I became a parent, my own parents’ decision to prioritize adherence to religious dogma above devotion to their children became even more indecipherable to me. Mom and Dad were both first generation college students when they were converted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their degrees helped them to provide for us. Yet, when I graduated high school, they forbade me to apply to area colleges. Instead, my father put me on district convention programs to parrot some nonsense about the futility of higher education when the End was so close.
When my brother’s infant daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, a court order allowed doctors to give my niece a life-saving blood transfusion over my family’s objection. When we learned of this, I held my own five-year-old daughter close and whispered, “Thank God.” I was overwhelmed with relief that my niece’s life would be saved. In contrast, my mom wailed, “I wish they had let her die!”
My parents and I were never the same.
I am a flawed parent, and I make mistakes every day. But the mistakes that I make will be my own. Eight men on a Governing Body will never issue edicts that identify when and with whom my children can be intimate. No self-appointed lawmakers will require obedience when they define proscribed gender roles, outlaw birthday parties, or vilify Christmas celebrations.
Kids, I promise you that:
· Your childhood will not be marred with the specter of mass genocide at Armageddon.
· Independent, critical thinking will be your baseline, not a pejorative. You are expected to question authority and to reject patriarchal hegemony.
· You are loved. Unconditionally. You will be loved and accepted whether you are gay or straight, Christian or atheist.
It might be just you and me, but we’ve got this.