In every relationship, including the ones we have with our parents, we have to pick our battles. For some people who aren’t interested in baptizing their babies, like your brother for example, fighting their parents on the topic isn’t a battle worth pursuing. So, they do it — they baptize their kids to appease their traditional parents (and/or grandparents) and then maybe never set foot in a church again. For those people, the baptism is nothing more than a means to an end (the means being: dressing up their baby in a gown and spending an hour or two in church followed by a small family party; the end being: getting their parents off their damn backs…at least on this issue). Religion has a lot of benefits for a lot of people, and, if a baby’s baptism delivers some of those benefits to some of the main participants (like the grandparents), it isn’t necessarily a mockery of a religion’s customs.
That’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at this is that this is YOUR baby and you don’t want to baptize her, end of discussion. And you have to truly end this discussion. Tell your mother it isn’t going to happen and nothing she can say will change that. Tell her you love her and respect her and you love your late grandmother and you are sorry if your choices disappoint them, but you’re grown-up and you understand that choices have consequences and you are prepared to accept them. But the thing is, you have to actually accept them. The consequences here are, as you know, guilt trips and arguments. And hurt feelings, of course.
I know your question was how to explain your stance to your mother without hurting her feelings, but the truth is, there probably ISN’T a way to do that. You can — and should — explain your side as respectfully and tactfully as possible, but what you’re really telling her is that you reject some of the values (her religious faith, namely — one that claims honoring thy parents as a major tenet) that she finds important and that she tried to instill in you. That stings. No one likes rejection, and I think it’s an especially hard pill to swallow when it comes from a child you raised. It’s gotta hurt when your child essentially says, “This way you raised me? Eh, didn’t really work for me.” That’s not entirely true, of course. Or maybe it’s just a teeny, tiny part of the truth. But that’s likely what a parent hears when you reject the religion he or she raised you in.
I’m not saying you should baptize your daughter (or get married in a church, for that matter). I wouldn’t (and didn’t) do those things if they didn’t feel right for me, despite potentially disappointing my parents (but I also don’t have parents who give me much grief about this kind of thing). I was raised Lutheran and went to church every single Sunday. My parents were active in the church, and once I was confirmed (after a year or two of special classes), I was a regular acolyte. And yet, by the time I was in high school, I knew that this specific religion, and probably organized religion in general, was not for me. I stopped going to church regularly, but by the time I was in college I would still attend services with my parents when I was home on break because it made them happy (and because the battle not to just wasn’t worth pursuing). It didn’t feel like a mockery to me if I knew it was bringing my parents some happiness. And then, many years later, I married a Jew. In a Jewish wedding. And I’m not Jewish. I didn’t convert and I have no interest to. But we’re raising our son Jewish. And I don’t feel that that’s a mockery any more than my having a Jewish wedding was because it’s important to my husband. And I like that our son will have faith teachings and a base for future decisions regarding his own beliefs.
All of this is to say that, just like your daughter will do some day, you have to make choices… and not all of them will be easy and not all of them will be all about you. (But it’s perfectly fine — better than fine — if some of them are, especially ones that are particularly important to you). And you have to accept that every choice has a consequence — sometimes big and sometimes very small. In this particular case, you have to weigh the potential consequences of each choice (i.e. making a mockery of a religious custom vs. hurting your mother’s feelings) and decide which is easier to live with. If you decide not to baptize your daughter, which is a completely valid choice, you will probably hurt your mother’s feelings. I think that consequence is unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean she’ll stop loving you or that she won’t be crazy about her granddaughter. The flip side is that, even if you have your daughter baptized to appease your mother, it doesn’t mean she (your mom) will stop trying to manipulate you through guilt. Which brings us back to this: pick your battles. Because you know as well as anyone else who has a parent: there will be others to choose from.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].