Phoning It In for the Family? Researchers suggest it may better to make a slow and subtle break from the religion of your parents

A study published in the June edition of the Journal of Family Issues looked at the effect a child’s break from his or her parents’ religion can have on multigenerational relationships within the family. Syracuse doctoral candidate Woosang Hwang led the study, “Parent–Adult Child Religious Discordance: Consequences for Intergenerational Solidarity Across Several Decades,” and used data from the Longitudinal Study of Generations that began in 1971. Three generations of families in Southern California were interviewed about their lives and familial relationships—including religious affiliation—and were subsequently interviewed seven more times up until 2005. (Presumably, members of the oldest generation weren’t alive to be interviewed in later iterations.)

Hwang and his colleagues found that adult children who broke from the religion practiced by their parents reported less contact and feelings of closeness compared with others whose religious practice may have simply lessened or faded over time. They speculated that part of the reason was that ending the practice of childhood religion altogether would eliminate a regular opportunity for parents and their adult children to interact, as well as for grandparents to interact with their grandchildren through church or other related activities.

With the growing number of Americans who leave religion behind, or at least break their affiliation with a specific church or faith tradition, the same researchers now want to study whether some ways of religious disaffiliation are less harmful to family relationships than others.

What’s your experience? Did you make a sudden and vocal split from your family’s religion or was it a slow fade? Do you feel your family relationships suffered permanently as a result or did some healing take place? And if the slow fade bodes better for family ties, is it really worth faking it? We’d love to hear your story!