This is a little bit of a complicated problem. My mom and dad are both Catholic, and they have a tradition - every Easter and Christmas, they take the immediate family (themselves, me, and my sister) to Church.

There's just a few small problems: neither me nor my sister get anything from it. And in my case specifically, the incense they use in church triggers both my allergies and my asthma, which introduces a major health risk (not to mention makes me highly irritable).

There's a secondary issue here: I have a confirmed and diagnosed anxiety issue. Without health insurance (of which I do not have because I had it through school and I've graduated and don't have any health coverage until I can apply January 1 with my new full time job), I can't get the medication to keep it under absolute control within my budget. Which means every time we go, there's screaming children, and every time the screaming noisy children make a noise, it drives my anxiety levels up exponentially.

So, the core problem is, I've made many attempts to make it known that:

  1. There's a health risk with the asthma and allergies, and
  2. There is a safety risk both to myself and others with the anxiety (which in extremely high amounts can reveal itself explosively), and
  3. I don't get anything from church (I'm in the beliefs category of "Religion is just a bogus a mythos just to give you 'rules of behavior', and has archaic traditions that are worth nothing to me"; also known as the "I don't believe in any religion at all" category), and in addition to forcing me to do something I absolutely do not want to do, making me go is equivalent to torture because of points 1 and 2.

Now, in every case, when I bring this up, there's absolutely no 'wiggle room' within my parents to actually accept the points. They indicate that "Oh, you can fix the asthma problem just bring your inhaler", or "Just suck it up" for the second point, but point #3 they just completely ignore.

I currently live with my parents, until my apartment is habitable and well stocked with food and stuff, which can't be done until I receive my first paycheck with the full time job I recently got. After January, that shouldn't be a factor, and solves the problem, but until then I'm living with my parents and so this is still a problem.

So, I'm stuck in a dilemma - every time they force this upon me, I become a very angry person for the rest of the day, even if it is twice a year.

How do I go about telling my parents in no uncertain terms "Traditions be damned, I absolutely refuse to go" for the above reasons without getting into a "But this is tradition!" fight with my parents?

Additional information was requested in comments, and answers are here:

What culture is this taking place in? How old are you?

USA, 27 years old.

Have you told your parents you are atheist?

Yep. Hasn't changed their viewpoints on it.

@ThomasWard So who feels guilty? You or them?


Do your parents normally attend mass or is it just for the holidays?

Usually they only go that I know of twice a year, Easter and Christmas.

@ThomasWard What happens if you just stand your ground and not go, period?

It gets into a yelling and swearing argument and they essentially rage-mode me into joining them. My mom and dad are forces of nature...

  1. Do you know why they want you to go?
  2. Is it a bonding experience for them?
  3. Is there a social aspect for your parents? in the sense maybe it would look bad in their circles that their son is not going with them to the church?
  4. Maybe they also feel that if you are not going, you lose any chance to redemption?
  5. Have you had any discussions why they want you to go that badly?

(list formatting was my doing)

  1. They only quote 'It's tradition!'
  2. Probably, in that it's one of the 'few times' the family is actually all in one place. Empty-nester-syndrome, perhaps?
  3. Not really anything that fits that category, no.
  4. Maybe, but if this were the case my father would tell me so - he knows to not beat around the bush with me (thanks to aspergers syndrome, if he actually tries to be vague I brush it off / ignore it because my mind doesn't process it well)
  5. Beyond the medical reasons I stated, and the anxiety risks, and me having told them "I don't really get much from this anymore..." in the past? Not really.
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    Am I missing something? You stated you will have insurance starting Jan 1st, and you asked the question after Christmas (too late to deal with for 2017). Thus by Easter you will be fully insured and covered and have access to medication. Isn't the medication part of the discussion null and void at this point?
    – cybernard
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 23:42
  • @cybernard yes and no? Ultimately, going back and answering 60% of other inquiries, the core problem with the assumption medication is not an issue anymore here, is that even then continual exposure to the irritants makes the medications irrelevant - it'll just get 'worse' and if one goes over the dosages permitted for certain medications it causes more evil. Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 1:29
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    Please do not answer in comments. We have a policy against this. If you have an answer to the question, write an answer.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 16:44
  • @only_pro Old post is old. When I posted this in 2017, I discussed with my parents a couple weeks later about why I don't like going and how I don't want to go. With my sister moved out and me moved out, my parents have shed the tradition of 'taking the family to church' - they now go themselves to church. My sister and I both live within short-commute distances to my parents now, so we show up on christmas day for brunch and a nice day with the family, then return home, so all's good now. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 17:36

12 Answers 12


You're mixing a health argument with an "I don't like it" argument. The latter is unwinnable right now, and by combining them you invite your parents to think "oh, he doesn't want to and we've had that argument before, so now he's just making up health excuses". The first thing you need to do is to decouple them.

The second thing you need to do, assuming you want to maintain a good relationship with your parents, is to seek a compromise that addresses the health needs, recognizing that it might mean going with them. You should not endanger your health, but you should work with your parents to resolve this thing that is very important to them and (if the health issues are addressed) won't cost you that much. (I am assuming that the pressure they're applying does not rise to the level of dangerous bullying -- just that they're super-insistent and perhaps whiny. I am also assuming that your distaste for church does not rise to the level of principled objection or offense.)

Talk with your parents only about the health issues (asthma and anxiety). Say that while you don't like going, you're willing to accompany them because it's important to them, but you (plural) need to find solutions to these problems. Ask them to help solve the health problems. Possible solutions I can imagine (which you'll need to investigate) include: going to a "low church" service instead that doesn't do the incense, going at a time that is less likely to have lots of children (there's usually more than one mass for big holidays like Christmas), getting your parents to pay for your prescriptions so you can medicate, and choosing seats that allow you to easily step out if you need to (to quell an anxiety attack, for instance). If they are unwilling to make any changes then they aren't really interested in making it work either, which should strengthen your resistance to their pushing.

You don't want to go. I get that. Family relationships often call on us to do things we don't want to do, and if the cost is just a couple hours and no medical, ethical, or religious dangers, people usually just have to suck it up and go for the sake of peace. This is true whether you're talking about Christmas mass, your sister's elementary-school graduation, your cousin's wedding, your brother's little-league game, your grandmother's 80th birthday party, and so on.

You said in comments that you've tried saying no and gotten guilt-tripped, which is why I wrote the above. But you end your question by asking how you can refuse them, so to address that: You say something like "I'm sorry if this upsets you, but I am not going to attend. Would you prefer that I visit at a different time instead of Christmas so we don't keep having this argument?" By doing this you say no without any wiggle room, and then offer them an alternative. If the thought of you not visiting for the holiday at all upsets them more than you not being in church with them for those couple hours, then perhaps they'll ease up. If they don't, it's on them -- stay home and try Memorial Day or Thanksgiving or Mom's birthday or something instead.

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    @aroth first, the OP says he gets angry too. He doesn't say how he expresses that anger; he describes religion here as "bogus" when he's (presumably) not angry, so who knows? There's almost certainly more to the interaction than the one side we see; we should be reluctant to diagnose from only the info we have. (It sounds more like a parental tantrum than bullying to me.) Second, if the OP didn't care about the relationship "hell no, go away" would be fine, but it seems he wants to stay on good terms while being firm about this. Third, if you have a different answer I encourage you to post it. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 0:55
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    If you disagree with an answer, write your own. Please don't have extended arguments in the comments because you disagree. If you feel that there's something missing, ask about that to get clarification for why the answerer feels that is the correct choice. That's how we encourage improvement in answers. Here's some useful guidance on that: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2147/36
    – Catija
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 1:29
  • Yes, especially the part about separating the reasons. RE "I don't want to go" If you are living in your parent's house, you have to follow their rules. If you don't like their rules, than get your own place. You don't have the right to say "I'm an adult and will do what I like" when your next sentence is "mommy and daddy please take care of me". You say you're moving out in a month, so this is the last time this will be an issue. Can't you just suffer through it one more time? If you really have a health issue and that's not just an excuse to justify "I don't want to go", very different story
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 0:50
  • OP could talk to the priest about the health issues and see if he will side with the OP and then bring them all together if he does.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 13:20

Your question is really the wrong question to ask. Your question shouldn't be "How do I tell my parents I don't want to go to church", your question should be "How do I tell my parents I'm not going to church". It helps very much to have the right attitude, and your attitude must be "I'm not going to church".

Their arguments: "It's tradition!" Tradition among Christians is to go to church every Sunday. There is no Christian tradition of going to church twice a year. Let's counter this with some real Christian talk. "Love your neighbour as you love yourself". That's not the number 1 rule of being a Christian. It's rule number 0. Everyone here will realise that your parents are in absolute violation of this rule, because they value their fake traditions more than they value your health.

Don't go to church and get angry when you return. Get angry before you go, and don't go. All you need is the simple word "No".

  • 16
    Not downvoting because I agree with some of the statements made. However, throwing people's values back in their faces doesn't generally end well. I do agree with the basic premise: "I'm not going". I think that the real question being asked is "how do I deal with my parents' reaction to my choice?". Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 0:01
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    "Tradition among Christians is to go to church every Sunday." That's a Catholic tradition. If we were discussing another denomination, that would not necessarily apply. Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 20:14
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    I think the tradition is a family one, not a religion based one.
    – mcalex
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 3:35
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    Actually Rule 0 is "Love God", which comes before "Love your neighbour" Reference. Since loving God comes before loving one's neighbour, so does going to Mass. But that doesn't preclude choosing a different (no-incense) Mass. Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 12:09
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    @baldPrussian “However, throwing people's values back in their faces doesn't generally end well.” Ridiculous. Is this scenario already going well? Nope. Not at all. If his parent’s are not responding to basic reasoning, then some kind of decisive conflict needs to happen. My suggestion? Just don’t go. Or cut yourself off from you parents and move on with life. If one is 27 and parents still don’t understand the concept of personal choice, being more and more polite won’t change that: They are not budging so someone else must budge… And that is the person being frustrated by this fiasco. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 14:15

Traditions have a way of almost becoming law in families. Take, for instance, your visiting them over the holidays (which I infer from your comments above). Why? What do you get out of it? I struggled with that particular tradition as well.

I don't think that this issue has as much to do with your parents' religion as much as control. Obviously you go there, for whatever reason. And they cannot accept that you don't want to go to church, despite whatever reason you offer. That boils down to a control issue and lack of respect for your position.

Given that you cannot be there and don't find anything of value there, there's really only one option you have. You've tried telling them "I can't go and here's why", only to be met with "yes you can". The next step is to simply not go. If that causes strife with the family during your visit, then the next step is to discontinue that particular visit. "Mom and Dad, I love you, but Christmas no longer works for me. I'll visit you in the spring when we can see each other and enjoy each other's company. I've made my own Christmas plans this year." You're under no obligation to tell them what those plans are, only that you have other plans. (and really, what would happen if you told them "my plans are to not be there"?)

The trick here is to separate the visit from the holiday, which is why I made the above suggestion. Yes, they'll be unhappy. Yes, there will be some guilt. But that will happen over the phone, and you have the option of ending the call if the guilt starts to be laid on too thickly. "Sorry, Mom, have to go. Talk to you soon. Bye!" Eventually they'll learn that you won't accept the guilt, won't argue about Christmas plans, and still want to see them. And that is a much (physically and emotionally) healthier relationship than the one you enjoy right now.

Edit: I see in the comments "It gets into a yelling and swearing argument and they essentially rage-mode me into joining them." This is an unhealthy relationship and needs examination. There are some cultures (Indian comes to mind) where the children do what they are told, but this is not generally a North American thing. If this behavior is a part of your relationship, I'd submit that this is a toxic relationship and needs to be examined very carefully. You're a grown adult with your own life; your parents at this point need to come to terms with this and the sooner this happens, the better for both parties.

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    It might also be reasonable to shift your arrival time: basically, don't show up until after they've already been to mass. That way you can still be with the family during a family-centric holiday while also (potentially) avoiding some of the conflict.
    – user6008
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 15:19
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    @GalacticCowboy - While manipulating the schedule to interfere with attendance may be effective in a sort of passive[-aggressive] manner, it doesn't really solve the problem. The problem is that boundaries between offspring and parent have not been adequately set to match the adulthood and independence of the offspring. The OP needs to make clear that decisions about religion are no longer the parents' purview. The OP also needs to establish that guilt and rage are not appropriate methods of social negotiation, but that's a much bigger subject.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 0:49
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    “You’re a grown adult with your own life; your parents at this point need to come to terms with this and the sooner this happens, the better for both parties.” This x1,000,000. This might be a painful process, but a parent is typically at least 20 years older than their child. If the “child” in this case is 27 and parents behave like that? They need to have a reality check. Period. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 14:20

Very sorry you are going through this. You are way beyond the age where it is anywhere near OK for your parents to control the way you spend your holidays, to force their religious values onto you, and to resort to rage tactics and fear/obligation/guilt tactics to maintain that control.

So to answer the question, you tell them you don't want to go to Church by telling them you aren't going to Church. You don't give reasons or excuses, you don't allow yourself to be drawn into an argument or screaming match, and you remove yourself from the discussion if that is what happens. If you walk away and they call to continue the same, hang up.

I suppose you could try to break the news gently by saying "I know this is not going to be what you want to hear, but urge you to realize I am an adult now and not a child. I will not be attending the Church service, but I do hope that we can still spend time together over the Holidays."

You need to make it clear that there are boundaries to obey if they want to have a discussion or spend time with you. If they cannot accept that you won't go to Church service and respect that is your adult decision and make attending a requirement for having any time together for holidays, then so be it. But that is not your doing.

Having been in this position I know it is hard for some parents to transition from seeing you as a child and treating you as an adult. But that is their problem to fix, not yours.

Also, your medical conditions and history are private.



For future incidents, there's an obvious option people are not mentioning (despite almost doing so):

Simply don't go back in Christmas and Easter anymore. Go some other time.

Other answers have mentioned this (and you could say I'm stealing the idea), but the difference is that they say you should threaten to do this first, whereas I'm suggesting you do NOT mention anything about this change whatsoever; simply change when you go back from now on.

If they ask (which they inevitably will) next Christmas, you have two options:

  1. You could come up with an excuse (pick whichever can be applicable):
    "I would like to catch up with my friends during Christmas"
    "I would like to come when it's less of a hot season due to ticket prices"
    (or: whatever you can think of given your situation)

  2. You could cite the health reasons:
    "Because it adversely affected my health"
    (recommended addendum: "...and my health is my highest priority")
    (optional addendum: "...and you force me to go despite this")

It's important not to threaten them (especially not when you are with them) because that will start a fight, and no parents like being threatened with not seeing their kid. Just let them observe consequences peacefully. If they start yelling at you or arguing with you them from afar, then you can let them know that if they are upset at you the next time you visit, you will simply stop going back at other times as well.

Note 1

There's a chance they feel socially compelled to go, meaning that if you are not there with them, they will feel like they will have to be able to answer to their friends at church (whether or not they actually have to), demoting their social statuses. If this is the case (which seems likely to me), it will actively work against you to claim that you simply dislike attending. Your best bet is to give them a compelling enough health reason that they feel they can recite to others without having to give further justification.

(This is on top of what other answers have said about this excuse diluting the health reasons. Those still apply. But I felt this one was also worth mentioning.)

Note 2

For what it's worth, in some religions, you are not expected (and are sometimes even prohibited) to follow any rules that adversely affect your health, let alone do such things that are normally 'optional' anyway. I don't know to what extent this might be the case for Christianity, and I don't know if anxiety would qualify, but if you can cite a rock-solid reason from their own religion like this in support of your position (you have at least asthma to go on), that should shut down the compulsion better than anything that goes against their religion. You just have to make sure it's foolproof (maybe get a religious authority you don't personally know to vouch for it?) and you have to be willing to accept potential alternatives that solve these specific issues, or it would just work against you.

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    Re: Note 2: I can't speak for Catholicism, but in the Eastern Orthodox Church, tl;dr health trumps religion. More specifically, I know someone who is Orthodox, and she has mentioned that the norm would be for her to be on a fairly strict "fasting" diet during lent. However, she has some health issues that would place her life in danger if she followed those fasting rules. Her own comments are that the priest has explained to her that in her case she should not observe the fast, since from her Church's point of view her health is more important than the fast.
    – dgnuff
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 5:03

As someone who isn't religious but has been guilt-tripped into going to church or celebrating the way others wanted me to in the past, and as someone who has dated two guys who were atheists, I want to offer my insight.

Guy #1 stopped going to church when he was really young (still in elementary school) because he didn't want to share a spoon with hundreds of people during Holy Communion. His mom was really religious, and superstitious but he had the right attitude and she backed down. She stopped trying to change him. She always thought there is something wrong with him but he fought for his beliefs and didn't mind what family and friends thought of him anymore.

Guy #2, whose parents are Catholics, had difficulty standing his ground and acting like an adult towards his parents, in general. Parents were pretty good at making decisions for him and he let them because he wanted to avoid conflict. He got lucky because as he grew older his parents stopped going to church themselves. They changed, so he got away with having to change himself. This was the easy way out.

I'm sorry for being brutally honest here but this is going to be a fight or flight situation. You'll either have to face the negative consequences of standing your ground or avoiding being available that day.

But this:

How do I go about telling my parents in no uncertain terms "Traditions be damned, I absolutely refuse to go" for the above reasons without getting into a "But this is tradition!" fight with my parents?

cannot happen. You are asking to have your cake and eat it, too. You're asking to keep everyone happy. Someone is going to feel displeased and disappointed and by trying to please your parents you're making yourself miserable.

I asked this:

What happens if you just stand your ground and not go, period?

And you answered:

It gets into a yelling and swearing argument and they essentially rage-mode me into joining them. My mom and dad are forces of nature...

Sometimes, "you" need to get into a fight to assert your boundaries. I've done this as a last resort when the other party wasn't taking no for an answer. It's the fact that you don't want to experience the negative emotions that come with setting boundaries and saying "No" to loved ones, that is the real issue here.

I'm sorry but at the age of 27, nobody takes you somewhere you don't want to go. I understand you are trying to avoid conflict but this isn't always healthy. You are postponing dealing with it and you'll have to deal with it later (e.g if you don't want to get married in a church or don't want to get married even). Your parents are not respecting you as an adult here.

To me this isn't about the allergy or anxiety. These are secondary reasons. The real reason is that you don't like it. Period. It's your right. Your parents, friends, whoever in your life, will be finding ways to help you deal with the allergy or anxiety or whatever else but they can't MAKE you like going to church or believe in something you don't.

If you choose to fight (= saying "No"):

Be firm, repeat NO calmly, breathe, and keep silent when they start asking questions or saying stuff to trigger responses from you. Don't answer. You don't have to explain. You've done this in the past. Keep yourself busy. It might help if you role-play this with a friend first.

What I have said in the past under similar conditions:

I'm not going this time. I've made up my mind and you won't make me change it...you won't make me do something I don't want to do anymore...You're not respecting my decision... I have already told you how I feel about this...I said what I wanted to say. I'm not going to argue with you anymore. End of discussion.

If you start getting upset, go for a walk until you calm down.

If you choose to flight:

Don't be available. Have other plans and don't be home those days.

This is meant to "cure" the symptoms (not the cause) you experience during the confrontation you appear to want to avoid.

Look, you can't change your parents and you know that. But with the right attitude you might convince them that they can't change you either. This won't happen overnight.

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    I thought that response to your comment was weird too. The only force of nature that can force him to go is physical force. If his dad is lifting him up and carrying him to the car and tying him in, then call the police. If not, then just say no, period.
    – user3316
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 18:52
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    This. In my experience the difficulties are: convincing yourself; standing your ground calmly; dealing with the "guilty" feeling (e.g. by distracting yourself) and getting used to saying no. Personally, it took me a while to understand that if you can't convice someone rationally, they may still come around by just getting used to the new situation (and then defending it as the new status quo). Quite some human behaviour is just habits and by changing the habits you change the behaviour. Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 10:49

How do I go about telling my parents in no uncertain terms "Traditions be damned, I absolutely refuse to go" for the above reasons without getting into a "But this is tradition!" fight with my parents?

I think, first, you have to let go of trying to use logic against an emotional argument. Let's analyze their position:

Your parents have been attending two services a year with their children for nearly their entire married life. This is an entrenched family tradition they started which they would like to continue.

They want you to continue to participate in their tradition.

I agree with Monica's answer that you may have to accept it's their tradition, and compromise if you don't want to damage your relationship further. Such compromises might be going in two separate vehicles so you can leave early if your anxiety surfaces. You might talk to the priest beforehand to identify areas of the chapel less likely to be noisy or where the scents are reduced.

But let's say you've already decided that, like them, you are unwilling to compromise and you need to make a clean break from family tradition.

You need to build another bridge.

This is a bridge they built over several decades that makes them feel connected to you in a way you can't quite understand, not having had children and developed traditions like this. Please don't take this to mean you should accept their tradition, but do accept that this is an emotional bond for them that is important to their lives and a serious part of their relationship with you. Breaking from it can cause a serious rift in your relationship if you don't build other bridges to replace or supplement your relationship.

The easiest might simply be something along the lines of:

We've been going to church for Christmas and Easter mass for decades now. I have some fond memories of the time I've spent with you. Unfortunately due to health and other circumstances, this tradition has been a negative event for me for the last several years. We've discussed this a few times, but it appears there's no good solution. I hate losing this tradition, but I'm wondering if there are other activities we could do that would be equally meaningful we can do around these holidays that don't cause these problems for me.

I'm also willing to consider continuing these traditions under significantly modified conditions if you believe my attendance is necessary for your happiness, but they can't continue the way we've been doing them. I'm working on, or intend to work on, these issues separately with my doctors so perhaps we can resume these traditions fully if I can resolve the problems they cause for me, but for now let's talk about some traditions we might want to start which would allow all of us full participation.

Bring a list of traditions that you think your family would enjoy. There are thousands around the world to choose from, but be aware of and thoughtful of your parent's religion and family desires. I don't think you will succeed if your suggestions are oppositional to their religion, current traditions, or don't include anything they would consider important for their religious holiday observances.

Lastly, I don't know enough about their religion and religious practice to understand their care and concerns for your spiritual life, but I've heard some indicate that if you attain a certain minimal amount of participation, religiously, then you would not suffer consequences of lack of participation. It's possible that forcing you and your sister to attend these two observances meets some requirement they have for themselves or for you, so as to meet obligations to their or your spiritual existence.

It may be tempting to say, "It doesn't matter" and assert your autonomy in this matter, however this may be emotionally harmful for your parents. You aren't responsible for their emotional health, of course, and if they choose to believe and worry about something you believe doesn't exist then you may also assert it is of their own doing.

However they are your parents, and spending several hours a year to make them happy and help them be at peace with their own beliefs might be worth the trouble.

Taking this into account, though, if you can't attend and this is of primary importance to them, you might want to suggest instead that you will be meeting their religious obligations in some other way.

Instead of going to these special masses that are longer, more crowded, noisy, and scented than a normal mass, you might suggest instead attending a regular mass twice a year at a different time, or choosing one that is held at a different sanctuary that still meets their requirements but also meets your needs better. You might suggest that rather than attending mass you will start to meet with the religious authority twice a year until your doctors provide you with assurance that you can attend without suffering significantly.

In all these conversations, assert your love for your parents and your desire to be with them. You want to improve your relationship with them, but the current tradition is damaging your relationship. There should be a solution that makes things better, though perhaps not perfect.

Lastly, if you bring up your concerns with their religious leader privately, you may be able to find out some of the foundation for their desires, as well as paths you haven't considered that may meet your parent's needs without having to continue that tradition. Your parents would probably see this meeting as a sign of good faith, love, and effort, and may be more open to compromise. You can attend separately or together, and chances are good the leader will be more helpful to your cause than you might think.


I love the avatar, especially in the context of this question.

I wish that I had a good answer for this issue, and I pray that someone else with better ideas answers this as well. But if they acknowledge that there are health issues and tell you to just suck it up it, it sounds to me like you've gotten your point across effectively - they just aren't sympathetic, and it sounds like in their eyes, tradition is more important than your health. I'm not sure that any approach other than an obstinate refusal to participate will be effective. And let me be clear - if your physical and emotional health are at risk, this degree of opposition sounds entirely valid. Do what you have to do to keep yourself safe.

Here are some thoughts for approaching each topic diplomatically. Start polite and escalate only as needed, of course.

Physical Health Risk

  1. It is not okay to intentionally subject someone to an environment that will put their physical health at risk, especially against their will.
  2. Struggling to breathe will interfere with your enjoyment and appreciation of the holiday in question, and any spiritual feelings that you might feel from the holiday will likely be reduced by the fact that you literally have to suffer to make it happen, and that suffering is happening against your will.
  3. Would they expect someone with food poisoning to attend the ceremony, even if they can choke down their suffering?

Emotional Health Risk

  1. As with the physical health risk - it is not okay to intentionally subject someone to an emotionally damaging scenario, especially against their will.
  2. Also as with the physical health risk - if you're suffering an anxiety attack, you are not feeling spiritual, and it's going to build a resentment against the holiday and ceremony instead. You're going to associate these holidays with panic and anxiety - in fact I'm sure that you already do, but you won't be able to try to change that while that is the experience that is guaranteed to you. If you're not already embittered to the whole holiday, I am shocked and impressed.
  3. More poignantly - suffering anxiety attacks is actually bad for your long-term mental health, too, if you don't have the tools currently available to deal with them. So in addition to damaging you in the short term, this actually harms you in the longer term as well.

Lack of Value

  1. Tradition is only meaningful if the person observing it appreciates it. If it feels like a chore, or is actively painful, and it has no value to the person, then it's going to push the person further away from the culture in question. When the culture is 'your parents' religion,' surely that's important to them. This may be the most effective point to make, although it may also be the most painful - they are actively making it harder for you to be Catholic, should you choose to embrace that culture.
  2. Insisting that someone do something that they do not want to do, get no value in doing, and actually find painful and damaging is also a great way to create a wedge between people.

Atheist Aspie with some very religious Catholic relatives, so I can relate to some of this!

If it was just a matter of "church does nothing for me", I'd say that this is one of the things you might just have to endure in the name of family harmony. But the other issues you've mentioned indicate problems with the dynamic that do need to be addressed.

Autism often has a hereditary component. Even if your parents are not autistic per se, it might be helpful to think about their behaviour through that lens. Trying to put myself in their shoes:

I'm a creature of habit; I dislike changing my routines and especially at short notice.

You might consider discussing this issue with them well in advance; it's probably not too early to start talking about what's going to happen at Easter.

If my plans are disrupted, I can find it hard to adapt - I focus so hard on Plan A that there's no Plan B.

You may be able to help by proposing alternative plans. Skeith's suggestion of talking to the priest is excellent - "hi, my parents want me and my sister to go to church with them, but I have serious issues with incense and noisy children, can you suggest any options for avoiding that?" Depending on your relationship with your sister, you might also discuss it with her and see if she has any ideas.

If you can present it as "The service at $CHURCH1 doesn't work for me because of the noise and incense, but I can make it to $CHURCH2 instead" this is a very different dynamic to just refusing their proposal.

I get anxious about interpersonal relationships because I have difficulty reading cues that indicate whether I am valued etc.

If Christmas and Easter are the only family times for your parents, it's possible that these events are becoming a focus for broader anxieties about their relationship with you.

How much contact do you have with them outside those two times of year? If the answer is "not much", it's possible that working on this will help. A short phone call once a fortnight, or email if that works better for you. (I'm a big fan of asynchronous communication; it gives me a chance to think about stuff before I reply, instead of having to ad-lib.) The content of this communication is less important than the fact that it's happening.

I want to be clear: you have every right to set boundaries about going to church, especially with the allergy and anxiety issues you've mentioned! But sometimes these things work out easier if you can show the other person a solution that doesn't feel like a defeat for them.

  • The "why are they doing this" angle is a good one to take. Maybe the OP is trying to solve the wrong problem. I wonder if they should sit down with their parents and straight up ask if this is about more than just the physical act of going to church together. Is it a desire to bond? To proselytize? Just habit, an ingrained tradition that might be hard to stop for the reasons outlined above? The answer may not be directly useful, but it might get the ball rolling towards something that is, or it might lead to activities that make everyone closer and less prone to stubborn specific demands.
    – Aiken Drum
    Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 1:02

Im from the UK and not religious, so it's a bit different from being in the US, but something I have yet to see anyone answer is talk to the Priest.

I have met many religious people in my life and they are all nice reasonable people. Far more reasonable that your parents are being.

Your description of yourself sounds just like me, hightly asthmatic and socially anxious so I know how bad these experiences can be.

Personally I woud suck it up and go to church, it's very important for your parents and it's only a few hours twice a year. Adulthood is about finding compromises, especially if you want to keep everyone happy.

Assuming you go to the same church each year, I would speak with the priest a few days before (don't drop it on him at the last minute). Explain your situation and make clear what you want out of it, do you want him to have a word with your parents and excuse you or can he find you a seat away from the children and the incense.

Not being familiar with religion, I do not know if the incense is special or can be changed. If you are asking for it to be changed, make sure to come with solutions, either brand abc are bad but xyz don't set you off or better yet offer to provide incense that you are ok with.


There is no replacement for standing your ground.

You perceive your parents as overwhelming forces because you couldn't do this successfully, so far. It can be difficult.

If you have someone of support you can have at your side - girlfriend or really good friend - that would help a lot. Hopefully, your parents will behave themselves more civilized in the presence of an outsider.

Your anxiety might make it impossible to just stand there and take it and not budge. In such case, leave the room as soon as the shouting starts. Calmly announce they can find you outside when they calm down.

This might not work the first or even the second time. Stopping bullies (and that is what your parents become in this case) is tricky and there is no golden bullet. But unless they can apply actual force on you (physical or other, such as financial if they can threaten to cut you off) it really is your decision to give in to the pressure or not.

I had a point in my life where I refused to partake in the christmas church tradition. Thankfully, my parents are not into the yelling part. They tried to push me and saw I was serious. Then a compromise was reached in that I would prepare the house for christmas eve (decoration, putting out plates for dinner, etc.) while they went to church. Such a thing might or might not work with your parents, but it is worth a thought if there is something you can "offer" in exchange.

  • This is a good IPS solution to the problem. I'm hesitant to bring outsiders into a family struggle, but in this case, it's a 2-1 argument anyways (parents vs OP), so some outside support would be useful. I like the idea of a compromise (take an upvote for tha if nothing else), which people seem so unwilling to do these days. Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 15:36

On the day you will be expected to go, leave the house 4 or 5 hours in advance—or as early in the morning as needed to avoid anyone seeing you, or as early as needed to avoid arguments. Leave a note: "Went out. Will be back around [time]. Have a good time at your service. I won't be there."

Do not discuss it in advance. Be vague. Say that you are still deciding and may go. Or you might not. But you care about their feelings and their sensibilities and you are seriously weighing, as an adult, all the aspects. Or say that you plan to try to go but reserve the right to change your mind.

In short: Don't go. And avoid all argument.

If afterward they are angry, don't argue. Simply make it clear that you love them, but you are an adult and you make your own choices as to how you spend your time. You can try asking them what the point of forcing you to go or being intense and angry is—do they think that yelling at you is somehow promoting love or anything of positive value?

But if it gets heated or more than you are willing to accept, then leave their presence again. "This is not something that I am comfortable wasting my emotional energy over. If you insist on continuing to argue about it, I'll need to take a break in order to protect myself." Then just get up and leave. Don't show anger. "I think I'm going to get some coffee" or "I've been meaning to go for a walk, now seems like a great time to give you time to calm down, I'll be back in a couple of hours—see you later." Showing people your back is so very powerful.


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