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livelaughlove21's avatar

To those of you whose partners possess different religious beliefs than you: how do/did you compromise when it comes to kids?

Asked by livelaughlove21 (15675points) November 2nd, 2013 from iPhone

I wasn’t raised in a very religious household. My grandma is a church-going Christian and I was told about God and Heaven and Hell, but we never attended church and it wasn’t a big part of our life as a family. Now, my mother considers herself a religious woman, but she’s just a big hypocrite. Around the age of 20, 4 years ago, I began to question my beliefs. At this point, I have an agnostic view. Maybe God exists, but maybe not. I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

My husband grew up with a Baptist background. They went to church, but they weren’t crazy Bible thumpers by any means. He’s never really questioned his beliefs. He believes in God because he always has, like most people here in the Bible Belt.

We don’t attend church, we don’t own Bibles, and we don’t ever really talk about religion. We got married last year and we plan on having children within the next couple of years. We’ve talked about the issues with religion and children in the past, but our conversation today made me think about how other people handle this.

What did/will/would you tell your kids about religion if you and your partner don’t share the same beliefs? Do you come to a compromise as to what you tell them when they ask certain questions (“what happens when you die?)?

We discussed telling them what we believe when they ask, but making it clear that that’s not the only possible answer and never suggest that the other parent is wrong. When they’re older, they’ll know what different people believe and they can make the decision for themselves. However, I know young children will be confused by this, as they cognitively search for all-or-nothing rules about life.

So, how did/would you handle this? If I’m concerned about this when neither of us have really strong beliefs either way, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for two devout people that have to make these decisions.

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18 Answers

snowberry's avatar

It would be much more difficult if only one parent were a strong Baptist (for example), and the other one was an atheist (or any other belief system). Nobody cares much until the religious parent wants to take Junior to church. Then suddenly a non-issue can become a huge issue. This is only one scenario, but this is a very common situation. It’s why most religious folks are discouraged from marrying outside of their belief system.

It can also happen if one person changes their beliefs in an already established marriage, and can be a deal breaker for many. I have lived this one myself (life got pretty intense for a while).

LornaLove's avatar

I tend to agree with @snowberry I doubt anyone with very committed views in any religion would marry. If they do they discuss it, there is no simple solution. Some teach them both of their beliefs (and even more) and let them decide for themselves.

bolwerk's avatar

Why can’t people just expose their children to both traditions and be satisfied with letting them decide for themselves? By marrying someone with different beliefs, you have already implicitly decided you aren’t that bothered by disagreement in this area.

If your child wants to go to church, let him/her. If he wants to do something else on Sunday morning, let him/her. I know that religion stays effective because people brainwash their children, but you probably get better-quality believers if you let people decide for themselves.

Seek's avatar

I deconverted after we were already married, and shortly after my son was born.

We actually had a couple of fights about it, which is weird because we NEVER fight. The hubs was pretty concerned that I would “preach atheism”, and didn’t quite believe me when I said I was interested in no such thing.

Eventually we were able to discuss the issue like grownups (haha) and he was satisfied with my explanation that I’m fully intending to teach our son how to think, and not what to think. Take in everything, stand back and filter it through your own mind, to what makes sense to you.

For what it’s worth, he thinks the words “god” and “Jesus” are naughty words. I have a Humanist Association sticker on my laptop that says “Good Without A God”. He’s just starting to read, and says to me “Mama, there’s a bad word on your computer!” Which one, I ask. “Good with… out a god. God. That’s a bad word, isn’t it?”

And then I explained to him that it isn’t, that a god is something that some people believe in, when they want to explain where the world came from. My sticker says “Good without a god” because I don’t believe there is a god, and I’m ok with that. Do you have any questions? “Can I go back on the slide?”


snowberry's avatar

@bolwerk Unfortunately it’s never that simple in real life. And what appears to be a non-issue to newly marrieds can change suddenly when kids show up. It all depends on the individuals involved, how committed they are to their belief system (are they willing to compromise) and how they handle conflict.

geeky_mama's avatar

I’m a Lutheran-Shinto-Buddhist mix..and my husband grew up without going to church, but was attending a Baptist church when we met. We discussed our beliefs in great detail while dating and found we agreed on the big stuff – and had the same areas of doubt, questioning and deep scientific-based skepticism. We also both have family members that are REALLY intractable in their strong beliefs (very strong Christian dogmatic/religious-types)..and didn’t want to entirely alienate those folks..
So..because we started on the same page, with the same level of faith/doubt/fear of religious zealots.. it made it easier for us as a married couple and as parents.
We found a church home where people are more about good works, serving people, feeding hungry people, peace-making and love and NOT homophobic judgmental a-holes.

We wanted our kids baptized—but for us it was about tradition, ceremony and our kids being loved and welcomed by a community.
We want our kids to grow up with familiarity in MANY faith traditions, so we teach them everything and let them make their own choices. We want them to grow up knowing it is their moral obligation to serve others and help people who need we show them by example and include them in our volunteering. Our church helps enable these life lessons and reinforces this moral code…but without the hell-fire, damnation and judgmental crap.
That works for us.

We have friends where the wife is Jewish and the husband Protestant. Their son is attending Hebrew school and Synagogue with his mom, big Christian holiday services (Christmas, Easter) with his dad. He celebrates holidays from both religions (Purim, Hannukah, Christmas) and he gets to decide for himself whether to be Bat Mitzvah’d or not when he gets to the appropriate age. It’s working for them and their son – he’s a great kid.

Point is – you can figure out what’s best for you two—but this is definitely a topic to discuss in great detail long before marriage and children. Make sure you’re in agreement..even if you’re both just agreeing you don’t know what you believe.

Judi's avatar

My daughter is Lutheran and her husband is Catholic. They chose to have their kids baptized Lutheran because the Catholic Church required that they raise the children Catholic.
They now attend the Church of Scotland, although neither of them completely agree with the doctrine.
I guess it’s about compromise.

bolwerk's avatar

@snowberry: I wouldn’t say “never.” It’s probably usually as simple as that. But some people are too authoritarian to let people decide matters of faith for themselves.

I could actually understand this problem a little more if it was about a one-night stand. Like, oops, I slept with someone from this family. But if you know someone well enough to get married, and suddenly their religion bothers you, it seems kinda hypocritical or just plain stupid. Either discuss it ahead of time or lighten up.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Thanks for all the responses so far – keep them coming!

I think that my husband believes he’s more religious than he actually is. He, like many many people, feels comfortable believing in God because he is constantly surrounded by people that do. Like I said, we live in the Bible Belt where those who don’t believe are the minority. I think it makes him uncomfortable to question it, so he stays in his safe zone even though he knows damn well he doesn’t live according to the Bible and, quite honestly, doesn’t know squat about the religion he claims he belongs to. I’m perfectly okay with teaching our children multiple sides, hopefully in an age-appropriate way that they can understand, and he says he is as well. I just know there will be difficult questions where he’ll think it’s easier to answer in one way and I’ll think that it being “easy” isn’t good enough.

For example, during our talk at breakfast, we were discussing the “what happens when you die” scenario. I said my answer would be that death is just another part of life and it happens to everyone sooner or later. When you die, you’re gone and you just don’t come back. Your loved ones keep your memory in their hearts. What happens to them after they die? I don’t know. Some people believe they go to Heaven and others believe that nothing happens – they’re just gone. The truth is that none of us know what will happen until it happens to us.

My husband’s response to this was that my answer would make them scared of dying. Okay, so telling them that if they’re bad, they’ll burn in Hell for all eternity with Satan is going to keep them from being scared? He said no, of course not, and that he was never told about Hell in that way. Well, teaching your child some fluffy aspect of religion (Heaven and Jesus and golden walkways and all that jazz) to make them feel warm and fuzzy inside while ignoring other parts of the religion makes no sense to me. If our child asks him about death and he mentioned God and heaven, that’s fine, but when the kid comes to me I’ll explain that some people, daddy included, believe in that and some people don’t. If they want to go to church and learn more, they can. If they don’t, they won’t. And we both agree on that.

Seek's avatar

Kids take death surprisingly well, when they’re not bombarded with powdered sugar.

My son has a computer in his room (not networked, it’s for his homeschool games and activities) with a picture of my husband holding Ian, standing with my husband’s grandfather, who passed away two years ago.

He’ll tell anyone that will listen:
“That’s my great-grandpa. That means he’s my daddy’s grandpa. He was my friend, and he died. He’s not here anymore, but we were friends.”

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr That’s good to hear. I know other people are going to try to fill their heads with ideas that will confuse them, but it’s our job to help them understand. I know that this might start some arguments on his side of the family – a child raised by an agnostic liberal? GASP! But I’m not scared to stand my ground.

Pachy's avatar

My parents encouraged me growing up to keep my religious beliefs to myself. Jewish and living in a red state, I mostly still make that my practice. And I tend to shy away from people who don’t.

kritiper's avatar

Kids should be taught all points of view and allowed to decide for themselves what they want to believe.

Seek's avatar

^ That is impossible. Who has the time to teach 1,000 different religions with equal emphasis? It would be hard enough with the Big Five.

You teach the child how to analyze data, accept evidence and reject that which is not supported.

If the child finds it appeases his logic to accept a deity that he is eventually exposed to, so be it.

kritiper's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – You make a good point. I really didn’t mean ALL POV’s, just answer the kid’s questions as he or she grows and let them find their own way. Don’t force it on ‘em!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

GQ. I don’t really know how that would work because my partner and I agree along the religious (or lack of religion) axis. I think it would be difficult for me (or for him) otherwise. But, as for what we teach our children, they still know a lot about religion because it’s so important to so many in society. To ignore it would be kind of ridiculous. They know some people believe and others don’t and what places of worship are, etc. They know a lot about different religions but, generally, if they want to know more, I tell them to go ask someone who actually believes in the thing they want to know about. It works with other things in life too.

muppetish's avatar

My mother grew up a Southern Christian Baptist and my father’s family are all ardent Catholics. Neither of my parents were church-goers as adults, though (my mother finds churches strange and doesn’t believe that she needs a “place of worship” to be with god, pray, and be heard.) My father mostly keeps his Catholicism to himself.

My mother was adamant that when they had children, they would not be raised to a particular faith. I think this was a compromise at least in part because she had doubts when she was a child and also because, at least to some extent, she thinks Catholicism is very weird. She insisted that her children would not be baptized until they were old enough to make a decision on their own, that church attendance would be voluntary, and that dialogue about religion would remain open.

My dad must have agreed because my siblings and I were not baptized (nor do we have god parents.) We attended church a couple times as kids, but didn’t like it so we stopped going. Although my parents asked that we pray before going to bed and spoke about god, it was not enforced in a “but thou must” way.

I respect my parents for not only reconciling their different religious views, but also giving us the room to grow into our own belief systems(s). I had a very different childhood compared to the other children in my area as a result.

As my significant other and I are both non-religious we won’t have to face this particular issue ourselves, but it is something that was very important to my experience growing up.

Mitsu_Neko's avatar

My husband is former catholic who now associates as non demoninational. I am a pagan who was raised Lutheran…... We decided that our children will be taught of both our beliefs as well as to understand other beliefs and so long as the basic mutual laws (being good to one another/never causing harm, etc) are in the belief they choose that it is THEIR choice. So for Christmas she goes to her grandmother’s catholic service, she has gone with my mom for Baptist services, he reads her scripture stories & I let her participate in my ceremonies. So far it works well If it stays that way as she grows and becomes a rebellious teen is yet to be seen

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