Raising Kids when Parents Have Opposing Religious Views

ImagePeople are constantly raising kids in two religion households. I have friends where one spouse is Christian and the other is Jewish and they make it work. What about those couples who have totally opposing religious views, where one spouse believes in god and the other does not? That is something that you rarely read about and a subject that I know about first hand. My husband is a Bible reading, church going Christian and I, on the other hand, do not ascribe to any religion, nor do I believe that god can exist.

I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this right now who are totally shocked and probably some of you are even disgusted that I would admit such a thing. I get this reaction often, but I’m not ashamed of being Agnostic. You have your beliefs and I have mine. That’s the beauty of being an American- we have the freedom to believe what we want and should be able to do so without persecution or judgment.

The first questions people usually ask me are, “what do you tell your kids?” or “what does your husband think of that?” But what people really want to know, but usually don’t ask is, “were you raised to be an Agnostic?” The answer to that question is, no, I was not raised in an Agnostic family. On the contrary, I was raised in a very Catholic family. I made my First Holy Communion and I was Confirmed. I attended church school from the time I was 6 until I was 16. We attended church every Sunday and every holy day. When I tell people this they always wonder how I ended up an Agnostic and how my parents feel about it. Religion was basically forced one me and I was given no choice about it as long as I lived with my parents. When I went off to college I was able to more freely express my different views. I can’t say they were very happy about it, but they still loved me and respected that I had my own view of things because they raised me to be an independent thinker and that’s certainly what I am.

There isn’t any one thing that made me question god and religion; it is something I have always questioned. When I was 6 and in my first year of church school, I asked my teacher, “If god made us, who made god?” She thought my father had put me up to asking that question to try to stump her because they were friends and my father was always a bit of a joker. When she told my father about my question and her suspicion that he had put me up to it, my father let her know that had come directly from me (and that’s when I suspect my parents knew they were in trouble!). My parent’s answer to my question was, “god always was and always will be.” I just didn’t buy that. I have always questioned everything and if someone can’t give me an answer that can be proven, then I probably won’t believe it. That’s just who I am and how I have always been.  

With regard to what my husband thinks, I was honest with him right from the beginning. Prior to our first date we had been talking on the phone and he told me he was attending Bible study classes. It was clear to me then that religion was a very important part of his life. We went on our first date and it was going well and I knew I wanted there to be a second date. I also knew if we were to have any kind of future together, that I needed to be honest with him so I brought it up on our first date. I told him my religious views, or lack thereof, and he was fine with it. He said he had dated other girls with different religious views and from different religions and my situation was no different. I definitely knew I liked this guy and that he was the kind of open-minded, non-judgmental man I had been looking for.

Fast forward to when we started talking about getting married and having kids. This is an important conversation to have before you walk down that aisle and commit to spending your lives together. Religion can tear couples apart, especially when it comes to raising kids, so have this conversation early on. This is not a conversation that should be saved for the last minute. When we had been married a year and half we decided it was time to start trying to expand our family. I knew we needed to revisit the conversation about religion we had had a couple of years earlier, before I got pregnant.

I know religion is something that is very important to my husband and I wouldn’t deny it to my children. I was raised with religion, but I was also raised to be an independent thinker and this is what I wanted for my children. I was perfectly fine with raising my kids to be Lutheran like my husband. To say that my husband was relieved to hear this would be an understatement! We decided that my husband would be “in charge” of the religious portion of the child rearing, but I also made it clear that I was going to be honest with them about my views being different. I was not going to sing religious songs with them, or read religious books to them, or pray with them, and I wouldn’t participate in saying grace at the table. This would go against everything I believe (or do not believe) and would make me a hypocrite and that is not something I was willing to do. Again, my husband understood this, respected this, and accepted this- one of the many reasons why I love this man!

We baptized both of our boys in my husband’s Lutheran church and my husband takes our oldest son to church with him when he has time to go. He has taught him to say prayers before bed and to say grace at dinner. He sings Jesus Loves Me to both of my boys at bedtime. This all makes me a bit uncomfortable because the whole idea of all of this kind of makes my skin crawl, but I don’t say anything because I know it’s important to him.

My oldest has asked me why I don’t say grace and right now I just tell him, “…because I believe in different things from Daddy so I don’t say grace.” There have also been occasions when I have put him to bed and he has asked me to sing Jesus Loves Me to him or to say prayers and, again, I just explain that I don’t say prayers or sing that song because I don’t believe the same things as Daddy. This appeases him right now, but I know as he gets older and more inquisitive than he is already, he will ask more questions. I will always be truthful with him and I will continue to tell him that I don’t believe the same things as his father and that that is okay. I will explain to him that people believe different things all the time and we have to respect each other even if we believe different things. If my children continue to believe in Christianity, then that is fine. If they question religion and the existence of god, then that is okay too. I will force nothing on them as it was forced on to me. If they don’t want to go to church, then I am not going to make them go. If they don’t want to say grace, I am not going to make them.

The hardest part in all of this has been with my in-laws. My mother respects how we have decided to raise our children. She has been supportive of our decision, and respects us enough as adults and parents, to make decisions regarding our children. My father passed away 11 years ago, but I know he would have been supportive too. With my in-laws it’s another story all together. They are ultra-religious. My mother-in-law is constantly giving my kids (and my husband for that matter) religious gifts- books, CD’s, etc. They are also constantly making comments about my husband not taking the kids to church enough. They also insist that we say grace at every meal and hold hands while doing so, even though they are in our house. This drives me totally crazy, but I just keep my mouth shut in order to keep the peace. I accept the gifts and then put them away somewhere. The kids don’t notice, nor do they care, because they have plenty of other things to use. My husband has told his mother to please refrain from religious gifts because it makes me uncomfortable and we are in agreement about how to raise our kids, but she doesn’t listen so his attitude about it now is that if she wants to keep wasting her money, then so be it.

We are comfortable as a couple on how we have chosen to raise our kids with regard to religion. We had conversations early on and continue to do so as new things arise. It is not impossible, nor is it difficult to raise kids when the parents have opposing religious views. It just takes honesty and open lines of communication. We are raising our kids to be honest, caring, polite, respectful, moral, and ethical people regardless of religious beliefs and that is what is truly important. You don’t need religion or a belief in god to be a good person and I am prime example of that.