Parenting With Conflicting Beliefs (Or Lack Thereof)


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If this is not the appropriate forum for this topic, please move as appropriate. :)

I am curious to hear about the experiences of others who co-parent with someone whose beliefs (or non-beliefs) differ from your own, and how you go about navigating that with your children.

My husband is solidly atheist and I am solidly (lol) agnostic.

We both had Lutheran upbringings, and all of our parents are Christian. My parents are...particularly Christian, in that it permeates a lot of their daily interactions.

Our daughter is nearing three years old, and since my mom watches her two afternoons a week, she is starting to pick up on some of the Jesus/God/Heaven references.

My response is to explain that many people believe many different things, and that Grandma believes that there is a Jesus and a God and a Heaven, and to give basic details about what those things mean. Additionally I explain that some people aren't really sure (like mommy) and some people do not believe in any such thing (like Daddy) and many people believe all sorts of other variations. Which, I feel, is an accurate and honest and age appropriate answer.

My husband's response is typically something like "It's all a bunch of made up stories and it's all pretty ridiculous."

I find this problematic, because I hope to raise humans (we additionally have a son on the way) who can be respectful of the beliefs of others even when they do not share them.

But enough about me, yes? Those of you in similar situations, how do you navigate them? How do you encourage your children to explore concepts of religion and spirituality to arrive at what feels best for them, while not trying to sway them too hard one way or another, and in such a way that they develop respect for the diversity in beliefs they are bound to encounter?

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My wife and I have a similar (thought not nearly the same) issue. I was raised in the both Baptist and Episcopal and she was raised extremely Irish Catholic. When we married, I was exceptionally anti-Catholic (I have mellowed a bit in my old age) which caused issues after our first daughter was born over infant baptism. While I proved to her (via a Roman Catholic Priest) that her “beliefs” on infant baptism were incorrect according to her OWN faith, I broke down and let her do it with the express understanding that I would attend, but have no part of it. The Priest did not respect our wishes, and put me on the spot. As not to raise an issue with my in-laws, I grudgingly went along with it, but refused the service for our later children.

As we grew as a married couple and as parents, we agreed to put aside our theological differences and let our children explore religion (or lack thereof) on their own without outside interference from “Mom” or “Dad”. While I am still Christian (non-denominational, with Episcopal leanings), my wife has begun to explore a new path in Wicca. Our parenting plan continues to let our girls figure out on their own what is right for them. They are free to ask any question they like on religion to either parent, but we normally answer them together as a unified front with me providing the technical details and Mom providing the emotional support.

We only got to this point after several long, and admittedly, not always pretty conversations. From the sounds of Ty’s responses, it appears that maybe that conversation has not occurred between you two yet, or if you have, Ty maybe has not taken it to heart.

Atheist can be as hard to deal with as the most dyed in the wool religious fanatic, as I am sure you remember from your time as a Moderator here.

It also sounds like a small nudge to Grandma might be warranted for her to respect you and Ty’s believes as well.

If you want to talk more about how Kate and I handled things in more detail, you know how to get a hold of me either my email, pm or facebook.

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Oh, we've discussed it at great lengths, we're simply finding it challenging to get on the same page. ;)

It's definitely something that needs to be discussed further until we can find a better middle ground, because I tend to find his responses disrespectful and intolerant, and if there is one thing I don't tolerate, it is intolerance. :P

Overall, my mother is respectful. Christianity is simply ingrained in her and her manners of speech, so, for example, if I'm discussing something with her that I'm confused about or troubled by, her response will typically include something about "God's plan" which I mentally just reframe in the terms that make more sense to me, but which leave my daughter wondering who this God guy is. I don't necessarily see that as stepping on our toes, rather I embrace it as an opportunity to discuss these concepts and explain the different manifestations of what "God" could be.

Thankfully, in terms of religious rites, we're on exactly the same page. Heh, well until such hypothetical time that our child(ren) would decide to become baptized or participate in some other religious ceremony.

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Not trying to play favorites, but I think Mommy has the best way to go on this one. You are being honest (not sure), respectful (Grandma believes this, I'm not sure, Daddy doesn't believe), and not bashing anyone, but stating it in an easy to digest and matter of fact way. The key here is to get the other two on board - Grandma can be a great ally if she can take the high road (this is what I believ so far as to explain why, in a neutral way - not from a standpoint of "right" or "wrong", but just this is what I believe, while repectfully reinforcing that Mommy is not sure, and Daddy doesn't believe, and that's okay, too. Daddy needs to do the same, but it would be better to be more neutral (I just don't believe, and Mommy is not sure), than to sound dismissive using words like "made up" or "rediculous".

My parents were hard core believers in Christianity, and while my father has passed, he never wavered, and my mother, still living, is still firm in her faith. Both made me attend church as a kid, but they also gave me one major kindness: they never forced me to believe. What they always said to me is "while you are young, you will go to church because we want you to know what we believe. You will have to decide what you believe (or don't) for yourself. They encouraged me to speak openly with their clergy, and even allowed me to attend services at the local temples with my friends (I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood). I became fast friends with all the clergy in my home town, and discovered to my joy that our paths were much more similar than different.

I have left the Episcopal church of my youth, because I found many things within the denomination I could not abide (too much politics and infighting), mostly things that distracted from the core of the faith. At the end of the day, I do believe in the Holy Trinity, and the basic Anglican tenets and can recite the creed without a conflict of conscience. These things work for me, but I do not impose that upon anyone but myself.

I applaud your decision to raise a respectful child who will find her own way. I have no doubt that you would allow her to attend church if she asked you to allow it, and would have an open discussion about it if and when the time came. There is nothing wrong with your truthful position and statement of "some people believe, but I am not sure, and Daddy does not believe". It is fact and presents the idea that it is okay to find your own path, and that you will love your daughter no matter where she finds herself called - that is the most important part of all. No one deserves to think for a moment that they can only be loved if they follow a certain path.

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i like your post.and know you have been missed.

when "we"had custody of my nieces,grandma was a dyed in the wool penecostal who also claimed seventh day adventist beliefs.uncle mark was a searching buddhist,with taoist leanings,otherwise an atheist.grandma tried to teach my nieces that i was going to hell,while i tried to tell them that we each create our own hell(among other things).

grandma died 3 years ago,and neither of my nieces followed her"path",but have explored on their own.my one niece is agnostic,the other has found her beliefs are more deist.i have encouraged them to decide for themselves,and that no one knows the right answer for sure.

that is my verbagy answer to you joella.hope it helps.

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Thank you Br. Devon, I obviously agree. ;)

As Josh said, Atheists can be as challenging as Religious fanatics in their "I am right and this is the only right answer" position. He has become a much more staunch non-believer in the last couple of years, which has been interesting to watch unfold.

Our daughter has attended church on a few occasions (weddings, funerals, a baptism, Christmas, and just a regular ol' service when she spent a weekend with my parents), and mostly she enjoys the music. :)

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Overall, my mother is respectful. Christianity is simply ingrained in her and her manners of speech, so, for example, if I'm discussing something with her that I'm confused about or troubled by, her response will typically include something about "God's plan" which I mentally just reframe in the terms that make more sense to me, but which leave my daughter wondering who this God guy is. I don't necessarily see that as stepping on our toes, rather I embrace it as an opportunity to discuss these concepts and explain the different manifestations of what "God" could be.

The biggest thing, I feel anyway, is how ready you and Ty are to address "why don't you believe in god like Grandma", or "Why don’t Mommy and Daddy believe the same thing" in a safe and practical way. Ty going off (this is simply an example and no reflection on Ty himself as I do not know him) on a rant that Grandma is a nutter for believing is "big sky daddy" and his magic cannibalism.”

As for getting Ty on the same page, maybe a gentle reminder that he has no scientific proof god does not exist. The most he can claim is that there may be an abundance of “proof” that he/she/it/they do not care. It is simple his belief that god does not exist. It is not a provable fact. Just as it is your belief (using the standard agnostic belief) that god may or may not exist and is essentially unknowable, just as it is your parents belief that god does exist.

The fact that you do have the full spectrum of non-belief to belief can use used as a teaching point with your children that you are all essentially good people regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof. This illustrates that good people come from all walks of life, not just those that agree with you on key issues.

*note: I used the lowercase god as I am not discussing just the biblical God, but the generalized concept of a divine being.

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The more I think about it, the more I remember one of my lines that I used to use a lot when I ministered to this one lady who has been dead a few years: she had her questions about the various ways one could believe and who was right, and so on... I explained that if I was going to be of any true service as a member of clergy, I would have to let her in on the the two secrets: I personally believe this way, and it works for me... and I have no proof, it it only my personal belief. I then looked at her with a gentle smile and said "and that is why they call it FAITH instead of FOR SURE."

In my own belief, we will find out the real answers from our creator(s) after death. Until then, we have to kind of guess, but have nature and this really great book some folks wrote thousands of years after the main character died, and then was tweaked by so many editors that it's anyone's guess how much of the original is still in the version we know. But I have come through the years to accept I can only believe the way I do, I can not prove anything. I think this is the hardest thing for anyone to accept from either extreme - those who think all is lost if they do not believe 100 per cent as told to, and those who believe nothing. For either, they have too much invested and too much to lose if they are wrong.

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I did :)

what I asked of others (religious, non- religious and anti-religious) when she was small was to leave the little one out of it

it sounds like you and your husband are at least on the same chapter if not on the same page; asking family to consider and be respectful of the way you choose to raise your children, presented respectfully should get you the desired understanding :)

by the time mine was a teenager, she referred to herself as a quaker, roman catholic, muslim, jew - she is all of those, it is her heritage, but ultimately as an adult, she's an agnostic like her mom ;)

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My wife is Romany and holds to a number of beliefs and taboos that are more cultural than religious, but like most Romany gypsies, she has kind of adhered to a vague kind of Christianity that lives aide by side with her other beliefs, like reincarnation and spiritualism....I was raised a Methodist but went with my mom to the Episcopal church on Sundays too, since she worked as the organist for both churches. My grandmother would take me to the baptist church on Wednesdays in the hopes that I'd get some sense. When we started having kids, we all joined the Episcopal church since it was the one church we both had experience with. I think together we feed off each other ans borrow from each other. It's hard not to be superstitious when so many of her omens come true, after a while you buy in. We've more than one fight over how far to go with teaching our beliefs but finding a middle way is possible. About the only thing we fully agree on is the existence of ghosts and spirits and the universal salvation, other than that, we're usually on different teams. I hope its good for my kids. I want them to think critically about their beliefs ans never just take someone's word for things. Why would anyone surrender their god given right to free thought like that?

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It's definitely something that needs to be discussed further until we can find a better middle ground, because I tend to find his responses disrespectful and intolerant, and if there is one thing I don't tolerate, it is intolerance.
Allow me to suggest that if you cannot tolerate and respect the way that your husband chooses to express his beliefs, you will not really be able to model the behaviors you wish your child to develop. Strong beliefs are challenging to deal with, no question. But if you love someone, and they are not being abusive, you kind of have to learn to let them be wrong as loudly as they want... no?
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I think you have an important point there, whether it's a point I particularly like, or not. ;)

At the same time, I think there's a difference between having respect for and tolerance of his beliefs, and having respect for and tolerance of the way he responds to the beliefs of others. "Daddy does not believe in god or heaven" is a bit different than "Anyone who believes in god or heaven is a mindless sheep who can't think for their self and perpetuates utter nonsense." Although, I suppose that is also a belief...

So, hrm. I guess what we need to get on the same page with is whether or not we agree that we'd like to raise kids who are tolerant and respectful of the beliefs of others, and if not, well then, that's a bridge, now isn't it?

Hey Br. Devon, any chance I could get you to move this to the parenting forum, now that there is one? :cupidarrow:

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My husband is solidly atheist and I am solidly (lol) agnostic.

That sounds like me and my ex life partner.

Our daughter is nearing three years old, and since my mom watches her two afternoons a week, she is starting to pick up on some of the Jesus/God/Heaven references.

My response is to explain that many people believe many different things, and that Grandma believes that there is a Jesus and a God and a Heaven, and to give basic details about what those things mean. Additionally I explain that some people aren't really sure (like mommy) and some people do not believe in any such thing (like Daddy) and many people believe all sorts of other variations. Which, I feel, is an accurate and honest and age appropriate answer.

I have a similar situation with my son and mother. Like you, I keep an open dialogue about religion (and just about everything else).

My husband's response is typically something like "It's all a bunch of made up stories and it's all pretty ridiculous."

My ex life partner usually opens with “In this world, there are carnies and rubes…” and then goes on to explain how all believers are rubes. He tends to use that analogy for both political and religious discussions.

I find this problematic, because I hope to raise humans (we additionally have a son on the way) who can be respectful of the beliefs of others even when they do not share them.

I used to feel that way until I realized that my opinion is still just a belief which, by my own standards, should be treated equally to my ex life partner’s. Basically, I had to learn to be tolerant of intolerance.

But enough about me, yes? Those of you in similar situations, how do you navigate them?

I encourage my son to explore his own spirituality, without forcing him in a particular direction. Likewise, I allow others in his life teach him their beliefs as they see fit.

How do you encourage your children to explore concepts of religion and spirituality to arrive at what feels best for them, while not trying to sway them too hard one way or another, and in such a way that they develop respect for the diversity in beliefs they are bound to encounter?

Since some believe is it their spiritual responsibility to guide (force) their children down a specific religious path, I think you should remove the word, “How” from the beginning of the sentence to make it less presumptuous.

As Josh said, Atheists can be as challenging as Religious fanatics in their "I am right and this is the only right answer" position. He has become a much more staunch non-believer in the last couple of years, which has been interesting to watch unfold.

As can agnostics, with their “I am open minded and respectful, so you should be too” position. I used to be that way and, in retrospect, I was no different than any other “fanatic”.

Self-proclaimed “tolerant” people often believe they are tolerant because they are open minded, which is a logical fallacy. I believe this is because people confuse acceptance and tolerance.

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I think you have an important point there, whether it's a point I particularly like, or not. ;)

At the same time, I think there's a difference between having respect for and tolerance of his beliefs, and having respect for and tolerance of the way he responds to the beliefs of others. "Daddy does not believe in god or heaven" is a bit different than "Anyone who believes in god or heaven is a mindless sheep who can't think for their self and perpetuates utter nonsense." Although, I suppose that is also a belief...

So, hrm. I guess what we need to get on the same page with is whether or not we agree that we'd like to raise kids who are tolerant and respectful of the beliefs of others, and if not, well then, that's a bridge, now isn't it?

I am more concerned with what sort of relationship Daddy thinks he will have with his child, if his child should grow up to believe in some sort of "nonsense". Because a Daddy who makes a habit of the kind of talk you describe doesn't leave a lot of room for a child who happens to be a believer to feel safe around Daddy...
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