My husband is atheist and believes that religion is limiting to the human experience. I have a deeply-rooted belief in God and believe that faith and religious participation are crucial to what it means to be human. However, we have four children and we cannot agree on how to raise them. We want him to have an equal voice in our children’s upbringing, but we do not know how to accomplish this without 1) compromising our separate viewpoints, 2) confusing and upsetting our children, and 3) creating division in our family. We would love to hear your ideas and suggestions. Surely, there are other couples and families in our community who also deal with similar difficult situations.
This is a tough one.
The problem with religious beliefs is that we tend to see ours as the truth. Therefore, we have a hard time being flexible or compromising around these beliefs. Most people cannot stay neutral regarding what is “best” or “true” (in their opinion). It is very difficult to honor another person’s opposing viewpoint without, in some way, casting them as wrong. This can be confusing for children who hear different perspectives.
To make this work, you must be able to share your own beliefs, while at the same time giving your spouse’s beliefs equal weight and validity. Because religion is a strongly-held and emotional experience for most people, this is hard to do. It will require a great deal of wisdom on your part.
You will also have to overcome the fear your own religion may encourage around validating any other beliefs. If your religious teachings are based on the fact that there is only one truth (and everyone else is wrong), this can be a challenge. You must know (without a doubt in your heart) that God loves all his children no matter what they believe. You must know that God understands your situation and will bless your children no matter what.
You will have to set down any fear you have about your children choosing to believe differently than you do (especially if that means not believing in God). You will have to give them genuine and real permission to choose either set of beliefs or another set of beliefs altogether, without any disappointment or grief from you. You will have to honor their right — and everyone else's right — to believe their version of truth and love them no matter what they decide.
(I’ll bet you already figured that part out.)
The good news, for you, is that most atheists teach the same moral principles to their children as religious people do, they just don’t use commands from God as the motivation for that behavior. They teach children to behave correctly because it’s the right thing to do, and this can actually be beneficial. They can learn to make good choices about health and relationships for more personal reasons.
Your children will grow up to be great people either way. I can tell you this because some of my children don’t share my beliefs but they are the most generous, kind, good people you will ever meet and I couldn’t be more proud of them.
Here are a couple of other suggestions that may help:
Teaching children to do this prepares them to guide their own life in a responsible and powerful way.
I hope these ideas help.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of www.ldslifecoaching.com and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in Clarity: seeing yourself, others and situations accurately.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.