After giving birth, many parents feel a sudden respect toward a higher power and realize that they’d like their children to be exposed to organized religion. Whether it’s the faith of their youth or a new adventure altogether, there are a lot of big decisions to make.
Scott Haltzman, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men and The Secrets of Happily Married Women, tells us how to wage the religious family battles so everyone wins.
Scenario 1: Mom and Dad don’t have any strong religious preference and are searching for the best faith fit for their family.
“When two people who are not involved in any sort of organized religion become parents and decide that they would like their child’s life to involve belief in a higher power,” comments Haltzman, “I often advise that they look toward their own parents for guidance. Often religious decisions reflect cultural beliefs, and by choosing to introduce your child to the religion of his or her heritage, you help the generations connect.”
Couples who may have chosen not to follow their parents’ faith may be looking for a religious orientation that will reflect their personal beliefs. In this case, do some research and see what you want for you and your child. Start at the library, by interviewing friends or looking on the internet. Sites such as beliefnet.com offer information and even quizzes for finding the religion that best suits you. (The P&N team had a great time finding their “true” religion and the test was surprisingly spot-on!)
Scenario 2: One parent feels strongly about their religious preference; the other, not so much.
“Generally, the individual that feels most strongly about their religious heritage will set the agenda for how their child will be raised,” says Haltzman.
If dad’s the religious one and wants to take the kids to church every Sunday and give mom the chance to sleep in, shower and lounge over the newspaper (or vise versa), it can be a positive experience for the family.
However, you have to make sure that you’re really comfortable with this scenario. Some of the more evangelistic faiths might oppose one member sitting Sunday mornings out, and if that’s going to be the case, it’s better to address the problem now. Haltzman also adds, “If one partner has strong objections to the religion of their mate, even if they don’t feel extremely tied to their own religious beliefs, that must be taken into consideration.”
Scenario 3: Both parents suddenly find that they feel very strongly about their different faiths of choice, and it’s war deciding which belief system their child will be introduced to.
Ideally, incorporating elements of both faiths would be best. Teach your child the unique beliefs and practices of the different religions and introduce them to the separate places of worship, and there will come a time when your child will be capable of choosing the religion that is right for him.
Both mom and dad will have to work to embrace the other’s religion and educate themselves in it, even if they don’t necessarily follow its teachings. Different people believe different things, so make sure that you, your partner and your child always understand, communicate and maintain high levels of tolerance. This way, the parents are able to work together and not raise their child under a cloud of confusion and religious discontent. Remember that above all, you want him to believe in whatever it is that fulfills him and makes him happy.
Another scenario . . . Mom and dad have decided that the baby is going to be raised as a Unitarian and your Catholic Grandma ain’t happy about it.
Ultimately, it’s the parent’s choice, and Grandma doesn’t have a lot of say in the matter. But Haltzman reminds us, “It’s important for adult children to be sensitive to their parents’ beliefs when raising their own children. Families look toward religion not only as a means for an individual to know their higher power, but as a cultural identity.”
It doesn’t hurt to let Grandma introduce her grandchildren to her faith, as long as she understands that it won’t be their sole religious upbringing—and as long, of course, as you’re comfortable with that situation.
Is religion really necessary?
These days, some parents choose to skip religion altogether—which doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re raising little devils. “My husband and I don’t practice any kind of organized religion,” says stay-at-home mom Laura Stafford, “but our kids have a strong respect for life and other people. They are kind, thoughtful, polite and caring, and while we don’t necessarily knock religion, it just isn’t something that we promote in our home.”