Tips for Mixed-Faith Marriages: You Both Have a Right to Parent your Child(ren) Part 2
e) Make sure you are both a “spiritual” and a “secular” leader in your home. Too often I see dynamics where the believing spouse now runs all of the religious traditions, family prayers, scripture studies, etc. while the transitioner focuses on all things science and historical. Figure out ways to expand the concept of educational and spiritual opportunities within your home. Transitioning parents are moral, ethical beings with lots of potential to bring new perspectives. Believing parents are educated, complex beings that are not just defined by their religious beliefs. For example, I know of parents where they switch between traditional prayers and parent-led meditations. I know of parents that include all kinds of literature and poetry for “scripture study." Going back to the values exercise I spoke of in tip #1… there are many things you still agree on. Focus on those topics for foundational teachings in your home. I know parents where they have intentionally contracted to represent the point that usually the other one would. For example, the believer will be the one who brings up historical issues that were inaccurate during the Sunday school lesson… while the transitioner will bring up the things they heard that they agree with and found edifying. Don't play one role... it's boring and your kids will be bored.
f) Have your partner’s back. There is no reason why both of you can’t speak your truth within the family system AND represent your partner’s perspective as well. A very simple example within a Mormon construct… “For me, Joseph Smith was a charismatic character that played an important role in American history as a leader of a church he created. For your mom/dad, Joseph Smith is a prophet who received messages and authority from God. It’s okay that we both have different takes on this. Over time you will have to figure out what you believe. Both of us want to support you in that process.”
g) Avoid guilt trips you may be doling out consciously or subconsciously due to your own projections. We want to avoid children feeling like they are part of a loyalty test… either disappointing or elating a parent through their own personal journey. I would hope that we would all want our children's spirituality to develop outside of a guilt trip. Can you be differentiated enough to be able to celebrate your child’s thoughts and ideas regardless of whether or not they reflect your own (differentiation = tolerating your own anxiety)? Can you trust your child to over time take their own spiritual journey… and that that journey will be the one that is in their best interest? The parable of the ten virgins in Christianity teaches this concept that a "testimony" ultimately can't be shared anyway. Spiritual journeys are highly personal.
h) Mixed-faith parenting has more positive potential than negative. Children from mixed-faith homes can actually benefit tremendously in a family that manages differences in emotionally regulated ways. They will come to understand the complexities of having different positions on things. They will have more empathy for differing opinions. They will better develop critical thinking skills. They will see you role model negotiations effectively. They will feel safe to have their own opinions and beliefs and share them in a welcoming environment (decrease of secrecy). Their friends will feel safe to share their beliefs and opinions within your home setting. More than likely with the way statistics are trending, they will be in a mixed-faith marriage or parenting relationship themselves. What better gift can you offer them than role modeling family unity and cohesiveness where mixed-faith dynamics exist? If you can figure out how to effectively coparent as a mixed-faith team, you are actually offering a unique environment that most other parenting systems can’t offer. Yes, there are fears and complexities inherent to mixed-faith parenting. And in my opinion, the positives can way outnumber the negatives once the initial hurdles are faced.
This tip and many others are included in the book called One Family, Two Views: How to Fortify your Mixed-Faith Mormon Marriage.
Although this book is geared towards Mormon families, any couple going through a faith transition would find the general principles helpful.
Let me know what other things you've found helpful in regards to parenting in a mixed-faith relationship.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST has been in practice as a mental health professional for over 20 years, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, and sexuality. She writes a blog called "The Mormon Therapist," and hosts the podcasts "Mormon Mental Health," and "Mormon Sex Info." She also produces "Sex Talk with Natasha."