One of the most contentious battles often fought after a divorce is over matters of what religion to raise a child in. Disputes over religion have caused more death and suffering in this world than any other force on earth and it can wreak havoc on the post-divorce family just the same. It is for this reason that we offer the following advice on how religious differences should be handled.
How to handle religious disputes over the raising of children
There is only one productive way to handle these disputes, and that’s for each of you to raise the kids according to your own beliefs, then let the kids decide. Your child does not “belong” to you nor to your partner. They are their own being, and your job is to raise them to be an autonomous, free thinking individual, not a clone of your beliefs. This may not be the answer you’re looking for, but let us try and convince you why it’s the best option, both for you and the kids:
- You’re not in control anyway
You may think that by “winning” this battle to raise your children exclusively in a particular belief system that you’ve won the fight. This isn’t true. For example, studies indicate that almost half of American adults will have changed their religious affiliation at least once, and most will end up doing so before the age of 24. (Saroglou, 2012) Ultimately, it’s your child who is in charge of their own mind and their own decisions, and any gumption that you’re in control of this simply because you control the message is little more than a happy delusion. So don’t delude yourself.
- Forced impositions tend to backfire later
Those parents who are most neurotic in pushing their faith on their kids are also the ones most likely to have a child who rebels and later comes to hate everything about that particular faith. The dictator approach has never worked to create real loyalty, and this holds true for matters of religion as much as it does anything else. So if you’re the type of parent who feels they need to insist on the child being indoctrinated into a certain set of beliefs without being exposed to any other, you’ve probably already lost the battle anyhow, and your child will rebel against your mind control later.
- Have faith!
Highly religious people tend to proclaim a great deal of faith in God . . . until it comes to the issue of propagating their specific religious beliefs, at which point they feel it necessary to push their beliefs down the throat of their targeted audience. Apparently, the same God who can move the heavens and earth took a vacation, and couldn’t possibly be relied on to steer a child in the right direction should they be exposed to more than one set of beliefs. You see the contradiction here? Stand by your beliefs, and have faith that if indeed God is on the side of one particular belief system (among the several thousand out there), then he (or she) is certainly capable of working their magic to touch your child’s heart. Pray on it if you’d like. But if you worry that God is incapable of getting by without you controlling the message 24/7, that’s an answer to how secure you actually are in your faith, and where these beliefs actually originate.
- Be sensitive towards faith
On the same token, those parents who aren’t religious should not feel a need to interfere with the other parent out of spite. Go ahead and teach your child about science or your personal beliefs on the Universe, but be sensitive towards the other parent’s preferences if for no other reason than that it matters to them. Once again, let your child ultimately decide, and put credence on the weight of your position. For as much harm as religion can cause, it can also offer good things like a sense of community or comradery with others. So don’t be obnoxious about pushing non-religious views, either.