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SALT LAKE CITY — Life is a complicated and messy endeavor. In LIFEadvice, Life Coach Kim Giles is here to help you with simple, principle- based solutions to the challenges you face. Coach Kim will empower you to get along with others and become the best you.
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 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 most important job is to teach your children to listen to their own heart for guidance and trust what they feel. They are the best source they have for knowing truth.
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:
- Let children freely choose which services they would like to attend or if they want to attend any at all. Don’t use any guilt, bribes or fear to manipulate their behavior. If guilt or fear are used to encourage religious beliefs, your children will resent it, and they may lose respect for you and your religion.
- Expose your children to other religious beliefs beyond the two. I believe that children who are exposed to multiple religions have a deeper understanding of religion and the role it plays in life. They are forced to ask more questions and to more deeply examine what they believe than children who are only exposed to one set of beliefs. Children often come out with more faith because they understand the whole picture in a deeper way.
- Emphasize the commonalities among religions. Show your children the beautiful truths that show up in every religion and set of moral beliefs. These are the most important principles anyway: love, treating others with respect and kindness, service, and charity. Teach them good health practices and proper relationship skills and teach this good behavior without labeling it as coming from any specific religion.
- Maintain a sense of balance between the parents. Children should not see one parent or set of beliefs as less than the other. One spouse cannot be made to seem misguided or wrong in any way. This means speaking about your spouse’s belief system with the same respect you speak of your own.
- Answer every question in a calm, unemotional way. Use phrases like, "Well, some people believe this and some believe that." Don’t get overly emotional when you talk about your own beliefs. Stay calm and peaceful when answering all questions.
- Use religious differences to teach acceptance. Teaching both parents' religious beliefs is better than just one because it helps children feel connected to and accepted by both sides of the family. Make sure that you celebrate events with both families and take turns.
- Most importantly, don’t experience fear around this situation. The truth is, children who are taught more than one religious perspective have a greater understanding of the world, politics, history and culture. They have more compassion and empathy for people who are different. They have more tolerance and respect for others. They often become wise people who think for themselves, and this will serve them in life.
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.