Advice Needed on Split Family Religous Beliefs

Updated on April 22, 2010
J.B. asks from Burbank, CA
20 answers

My husband and I are split on religious beliefs. We were both raised Catholic. I admit I am non-practicing but will still take communion at the masses I rarely attend. On the other hand my husband is an atheist (since adulthood). I would like to raise our children catholic and I am willing to attend church regularly to enforce their teachings but my husband says he cannot support me. He has his own beliefs and says he cannot "lie" to our children. This is difficult since we agree on a lot of other things but this one is weighing heavily and is a constant point of contention. Is there any one in a similar situtaion? have you found any middle ground? what has worked for you?

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for your responses. I read them all and respect all your different point of views. I am very moved by some of the shared experiences and I must say that before posting my question I was depressed about our family's situation but now I'm actually excited and have a whole new outlook. What I plan to do is first have an another open discussion w/my husband (making sure he knows that I respect his beliefs and will not try to enforce mine onto his). I was reminded of one of the reasons why I fell in love with him in the first place... because we respected our differences. We knew we weren't identical twins, we each had our own thoughts, beliefs and used to enjoy debates. Deep down I am still Catholic. I'm not the same person I was when I stopped attending church regularly (around confimation age). I have a lot of self reflection I need to do, "reintroducing" myself as an adult and mother. I will hunt for a local church, one that speaks to me and I feel that will be a great community for myelf and my chiildren. Thanks to all the mama who helped bring me to this decision. My children will learn about Cahtholosim from me but my husband will surely encourage them to keep asking quesions. I will raise them with this foundation until, like the rest of us, they are old enough to make their own disicions.

More Answers



answers from Pittsburgh on

Honestly, it doesn't sound like you are really committed to the Catholic faith, but most likely, it's what you know, hence you would like your children to attend. If you think you're interested in something else, more, different, whatever, I wou;d encourage you to explore your area and go "church shopping" to see if you can find a place that you will want to attend and commit to, without feeling like you are going to a mass where you "will still take communion at the masses I rarely attend." You might get more out of it and who knows? Your husband may be curious to attend as well. I say forge ahead on your own for your children. They will not be exposed to any religious ideals if you don't see that they are. I am going through this right now. My husband's not an atheist--he's a golfer :-) Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

The bible says teach a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it. Teach them your beliefs and attend regularly and just explain that dad doesn't share the same beliefs and let God do the rest.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I'm an Agnostic Atheist, husband was raised Catholic and wrestles with what he believes. Basically, I lean towards believing there is no god, he leans towards believing there is. :)

I know you lean towards Catholic, because its what you know.. but what about a Unitarian church? UU's accept Atheists, or any other belief. Maybe something your husband could join in with you and the kids, an exploration of what you all believe together, while still learning good rules to live by. Maybe something like that could be a middle ground?

I understand where you husband is coming from - he shouldn't have to say he believes there is a god if he doesn't believe that. He shouldn't have to lie to the kids. He should be able to tell them, "Some people believe in this, I don't. Your mother does. But what you believe is up to you." I don't see anything wrong with that.

Personally, we do not take our kids to any kind of church. (There isn't a UU church close by) When the topic of a creator comes up we discuss what each of us believes - including us asking the kids, What do you think? We talk about scientific theories, religious theories, all of it. The reason I don't want my kids going to main stream church is because the information would not be presented as a possibility, it would be pushed as fact. I certainly don't want my kids made to think they MUST think only one way and if they don't they will burn in a firey hell. It's a shame, I do like the social aspect of church -- the sense of community, making friends with other married couples that have kids.. I just won't lie and say I believe something I don't. Oh well!

Good luck to you. I think you should be brainstorming this with your husband. Find out what he is comfortable with and see if you guys can find a middle ground.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

My husband and I are in a similar situation as is my sister and one of our neighbors. I'll point out each scenario and how it's been resolved.

In our case, I grew-up a poorly-practicing Catholic. My husband grew-up STRICT Baptist and was taught Catholics are not Christian. We've chosen not to pursue either religion with our children and are seeking a common, middle ground that we're both comfortable with since how we were brought-up has so many philosophical differences.
We have our core beliefs and try to teach the commonalities and be honest in areas we either don't agree (and explain why) as well as areas we simply don't understand.

My sister also grew-up Catholic, sought out Methodist when she had her kids and is now Born Again.
Her husband doesn't go to church but lets her make the calls with several church services/week with 2/3 kids (the oldest gets a pass for being heavily involved in baseball?). She's a little off the deep end, and he's completely not involved religiously.
Neither of the younger kids like or feel comfortable in her church at this time, but have no choice (they are 11 and 13 years-old).

Our neighbors just had 2 boys. Mom is Jewish, dad grew-up Christian. They chose to follow Judaism because it was more important to Mom than it was to Dad. He hasn't converted, and they explain the differences to the boys (20 months and 3 years). The boys understand that the rest of us on the street believe in Christianity, and she does well to explain the differences. Dad attends important events at the synagogue.

I think as long as you're honest with your children and explain the differences and give them some backbone of religion, you've done a great job. My mom converted to Catholicism when my parents got married. They believed it was their job to take us through Confirmation when the church recognized us as adults, and left the path of our discovery in Faith up to us.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I was in a somewhat similar situation. My boyfriend is atheist, I am Wiccan, and both of our families are Christian. When the baby gets here we didn't really agree on what to teach him/her. In the end we just decided to wait until our child was old enough to understand each religion, and let him/her decide on his/her own. In the end, your child will decide what he/she wants to believe anyway.

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answers from Denver on

There isn't a lot of middle ground to be had. You can take them to church and follow your own beliefs until they are old enough to make up their own minds. But realistically you can't make him pretend to believe in something he doesn't. That wouldn't be a fair demand to place on him. He won't and shouldn't be part of it if he doesn't believe in it. You have to be honest with your kids that not everyone agrees about this, and you and their Daddy are among those with different beliefs.

My MIL handles it by just going herself and always inviting family along. Her husband doesn't believe, so he always says no. But he and the kids were all invited along if they wanted to attend. If they don't want to, you get some time alone with your god, and he has to watch the kids.

Religion shouldn't be forced, anyway. Let their curiosity carry them to their path.

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answers from Dallas on

Check out Unitarian Universalists - wikipedia defines it as the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." They tend to be focused on supporting people in their spiritual journey, which sounds like it might be more appropriate to where you are. They teach the different schools of faith, so your children won't be ignorant of your Catholic heritage. Enjoy

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

YOU are the parent. It is your responsibility to guide your children to some sort of spiritual/religous education. Do not "wait until they are old enough so they can decide". Not one of the respondents mentioned what age the children are "old enough". When your children are adults, they can decide for themselves what religiou they want to follow, if any. But for now, you need to give guidance and direction. Obviously, they can't drive themselves to church so it is all up to you. Please don't wait. There are alot of rewards in belonging to a church. Find a good one and enjoy it.

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answers from Los Angeles on

<sigh> I thought I had wirtten this for a minute! Actually, my husband isn't an atheist, but he never mentions prayer, God, or anything, but was raied Lutheran. I don't even think he knows where he stands. I'm a non-practicing Catholic. We have 3 kids. We sent our first son to Christian preschool and he came home with all kinds of whack ideas. "God made my bike. God makes everything." Ok, back up Nellie.

Here's where we are. We read a children's bible, which told 1/2 the story and I found it very lame. We just bought a Bible Story book and are reading that, but I explain it right then and there, so there is some common sense going on. We've been to our friend's Christian church a few times, gone to church with my SIL, but we don't go regularly. I remember going to church like it was torture. I didn't get anything out of it until I was about 10.

Our oldest is 7 now and we discuss God, read stories, the bible, etc. We are just deciding to get into it a little more, but we aren't forcing it. We are planning on getting ALL of our kids baptized this next year - Catholic and then they can get re-baptised if they want, as adults, as anything they want. I just want it something that they have in their lives, but I don't want it to be so intense that they can't think for themselves.

My dad was raised Mormon and never went back to church after he was 17. I've never heard him pray and his take on religion is pretty harsh...but he's at least honest about it. I did appreciate that growing up. He's very clear that religion and spirituality are not the same things. My mom raised us Catholic. I got baptised, first communion and at 16, confirmed. I never really went back to church after that. I mean, I do, when I feel the desire to go, but it's not for confession, or for forgiveness. It's almost like I feel the need to reconnect, like calling a good friend that I haven't seen in a while.

I think your child has a very lucky situation. Your children will have a good balance and will figure it out for themselves later - we always do! I think a religious foundation can be really good. I say, thank your husband for at least knowing where he is, rather than pretending and being a hypocrite. I think it's great that he will have that religious relationship with you. Your children will probably always come to you for religious questions and that's ok. My husband doesn't answer questions like, "How does the babby get in the uterus." I do. Your husband doesn't have to answer, "Am I going to hell for lying." You do.

I just had this conversation with an adult where her parents sort of intorduced religion, but not really, as a 40 year old woman, she wishes she had more of it and found more comfort in going to church. That's what prompted me to really sit down and think about it and what I am doing for my children.

I think you raised an excellent question....and celebrate that you and your husband are different and will have different takes on things.

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answers from Los Angeles on

You dont memtion the age of the children there is nothing wrowg with children having parents believe different things thats life if you want to take your children to church do so dont expect you husband to go its o k for parents to believe differently relax and go with the flow your children willbe fine A. no hills


answers from San Diego on

You should have probably discussed this prior to having children. To just take your children to church and give dad his "dad time" disrespects his opinion on the matter. I think the best compromise is to let your children decide what they would like to do when they are old enough.



answers from Honolulu on

Apologize if I duplicate - haven't read everyone elses' reponses.
Good titles to read:
Case for Faith (also Case for Creator and Case for Christ) by Lee Strobel
Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch by Lee Stobel
Spiritually Single Moms by Nancy Sebastian Meyer (actually saw this lady in person at my MOPS group - phenomenal speaker as well as writer)
Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian
I would also encourage your husband to understand that basic (and even complex) understanding of Biblical principles are required to fully grasp many of the literary (John Milton's Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis, and even Harry Potter), political ("In God We Trust"), and cultural views ("Turn the other cheek.") that have shaped our society. It is doing your child a disservice not to expose them to the bedrock foundation on which these ideas were based. I grew up with very limited exposure and found myself looking and acting ignorantly because of my lack of religious foundation. Encourage your children to ALWAYS ask questions and let them know that you believe God gave us all the most important gift of FREE CHOICE which means they can choose to believe or not AFTER they know the facts for BOTH sides. Just because religious ideas are not easily grasped does not mean they are less relevant. Encourage your children to pray to help them understand AND to keep in close contact with youth pastors to help with questions.
Hope this helps!



answers from Los Angeles on

We are in the same boat. When our daughter was born we talked about baptism and all the trappings of the church. My husband was against it and my family is upset that we didn't rush out and join the local church. We came to a compromise, we will let our daughter decide when she is old enough to understand what religion is and how it may effect her life.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi J., so yeah I agree w/one of the other Mamas who said this would have gone down better if you'd discussed it prior to having kids, but since you don't have a time machine...
I'm Catholic. My parents (specifically my Mom) made sure to involve us in mass and we went through all of our sacriments. In my teenage years I went through an atheist phase and questioned everything (as I'm sure most kids do) and my Mom was really bummed. But ultimately I was able to make my own choice because I had the exposure to Catholicism as a child. I highly doubt I would have sought out religion without having had some foundation. Take your kids to mass :) They're not able to make that kind of decision for themselves, so give them a starting point and then let them decide for themselves AFTER you've exposed them to it and they are older. Now as an adult, I'm actually much more involved in my church/religion than my parents are. And BTW I wouldn't just settle for going to the church that pertains to your neighborhood. If you don't like the people or the set up or the priests bore you to death in mass, leave! Find a parish that DOES inspire you or make you feel like you've found your "home". I used to go 30 minutes out of my way over to Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood because it was such a wonderful, diverse group of parishoners & priests. If you are energized by the experience, your children will see that. Find an inclusive, loving and nurturing parish and pass on the ones that seem committed to dogma. Finally, take everything w/a grain of salt. Churches are obviously far from perfect. Your husband may feel like certain aspects of Catholicism grate on him, I get that. I don't know that he would be "lying" to the kids by going to mass when he doesn't feel like going. It really doesn't have to be that intense. I know a lot of Catholics who are pissed off w/the church and don't agree w/everything. Believe me, neither do I. But there really is a cultural structure that binds you as a Catholic to all the other people. I've always thought that my faith is like my family. I don't always agree with them and MANY times they drive me crazy, but I don't abandon them just because they're not perfect. Anyway, I hope that gives you a different perspective to consider. Good luck Mama!!



answers from Atlanta on

Hi J.,

You said you were non practicing? Does that mean you don't believe in God? Or do you? Do you believe God has authority over you? Your husband is right about not lying. Whether you believe it or not, it can still be true though? If you believe in God then you know that God commands us to teach our children about Him. If you don't believe then why argue with your husband? Is this tradition? Do we as humans have a soul or are we just a body and mind that will turn to dust when we die. Is everything spiritual a lie? or just God Almighty?

If you really want to teach your child about God then you need to believe it. Make your husband understand how important it is. If God does not exist, then what's the harm? If God does exist, wouldn't your husband want your child to be safe in God's care? Is he really that sure or is he just tired of the formality of religion.

Christians share the gospel simply for that reason, they are sharing the good that they have. Atheists don't want to share anything. They want everyone to have nothing. What God gives is perfect. What humans give is not.

If no one believed God existed, does that mean he doesn't??? J., I'm sorry this is not encouraging


answers from Salt Lake City on

I recommend a book that I read recently that was very informative. "What Christians Believe" by Cleon Skousen. This book could help you come to some common ground or at least more understanding of each others differences.
I have a web sight that you could also look into if you are interested The book I recommended is non denominational. I hope this helps.



answers from San Francisco on

I think it is fine for the kids to go with you to church and dad have some "dad time" at home or whatever while you go. my daughter goes to church with dad and I do not attend because I am not christian, it is a nice break while they are gone and I love that she has the community of the church.



answers from Boise on

Would your husband be okay if when the topic is brought up that you say that your husband doesn't believe, or believes differently, just like if it was a friend or other family?

I think that religious upbringing is something that you both need to agree on. Maybe he would be okay if you went on holidays and just had a "spiritual" side at home? Obviously, he hasn't changed his beliefs lately, and didn't have a problem with you going periodically, can you keep up that routine, only include your kids? Just some thoughts.



answers from Los Angeles on

I am like you I do not attend church each week but do take communion when I am there. I have two girls that have been baptized and had their first communion, their dad did not participate in any of it. It was his choice. If you believe that they need this in thier lives you need to do it. I believe that faith is something very important and you need to give them something as children and as they get older let them decide for themselves. good luck and I am here if you need some support.


answers from San Diego on

This discussion is interesting for me too. My husband is a Catholic but doesn't really practice that much. I was not raised very religiously. We got married in the Catholic church. We have attended a local Catholic church. But now we are at an "inbetween" time because of my son's age. Attending church right now is tough just like restaurants, etc. I have decided I can't attend a Catholic church anymore because of the abuses. I cannot support an institution that is sexually and physically abusing children and brushing it under the rug. My husband won't explore other options. I am so confused on what foundation to give my son. I think he needs some foundation because I didn't have any and I feel it did not help me. What to do?

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