On this blog, I’ve been pretty repetitive about inter-faith relationships. I have said again and again that it’s easy to fall for someone with a deep faith or even someone who believes but doesn’t take it so seriously. It’s easy because there are beautiful, kind, intelligent and funny religious people out there that anyone would be lucky to have by their side. Where I always encourage caution, though, is how the future might play out, especially if you have kids together. You have to ask yourself these questions:
1. Is there a chance that having a child will cause my significant other to take their faith more seriously?
2. Will we be able to agree on how our child is raised, ie. faith school? regular church? baptisms?
3. What would our co-parenting look like if we broke up?
4. Is there a chance that your significant other could use your lack of faith against you in the event you broke up and were in a custody battle?
If you’re unsure how to answer any of these questions, you might reconsider how serious you allow your relationship with a religious person to get. Perhaps it is best for both of you to consider people you see eye-to-eye with.
To illustrate just how murky the waters can get in an inter-faith relationship involving kids, I wanted to answer a reader’s question for you. A single father reached out to me and wondered how to deal with his situation. He’s an atheist separated from his 10-year-old son’s mother, who is religious and now married to a religious man. They share custody. Recently, his son told him that he no longer believes in God or Jesus or the Bible. For now, they are keeping this from the child’s mother out of fear she will accuse Dad of “brainwashing” his son.
“What should I do?”, he asked me.
I thought about it for a long time and I still honestly have no clue. This is such a sticky situation. Of course, you always want to be honest with the mother of your child, but the risks you face if you do in this situation are:
The mother will believe you have put your own ideas in your son’s head, thus making your relationship with her more strained and difficult to manage.
Your son’s mom could take it more seriously and drag you to court to adjust your custody agreement. Sadly, history shows that judges often side with the religious parent over an atheist one.
She will push religion on your son more forcefully, making him miserable.
Of course, the other alternative is that she will get over it and no serious repercussions will come of it. Which outcome you get depends entirely on what sort of person she is. So, to the best of my ability, I came up with several choices. Here are the ways you could potentially deal with this situation:
Don’t tell her and urge your son not to as well – of course, urging your son to keep secrets from his mother is not the best idea in the world and you always run the risk of him telling her anyway. After all, he is a child and children aren’t often the best secret-keepers. If she finds out despite your agreement with your child to say nothing about it, you could find yourself in a much deeper pile of shit than if you’d just been honest with her outright. The only time I would suggest considering this option is if you fear the mother will overreact and it could affect your access to the child, the child’s physical and mental well-being, or his safety.
Have your son tell her the truth – If he can articulate why he doesn’t believe and explain to her that it has nothing to do with you, this could be your best option. You may catch a bit of heat, but ultimately, she can’t really blame you if the kid himself is telling her it’s got nothing to do with you. Not every kid is going to feel comfortable in this situation, though and some may not be able to find the words to explain this to her. Choose this option only if your kid is up to it.
You can tell her yourself – This choice comes with a high risk of catching shit, but if you’re fairly confident your ex is not going to blow it out of proportion and use it to hurt your access to your child or use it to make the child’s life miserable, then catch that shit and deal with it. Who cares what the mom thinks of you, so long as you still get to see your son as much as you do now? If she wants to blame you and carry that anger around with her, that’s her choice. Of course, you could also be pleasantly surprised and she could just not care all that much and appreciate the fact that you were honest with her.
The thing you have to keep at the forefront of your mind is what’s best for your son. You have the opportunity right now to teach your son by example that telling the truth, even when it’s not easy, is a good thing. If you can do that without risking his well-being or your access to him, then I say the option you need to choose is pretty clear.
To those of you, religious or non, considering a serious relationship with someone who does not agree with you on the topic of religion, I hope this situation acts as a warning. These are the problems your future could hold. Keep this in mind while weighing the pros and cons of getting serious in an inter-faith relationship.
Do you need advice from one atheist parent to another? Drop me a line and I will try my best: firstname.lastname@example.org
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What would you do in this situation? Let me know in the comments!