What if only one parent is a Christian and the other parent has very different beliefs? ParentLife has a monthly department "Single Parent Life" that addresses the needs of single parents. This month ParentLife writer, Tammy Bennentt, asked this question about parents with different beliefs. See her practical helps below that will help any family dealing with faith differences.
This question is common, not just after divorce, but in traditional families as well. Many times a mom and dad have been raised with different belief systems, or they may have a change of belief later in life. One parent who used to attend church and confess to be a Christian then decides this is no longer true for him. With divorce, there is a high level of frustration that happens to Christians who, unfortunately, may feel judged or isolated by their church because outsiders do not understand or agree with the reasons for the divorce. And there is the all-too common concern of a believer who may become angry or distant toward God because he wanted God to save his marriage and it ended anyway. There are many reasons a person might decide to turn his back on God after divorce — or even before divorce. If you are coparenting with someone who finds himself frustrated and confused about his beliefs, here are a few suggestions.
Remember the most important impact you have. What your child sees in your daily living will speak louder to him than anything. You cannot control what the other parent believes or what happens related to church when your child is with the other parent. What you can do is be the Christian example you want for your child to become. This does not mean being a perfect person or a perfect parent; it simply means letting your whole life radiate Christ and His love and life lived out through you! Years and years of this example will stand strong as a foundation to the faith being built in your child.
Pray for the other parent. Sincerely and fervently pray for the other parent but do not confuse prayer with control. It is not your job to fix or change the other parent. It was not your job when you were married and it certainly is not your job now. The power of a praying parent can reap invisible but valuable rewards — for your child and for the other parent.
Do not openly criticize the other parent. There is a big difference between criticizing the other parent’s beliefs and having neutral conversation with your child about lifestyles, belief systems, and faith. Always be available to listen to your child’s thoughts and be prepared for these “deep talks” at the most unexpected times. If you badmouth the other parent with hopes of getting your child to “side with” you, it will probably backfire! Not only will he feel the need to protect the other parent and stand up for him, he will likely begin to resent you (silently) and a wedge will build between you and your child.
Be respectful. The words your child hears you speak about the other parent will be life or death to his soul. Choose words of life so your child can live — find other details (besides religion) that you can point out that are good and positive about his other parent and say them aloud to your child.
Find an appropriate support system. Find an outlet to talk to another adult or counselor about these concerns and problems, but do not process these with your child. Be the parent and let him be the kid.
Enlist a leader at your church. Depending on the age of your child, enlist the leader for his age group and have an honest dialogue with that leader about your concerns. Encourage your child to spend time with that leader, outside of regular church activity time, to develop the friendship. Many times the extra outside voices you help cultivate with your child can be the best influence ever! It also can allow your child to have someone objective to bounce ideas off, ask questions, and to talk about the differences they see between his parents’ beliefs without the worry of hurting feelings or making a parent angry.
No matter the other parents’ beliefs, be the example your kids can follow!
Tammy G. Bennett, The Coparenting Coach, is the founder of Christian CoParenting. She and her daughter, Angelia, live in Nashville, Tennessee. For free e-newletters and resources, see www.ChristianCoParenting.com.
Recommended Reading: Spiritually Single Moms: Raising Godly Kids When Dad Doesn’t Believe by Nancy Sebastian Meyer (Navpress, 2007)