One faith, both faiths, or no faith?

For many parents, faith can play a very important part in how you choose to raise your children.

If you and your partner have different religious beliefs, you may have different ideas and values about parenting. There are going to be some big decisions to make and, as with any big decision, it’s really useful to be able to plan ahead so you can make a compromise together.

Choosing a faith


In an interfaith family – broadly speaking – you have three options about how you fit religion into your family: one faith, both faiths, or no faith.

You can choose to raise your child within the values of one set of religious beliefs and values, or, as many parents do, you can opt for a combination of the two. If you don’t want to make this decision for your child, you may also opt to set religion aside, so your child can form their own belief system [1].

Of the various research projects done in this area, some results suggest that a mix of both faiths is best, while others say it doesn’t matter too much as long as you are consistent and present a united front [2]. So, as long as you work together, whatever you choose is probably going to be what’s best for you.

Faith and the transition to parenthood


Whatever your faith, it’s useful to be aware of the impact that parenthood can have on your couple relationship.

Research into how inter-faith couples have handled the transition to parenthood suggests that there are both benefits and risks to having multiple faiths in the family.

On the one hand, having children can accentuate the different values you both have, possibly leading to some extra tension as you strive to socialise your child according to your own spiritual beliefs [3]. But, having two sets of spiritual values to draw upon can also give you the means to cope with the challenges of parenting as you develop a strong relationship with your child [4].

Most families would tell you that the path they’ve taken has been the ‘right’ one for their family [5] – just make sure you keep communication open with your partner and be willing to compromise so you can find your own ‘right’ way together.

Practical issues


So what about the more practical aspects of parenting in an interfaith family – religious ceremonies like naming the baby, for instance? For many couples, it’s been helpful to step away from religious buildings and hold ceremonies in civic spaces or at home [3]. Celebrating in neutral spaces like this can make it easier to acknowledge the full diversity of your family.

Likewise, couples from different backgrounds often choose names for their children that reflect the child’s mixed heritage. If your religion includes a naming tradition, you may want to consider a similar move.

Looking into the future, you might want to try and anticipate potential challenges and plan for how you’ll get around them when they arrive. For example – do you want your child to develop their own religious practice?

Perhaps you hope they’ll follow in your footsteps, or maybe you’d rather keep things open so that they have the option to make their own choices. Whatever you want for your children, keep talking to your partner about the things that matter most to you, so that you’re ready to make the important decisions together and remain consistent for your child.

References


[1] Gruzen, L.F. (2001). How interfaith parents can give their children the best of both their heritages. New York: Newmarket Press.

[2] Yob, I. (1998). Keys to Interfaith Parenting. New York: Barron’s Educational Series.

[3] McCarthy, K. (2007). Pluralist Family Values: Domestic Strategies for Living with Religious Difference. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 612(1), 187–208.

[4] Mahoney, A. (2010). Religion in Families, 1999–2009: A Relational Spirituality Framework. Journal of Marriage and Family 72(4), 805-27.

[5] Caballero, C., Puthussery, S., & Edwards, R. (2008). Parenting 'mixed' children: Negotiating difference and belonging in mixed race, ethnicity and faith families. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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