Let’s agree to disagree
- Published: July 17, 2014
Dear Village Pickle,
While my parents and I agree on most things related to parenting — parenting styles, diet, discipline — we have one big area of difference — religion. My partner and I have different religious beliefs from my parents and wish to raise our child in that tradition. Here’s the pickle: recently my son has been coming home after spending time with his grandparents repeating phrases clearly from my parent’s religious tradition. My son is only 3 years old so doesn’t understand the concepts, but I worry about what will happen as he gets older. Religion is important to my parents but we have always had a “let’s agree to disagree” relationship when it comes to this topic, though I know they would prefer I shared their faith. Any advice on this pickle would be helpful.
Dear Religious Differences,
The best part about this situation is that it seems that you have a good relationship with your parents. Starting from a place of mutual affection, trust and respect can go a long way towards making these kinds of situations less difficult. Create a list with your partner of religious practices you do not want your son participating in and share that, in a kind and respectful way, with your parents. If, for example, your parents belong to a Christian tradition: No taking grandson to church, no taking grandson to any church function (picnics, Nativity plays, etc.), no reading the Bible with him, no Jesus-themed coloring books, etc. It will help if you are comfortable with some level of religious exposure (saying grace, perhaps?) so that you are not simply handing your parents a long list of no. The main thing, though, is to focus on actions, since those are easily identified and difficult to dispute.
I realize that this only addresses part of the problem, since your parents also presumably speak about their religious beliefs and share them with your child. This is where you must be a little more flexible; policing your parents’ speech is impractical and guaranteed to create bad feelings. Asking them not to engage in explicit religious instruction (“Come sit with me, Johnny, and we’ll read all about the Ten Commandments”) is fair, but expecting them to completely compartmentalize their lives is not. (Exceptions should be made for stuff that either teaches hate or terrifies a child — “All Muslims are terrorists,” “Your parents are going to hell” — Police away in that case.)
The day will come when Johnny asks them what they think happens when we die, or who made the world, or about the man on the cross that they have hanging in their living room, and they should feel free to answer honestly. Ask them to preface their responses with “Well, everyone believes different things, but this is what we believe” and encourage them to ask, and listen, to what your son thinks.
Finally, remember that you and your partner are the primary influences on your son. What you do and the conversations you have far outweigh whatever religious exposure he receives elsewhere. If you’re raising him in a faith tradition, be intentional and regular about his connection to that faith and community. Regardless of what you’re doing, have conversations with him (even at this age) about the variety of beliefs that exist in the world and frame his grandparents’ practices in this wider context. Be a strong example of the beliefs you want your child to hold, and actively and respectfully discuss differences, and he will become the thoughtful boy you’re raising him to be.