Co-parenting can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. When your ex-spouse and you different on matters of faith, the tension and strain can supercharge your conflicts. One of the biggest questions we get from people is how to co-parent when your ex-spouse holds different beliefs than you do. If that’s your case, you’re not alone! Lots of co-parents wrestle with this issue. While you can’t control what your ex chooses to believe or do, you can take a few steps to help ease the tension and hopefully create a workable solution. Here are some things to consider:
- Make mutual respect the starting point. You may hold completely different religious beliefs and practices than your ex. However, it is important to establish respect as an expectation in both houses. If you teach your children to think your ex’s beliefs are inherently wrong, they may not learn how to respect others’ viewpoints without agreeing with them. To set the tone, you could say something like, “We may not believe the same things your other parent does, but we will love and respect them.”
- Discuss beliefs and practices with your ex. Ask your co-parent about what beliefs and values are important to instill in your children. Likely, you will discover that your ex and you agree on many (if not all) of the core values that you want your children to learn and live by. In addition, discuss any religious holidays that might impact the custody agreement or schedule. Are any faith-based activities (VBS, summer camp, communion, etc.) that are important to either of you? As much as it depends on you (Romans 12:18), be respectful and calm whenever you and your ex talk about these issues.
- Don’t use religion as a weapon. Some co-parents use religious beliefs to create a wedge between their ex and their children, i.e., “You cannot have a relationship with your other parent because they don’t believe the same way we do.” Trying to alienate the other parent often backfires. And you will do damage to your child’s view of God (and their opinion of you) if they see you live out your faith by hurting someone else–especially someone they love.
- Don’t judge. When the other parent believes or practices their faith differently than you, it’s important to set aside your judgments about what you think your children are not receiving in the other home. It’s especially important not to voice your opinions to your children, because doing so just puts them in the middle–and that’s an awkward spot for your kids. Besides, you don’t know how the Holy Spirit is working.
- Speak truth to your children. You cannot control what messages your children receive when they are at their other parent’s house. You can only control what is said and done in your own home. When they are with you, talk about your faith as opportunities arise as you do life together. You can choose to pray together, read the Bible together, and go to church together. Talk about it on the way to school or after ball practice. Live by what you say you believe. One of the biggest factors in your children adopting your faith is your grace-full consistency in living it out on a daily basis. Philippians 3:16 says to “keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” In other words, we keep modeling our faith, day in and day out.
- Welcome your child’s questions. As a parent, you know that children are innately curious about the world around them. They are also highly observant. As such, they will likely ask questions about matters of faith, especially when your faith differs from your ex-spouse’s beliefs. Questions are good for several reasons. First, they are an important step in children making their faith personal to them. Second, questions give you insight into your kids’ faith development. Third, questions allow you the opportunity to gently guide them if they are confused. As you answer all those fun questions (Can God make a boulder too big for Him to move?), make sure you don’t criticize your co-parent’s beliefs.
- Honor your child’s choice of belief. For instance, if your child wants to be baptized, honor what they feel and sense they need to do. It’s okay to ask them questions to make sure they understand what they are doing, but in the end, it’s their decision to make. We have to let go of our expectations of how our children will express their faith. We have to let them walk it out in their own way and in their own time, not ours.
If you think your child is being negatively affected by your ex-spouse’s religious beliefs, try to talk with your ex about your concerns. Again, keep the conversation respectful and non-confrontational. Focus on the children’s best interests, not your personal preferences. If your co-parent is not willing to find middle ground or compromise, you may want a mediator to step into the situation.
Remember, you are not in this alone. God will equip you and guide you to be the parent that He knows your children need. And as our Heavenly Father, He loves your children more than you do. Trust Him and surrender your children to Him. They belong to Him first and foremost before they belong to us.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families