Raising Children Amidst Relatives Of Different Faiths
With the holidays already back again, we look forward to seeing loved ones. Those with large extended families will find that in order to maintain good relationships with many of their family members, they’ll need to have a very open heart and mind due to differing faiths and lifestyles. Raising children amidst relatives of different faiths, especially when certain traditions are central to seasonal get-togethers, can present delicate situations to navigate. While I am leaning toward the New World-Thought spiritual ideology, my husband is atheist and we both have very devoted Christian family members of various denominations on both sides. We are fortunate to be more concerned about how many pies we should bring than what one of our aunts will say to our kids this Thanksgiving; but it remains true that a unique challenge many parents may encounter is when relatives of different faiths seek to influence their children’s beliefs and values.
Equipping Your Children for Spiritual Discourse
In this intricate situation, it is essential to prioritize open communication, respect, and the development of strong family bonds to ensure that your children can navigate the complexities of differing faiths with grace and understanding. Here, I’ll share some tips I have taken note of as I continue to research this important topic. Hopefully it is of some help to anyone out there gearing up for gatherings this Holiday season.
1. Open Dialogue
Christel Manning brilliantly documents the ways our growing population of non-religious parents are navigating the pressures they face from their families and communities in her book, Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents are Raising Their Children. Here, she presents the complexities of how what she calls “nones” define themselves and how they bring their children up in America. She shares the moment when her daughter asked her about Christmas lights and the impact this innocent inquiry had on her. How should she communicate about all of this with her daughter? What did she even believe in?
The cornerstone of harmonious coexistence in a family is open and honest communication. Create a safe space for your children to ask questions, share their thoughts, and express their curiosity about different faiths. Encourage them to discuss their feelings, concerns, and experiences without judgment. This approach allows your children to explore different belief systems while also fostering a deeper connection with you as their parents. This will equip them for their own spiritual journey and for those aggressive relatives that may approach them with evangelical intent.
2. Teach Critical Thinking
As children are exposed to various beliefs, empower them with critical thinking skills. Encourage them to ask questions, seek evidence, and make informed decisions about their own beliefs. This not only helps them to navigate the influences of different faiths but also nurtures their intellectual growth. Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical Caring Children Without Religion by Dale McGowan dives into the ways one can rear freethinking yet ethical children. He respects religious people but is presenting an option for parents like him who don’t want to limit themselves or their children to any particular faith narrative. He says,“What we truly want is the satisfaction of seeing our children become mature, self-reliant human beings, at any age, thinking for themselves, free and happy.” Part of that happiness will come from the security they will have in themselves. They will be able to navigate relationships with relatives who have different beliefs much more respectfully and without much if any discomfort.
3. Set Clear Boundaries
Establishing boundaries is crucial to maintain balance in your child’s exposure to different faiths. Determine the extent to which relatives can discuss their beliefs with your children, ensuring that these interactions align with your family’s values and principles. Clear boundaries help in maintaining harmony while respecting the autonomy of your relatives. You as their parent know whats best for your child and loving relatives will have to accept your rules if they want to maintain a close relationship with your kids.
4. Foster Respect and Tolerance
Teach your children the values of respect and tolerance towards differing beliefs. Emphasize that diversity in faith is a reflection of the rich tapestry of humanity. By understanding and respecting others’ perspectives, children can develop empathy and open-mindedness. These are essential qualities for navigating the complexities of differing faiths both in your family and beyond.
5. Encourage Exploration
Allow your children to explore various faiths with your guidance. This exploration can include attending religious services, visiting places of worship, and reading about different religions. Exposing them to various belief systems in a controlled and supportive environment can help them form a well-rounded understanding of the world. A great book for parents looking for information on this is Relax It’s Just God by Wendy Thomas Russell. This book actually touches on most points made in this article. Discussing spirituality without indoctrinating children as a parent may seem impossible, but Wendy gives some great insight. She honestly discusses the fact that parents will stumble or have awkward moments trying to have conversations about spirituality with their kids – and it is okay. It’s just God. She unpacks ways to help children interact with religious relatives and friends. This book is especially good for New Thought Spiritualist, Agnostic, Atheist and Progressive Religious parents.
6. Lead by Example
As parents, your actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate through your own behavior the values you wish to instill in your children. Model respect, open-mindedness, and the willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with those of different faiths. Your actions will leave a lasting impression on your children.
7. Family Unity
Despite the differences in faith, emphasize the unity and love that binds your family together. Emphasize the shared values, traditions, and the strength of your familial bonds. This sense of unity can serve as a constant source of stability and support for your children as they navigate the complexities of differing faiths.
Faith in the Love of Family
Raising children in a family where relatives of different faiths seek to influence them is undoubtedly a challenging endeavor. However, with open communication, respect, and the cultivation of critical thinking and tolerance, you can provide your children with the tools they need to navigate this complexity. Ultimately, the goal is not to control their beliefs but to empower them to make informed choices, fostering a sense of unity within the family that transcends religious differences. In doing so, you can help your children grow into compassionate, open-minded, and resilient individuals who are well-prepared to embrace the diversity of our world.