Car seat, crib, and…church? Making choices about your baby’s religious upbringing (or lack thereof) can be much tougher than researching strollers. If you and your partner come from different religious backgrounds, the conversation can be even more challenging.
Should You “Give” Your Child a Religion At All?
Religious faith is one of the most personal, deeply held sets of beliefs a person can have. Many parents feel strongly about imparting a system of religious teachings to their children as they grow up. Others feel just as strongly that their children should be allowed to ask their own questions and develop their spirituality naturally, without external pressure.
There isn’t a clear right or wrong answer. What’s most important is getting on the same page as your partner. Do you expect to take your children to religious services or observe certain holidays? How often, and which ones? How do you imagine answering your children’s questions about the possibility of an afterlife, or the existence of a god or gods? Regardless of whether you follow an organized religion, your child will ask questions ranging from deep thoughts on morality to practical details about holiday gifts and decorations.
How to Pick Between Religions
There are a few different approaches you can take as a family to decide on your child’s religious upbringing:
- Choose either your religion or your partner’s. This works best if one of you is involved in your religion, while the other doesn’t put much emphasis on practicing their faith. Sometimes, one parent simply doesn’t have a strong opinion on religion and is happy to defer to the other parent’s preference. It’s still a good idea for both parents to spend some time understanding what the child will learn, so that the non-practicing parent in particular isn’t caught by surprise later on. The risk with this approach is one parent feeling left out, or becoming resentful over time if they feel their beliefs aren’t valued.
- Combine aspects of multiple religious traditions. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, for example, share important common history and beliefs. It may be possible for your family to find a common foundation of beliefs and attend services or celebrate important holidays from both parents’ backgrounds. This “best of both worlds” approach can help everyone feel like their faith is respected. It can also cause confusion, including with extended family. Consider whether you’ll take part in rites that are commonly understood to seal a child within one religion, such as a baptism, confirmation, or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. You may also want to discuss how to react if your child wants to commit to one religion in particular.
- Find a new religion for your family. If neither of you are currently practicing a religion, but you want to choose one for your child, your pregnancy can be a good time to “shop” for a new place to worship. Talk with your partner beforehand about what aspects of religion are important to you, and what you’re looking for by attending services now (Music? A community of other parents? Structure?). Trying a range of services in your area can give you a sense of what to expect, and what you like. If you are nonreligious, you may also be able to find a community of like-minded people who can offer connection, structure, and support.
Even though babies can’t understand religious teachings, it’s good to decide on an approach to religion early. You can always adjust your plan as feelings, beliefs, and circumstances evolve. Practicing open communication as parents is one of the most helpful things you can do to prepare to guide your child together.