When a person prepares for the numerous changes that come with a divorce, it’s easy to get caught up in the surface details. Raising your children in different households involves school schedules, sports activities, health care arrangements, clothes shopping, and car rides.
It is easy to forget about the larger picture, which may leave you unprepared to raise your children by the religion that you abide by. It is very common for people to question their beliefs at this chapter in life. Many people react to the struggles of a divorce by rejecting their faith entirely or by diving deeper into it than ever before, and becoming very active in their faith and related social groups.
It is very important to realize that your children have to adapt to your divorce as much (if not more) than you do. They are likely to meet the changes of divorce with a strong desire for stability, and religion is a good way for your children to have personal and internal stability.
Phases of the Path to Faith
As your children grow up, they will likely go through several phases on the path to faith. There are no specific age ranges for the following stages, but this sequence is fairly common:
- Unaware – When kids are very young, they live entirely within your worldview. Your beliefs are their beliefs and they don’t even know it yet. At this stage, kids do not realize that different beliefs exist, and it’s not important to them. They are soaking up everything you say and do around them.
- Defender – Eventually they understand your beliefs well enough to defend them. This stage can be flattering, but also a bit unsettling for a parent. Their enthusiasm for your faith is not ingrained yet, and this may lead them to argue with those who are different. They see the world in black and white and they believe you know everything and that you are never wrong. They may even come across as dogmatic and arrogant.
- Questioning – In order to develop personal religious convictions, every person must face questions and doubts on their own. This phase is usually associated with the intellectual maturity of teenagers and can be deeply concerning and troubling to parents. It is hard to watch your kids struggle, but you must trust that the questions they have about their own religious beliefs are essential to become healthy, mature adults. They must find their own answers.
You want your children to share your faith with you so that you both are like-minded about holidays, customs, and ceremonies. But, even without a divorce and differing influences in their lives, all young people will search for and find their own answers.
Nurturing The Relationship
First and foremost, you should nurture the relationship with your kids. Be there for them, and be proactive in supporting them, no matter how they are reacting to the divorce and no matter which parent they identify with most. Keep in mind how you will want your relationship to look once they are grown up and making big life choices of their own. You want open communication, understanding, and forgiving attitudes toward each others’ differences.
It may be tempting to fight with your ex over matters of differing beliefs. You may want to demean your ex to your children, or argue with them about who is “right”. Don’t give into that. Let your children feel supported and loved by both of their parents in spite of their differences.
If things have to be worked out, such as religious holidays or meals, be sure to communicate with your ex privately. Love your kids by never making them feel responsible for the divorce or caught in the middle of it. Watching how you redefine your life and your relationships after this difficult life change may be one of the most important lessons your children ever receive from you.