When your partner doesn’t share your faith
If you’re parenting with a spouse or partner who doesn’t share your faith, you’re not alone.
Whether your once-Christian partner has now lost their faith, you’ve come to faith since being in this relationship, or the two of you had different beliefs from the start, the situation you find yourself in is a common one. And we understand that the issues it presents are more complex and varied than simply ‘flying solo’ at church on a Sunday morning.
What are the issues in raising faith when your partner isn’t a Christian?
This area is complicated because as well as your Christian commitment to raise your children in the love and knowledge of God, you also have a relational commitment to your partner to love and honour them.
So what are some of the issues you might encounter as you seek to honour both God and your partner as you raise your children in faith?
- Sundays: with differing priorities for how you and your partner want to spend your time, regular church attendance might be a source of tension.
- Midweek groups: similarly, if your church runs a midweek group that your child wants to get involved with, this may conflict with time your partner would like to spend with them.
- Discipleship in the home: finding time to pray and read the Bible with your child in busy family life is challenging enough, but more so when one parent isn’t involved.
- Family faith routines: establishing daily routines of faith – for example, saying grace before meals – might be harder or even impossible if the non-believing parent is present.
- Christian commitment: if your child gets to a stage of wanting to publicly declare their faith, maybe with a baptism or confirmation, this may be difficult for your partner to support or understand.
- Waning enthusiasm: tweens/teens may go through a phase of lower enthusiasm for attending church or engaging with Bible times at home. Having a partner who doesn’t share your faith not only means you’re the sole encourager at these times, but also gives your child an easy way of opting out of such activities.
- Loneliness: being the only praying parent can feel very isolating at times, especially during periods of hardship or difficulty for your family. Tracy, whose husband doesn’t share her Christian faith, says, “It’s certainly been lonely a lot. It’s tiring carrying the spiritual burden alone, and not having a husband to pray with, or to pray for me. We lost a baby during delivery and afterwards I really felt the absence of a prayerful partner, or even just someone to tell me our tiny baby was in heaven.”
As we’ve said above, your situation is common – you’re not alone! So how do others make their faith-based parenting work when partnered with someone who doesn’t share your faith? Here are some ideas:
- Work with your partner when compiling your family’s schedule of church activities and commitments. Whilst some kind of weekly church activity needs to be a priority (for the sake of you and your child’s spiritual health), be genuinely willing to listen to your partner’s opinion and find a compromise which works for you all.
- Find times to invest in your child’s faith journey, which don’t impinge upon your partner’s time. For example, if he/she leaves for work early, you could do a breakfast devotional with your child.
- Christian camps and holidays can be an incredibly valuable part of any child’s faith journey. They’re often given the ‘OK’ even by parents who don’t have faith, as it means some child-free time for them! Or they appreciate the relational benefit for their children.
- While this one can’t be forced, it’s worth remembering that finding Christian friends who your partner feels comfortable spending time with can pay dividends in the long term. He/she may not accompany you to church or large-scale Christian gatherings, but having dinner or a day out with a Christian family who you get on well with may help your partner understand your faith more, and realise the positives of your faith community.
- Choose your church carefully. One with plenty of peers to encourage your child in faith will help motivate your child to stay involved in church, even when one of their parents isn’t involved.
- Ask your church children’s or youth team whether your child can have a ‘mentor’ of the opposite gender to you. Depending on your child’s age and interest, this could be as simple as the two of them sitting together in church, chatting after the service, getting together for sports or activities outside church, or regularly meeting up to read the Bible and pray together. Having strong Christian role models of both genders, even if outside the home, will be a great foundation and example for your child.
- Don’t be too discouraged if your child goes through a period of showing less interest in church. There are many factors involved in someone’s faith journey. Sometimes enforcing church attendance can be counter-productive.
- Prayer: never stop praying for the salvation of your partner and your children! God can do great things through a praying partner or parent, even if things seem hopeless.
Stories of hope
Imogen, who became a Christian three years into marriage, quickly found a large, lively church to be part of with her son, who was then a toddler and is now approaching adolescence.
“My son got baptized when he was 10 along with some members of the youth group. We’ve been blessed by being part of a church that has always catered well for his age and preferences.
But the number one thing that’s helped is friends. Having friends at church is a big part of why my son enjoys going to church. I came to faith when my son was a toddler, through new friendships with Christians. He then got a whole bunch of friends of his own – the children of those who led me to faith! Our friendships with church people are very precious to us and I’m glad we invested in them from the start.”
If your partner doesn’t share your faith, you may be concerned that your child has a lower ‘chance’ of making it to adult life with their own faith intact. Harriet, who was a young believer when she married her non-Christian husband, is pragmatic:
“There are many amazing couples I know who are both Christians yet whose adult children do not currently want anything to do with the church. Equally, there are people like myself who never went to church as a child. So all we can do is show our children God’s love and trust him to do the rest!”
It is also crucial to remember that, while it may sometimes feel as if marriage and raising children would be so much easier if your partner shared your faith, no marriage or family is perfect. Even Christian marriages struggle, and even Christians argue about the best way to raise their kids!
Imogen backs this up with her story,
“A few years ago, I started working for my church, which means I’ve got to know our church family better. I’ve discovered that seemingly ‘perfect’ Christian hubbies in our congregation do have their flaws too!”
And, for Imogen, there has been a major benefit to working for her church:
“It provides me with a supportive Christian community through the week, which helps to sustain me when my household can’t yet be described in this way – although I’m praying that one day it will!”
Useful books, websites and resources
- Care for the Family podcasts, marriage books and parenting books, as they don’t assume the readers are Christians
- Christian parenting blogs (such as The Hope-Filled Family) which doesn’t assume that there are two Christian parents
- Spiritual Mismatch: Hope for Christians Married to Someone Who Doesn’t Know God, Lee & Leslie Strobel
Written for the Kitchen Table Project by Lucy Rycroft. Lucy writes the Christian parenting blog, The Hope-Filled Family.