This is quite related to THIS question about how to deal with a non-religiously-participating child when both parents are Christian. My situation is a bit different, and while some of the answers at the other question touch on my own questions, I'm also looking for a different type of answer.

My wife and I married as very strong, faithful Catholics. I began questioning the basis for my belief about 1.5 years ago and have researched my way into non-belief. We have a three year old and a one year old. We've progressed considerably in dealing with how much difficulty this caused to our own relationship, but the question of how to raise our children remains the most heated and disagreed upon aspect of our marriage.

I blog and wrote about my take on the options HERE, seeing them as three:

  • She raises them Catholic and I keep my mouth shut (for the most part)
  • We both fight for our children's minds and teach-as-true our opposing views
  • We raise them to be aware of many religious views, but do not teach-as-true any of them, instilling only such things as have been universally established as truth throughout history

While my current take is that the third option is the most reasonable, she wants some form of the first option (though she would let me express my views fairly openly). I'm not a fan as I have an extremely hard time allowing my children to be told things that I have researched quite heavily and believe to be full of contradictions and for which I believe no evidential basis exists. On the other hand, my hunch is that the second option would be more psychologically harmful than either of the others.

To the specific questions:

  • Is there any evidence to support one of these alternatives more than the others? As opposed to the answers on the other question, I'm primarily looking for studies about these issues, not personal opinion or even "observational data" -- we see only what we look for, and are all prone to bias; thus, I'd love studies about children in mixed-religious homes or input from authors on the subject.
  • I am open to single data point input from parents in this situation who have been different faiths from very early on in their children's lives and who can comment on any positive or negative statements their children have made as adults about the situation. In other words, can someone from a Christian/non-believer marriage pass along input from how their children perceived this tension, whether it game them more respect for the marriage, helped them to be more accepting of differences... or perhaps made them feel unsafe as a child due to differences, confused, etc. Hopefully that makes sense. I don't anticipate accepting any answers from this category, but will definitely upvote for input.

Obviously, neither of us want to give up our voice in the relationship, and that makes this very difficult. I'm open to following the data if it supports that raising a child with non-conflicting views is the most psychologically healthy.

From the perspective of the non-believer, I worry that my children, if raised to believe that Catholicism is true, will not be able to openly research the data later in life, and also, since deconverting, do not think a child's mind can, say, actually comprehend the back-story to transubstantiation at age seven when requested to assent to first communion. Thus, it's, again, quite difficult to allow these things to happen since the Catholic Church has such a regimented plan laid out for children.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 14:21

6 Answers 6


My wife is religious. I am atheist. Our kids seem fine. They go to church with her and learn bible stories. If they ask me questions, I answer honestly. Usually "well, some people think that, some people don't"

I'd say there is little to worry about psychologically. Having MORE religious point of views in a household seems less harmful than only one domineering one. If anything, it'll get them thinking.

  • Agreed, my wife is raising our son to be a Buddhist. We don't go to temple all the time, but for the major festivals and there are a lot of Buddha stories to learn. Never hurts to look around, I include some Christian stories when they come up.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 17:57
  • When they grow up they will decide for themselves in the end, just like in every household ever. Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 4:54
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    @Peter DeWeese - perhaps, but religious indoctrination is a very powerful thing. I think it is irresponsible and manipulative to subject young children to religion. You're shaping their world.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 18:28
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    @Doug, you could say the same the other way around, or about any other belief, behavior, or outlook modeled by the parents. If one parent believes something, it WILL affect the child's upbringing even if closeted. The family and child may as well be given a chance to process it in a sincere fashion. I would say that the decision was made already with the marriage and conception. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 18:41
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    @doug it's not a religion, but it is a religious point of view (yea, I guess that's semantics now...). Actually, I call it more of a political point of view. But now we're opening whole other cans of worms. ;) I do agree with you on indoctrination. Maybe it's a harsh term, but the concept is there. Kids don't naturally take to religion...it's something they are specifically taught, usually by their parents doing. I'm not saying it's necessarily bad or necessarily good, but it is something that isn't really a free choice they make.
    – DA01
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 19:08

In the following, I'll answer from my perspective as a son of a nonreligious father, and as a nonreligious father myself. Summary: Mixing a Christian and a strong nonbeliever will cause significant tension.

Is it that ridiculous to request data to support conclusions one way or the other?

Possibly yes. We'd all like to have more solid evidence concerning our questions but the simple truth is that parenting is not so well researched as to provide publicly available information on every aspect. If it were, I think this site could be replaced by a focused Google search portal. I think we have to lean on other users' actual experiences, even if they're just single data points, and accept the lack of rigorous scientific evidence.

can someone from a Christian/non-believer marriage pass along input from how their children perceived this tension

My parents don't share belief, and neither do my wife and I. In both cases, the wife is a (pretty relaxed) Christian and the husband is decidedly nonreligious. This certainly caused/causes tension at several points in life and during the year. The tension isn't so bad that I'd recommend avoiding it, but it's something to be aware of, as husband and father, in your case and mine.

I'm a very strong nonbeliever, but I do respect others to do as they please. I'll keep my opinions to myself unless specifically asked. I'm writing the following because based on his blog posts I think the asker is in my exact situation. What follows is not meant as an attack or personal insult on anyone. It is meant to illustrate why there will be tension. Please don't flame me for it.

One very big source of the tension is the nonreligious part being very openly certain about "there is no God, it's a mass illusion, and I'll never grok why otherwise sane people would succumb to such foolishness". Sometimes I am that direct, even with my wife, but mostly I am smart enough to moderate my statements enough to avoid pointless hurt and hostility.

Another source of tension is how to handle religious rituals, especially since I'm quite strictly nonreligious. A few examples:

I am married, but not in a church. I would never say my yes under the imagined blessing of an imagined figure. I said my yes in front of the city official and in front of our guests; actual living people I care about and whom I feel responsible toward (not sure I expressed that right; I'm not a native English speaker).

In my culture, children are usually baptized when a few months old. I resisted that since long before we had children (we were smart enough to talk about things in advance). My stance is that I'm not going to subscribe my child into a mass illusion I don't believe in. I'm not going to accept congratulations from guests on something I think is false (please note: not "wrong" like "abuse", merely "false" like "unreal").
Ironically, in the end I agreed to the baptism but we failed to find a usable godfather for our son, so he wasn't baptized after all.

Others' rituals:
When attending other people's rituals, I come along somewhat unwillingly and solely out of respect for the people who invited me; I appreciate that I'm never required to do anything - and would refuse to, causing great pain and embarrassment for others, and unending scorn from my wife. I do think that a church marriage is a beautiful ritual; it's just ridiculous to me personally.

Religious events: I'm glad that my wife is a very relaxed Christian (otherwise I likely wouldn't have married her). We easily agree that we don't need to go to church for yearly religious events such as Xmas and Easter. But here in Austria, presents aren't delivered by Santa Claus such as I'm used to from my home country, but rather by the Christkind such as is usual in Austria and southern Germany. It's just a word, no big deal. But my son is certainly going to be confused when I say a fat bearded man is coming on a sleigh, and my wife says that a child in a nightgown is coming with the presents. I'm sure this will become a problem when my son is old enough to understand more of what we're saying.

Religion in school: I had very poor religion teachers in my school time (in Denmark), so I'm openly worried that my son will be indoctrinated by the Austrian schools' classes on religion (state religion is Catholicism). These classes are only mandatory if the child has some religion. As is the case for my son, he doesn't officially have a religion so he may even be excluded from those classes - which might be just as bad. I want my son to learn about religions, but I want it treated as scientifically as, say, history - no particular emphasis on any one religion, and certainly no ridiculing judgment (as I experienced in my school years). Honestly, I think religion has historically been (and still is!) a major cause of war and misery, except perhaps for a precious few religions like Buddhism and Hinduism (not sure though; haven't learned enough about these).
Bottom line: the schools' treatment of religion is certain to be a point of conflict that I am not looking forward to.

I just realized that I didn't actually answer your question; the only bold-type in your post. How did the tension between my parents affect me? I'm not sure it's because of that but I grew up with a deep respect and curiosity for science. I feel that my "scorn" for religion is based on that, more than on my upbringing as such, but perhaps I am merely rationalizing. My father was as openly critical of religion as I am now, my mother disliked that criticism but at the same time never "preached" or insisted on any religious aspects or rituals. In hindsight I'm sure my father should have been more lenient with regard to religion; perhaps he taught me by strong example to not care for it. Writing this, I realize I should be more lenient too, but I find that very hard.

Your third choice is the wisest for both you and your wife, in my opinion. It allows the child to form an own opinion. That of course holds the risk for either parent that the child might choose the "wrong" (other) path, because each parent understandably wants to win the child for his/her camp. This is surely why your wife prefers option 1, but that option is not fair to you though. Can you sit down and agree on some areas that are more important than others, so that compromises can be made more easily on topics that aren't critical anyway?

  • 3
    @TorbenGB: Holy cow -- nice answer. I have a feeling that we could correspond for a very loooong time. Kudos on finding my blog -- how did you come across it? My situation is a bit trickier in that I deconverted only after I was married, which definitely makes things difficult. My wife is also a very strong believer and I can't see us coming to the agreements that you may have, say about baptism or not going to church. In any case, I appreciate the input.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 13:49
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    @TorbenGB: One other comment re. studies... 1) I think the answer could come from the psychological arena, not necessarily parenting. Studies might examine the effects on a young child in a home in which any central belief/practice were disagreed upon. 2) While a form of google might be able to be used, some here might already be familiar with the literature, and could bring the data to this particular question -- this can be stumbled upon by searchers later.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 13:51
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    How I found your blog? Your question contains a link :-) Seeing that your marriage is a lot more internally opposed than mine, I'm sure it's going to be a bigger challenge for you than for me. Make sure to decide for yourself which battles are worth fighting. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 14:03
  • @Hendy I added an update. Catch me in the chat room if you feel like talking. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 15:50
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    "strong nonbeliever": I mean this in the way that I have very strong opinions against religion, but I guess that is obvious from the answer. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 20:56

TorbenGB's answer is informative and sensible, until he recommended the third option ... exposing the children to many faiths but not teaching any of them as truth. This option is impossible, particularly for the Catholic parent.

You and your wife must each live your life truthfully, and that includes teaching your children your version of the truth. You can do so in a manner respectful to your wife and the church, or you can do so scornfully. I hope you do so respectfully, as doing so will teach your children to be respectful of other's faith.

Update - response to comments

In interpret #3 as each of you saying to the children something along the lines of "this is what I believe, but there are lots of things to believe, and what you believe really doesn't matter." This is nonsensical .. if your beliefs don't matter, why hold them?

Consequently, I do advocate for option #2, but I would not use the term "fight". To do so implies a winner or a loser. Should your wife feel she has lost to you if your children should end up faithless? Each of you should live your life honestly.

Absent the religious perspective, I don't think there is any objective "harm" in raising the children in a split household, as long as the split isn't a source or catalyst for conflict. Each parent must treat the beliefs of the other as worthy of respect and having value. If the split causes rifts, then the rifts will have a negative impact on the children.

Paraphrasing a number of sources... the single best thing you can do for your children is to love their mother, even when you don't agree.

  • 1
    -1 You claim it is impossible based on... what? Also, -1 for saying that the asker can either be respectful to his wife and the church, or scornful (with no middle ground possible), while discounting the idea that his beliefs deserve respect, too.
    – user420
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:04
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    I read this as advocating for #2, "We both fight for our children's minds and teach-as-true our opposing views" -- is that correct? Could you spell out what's harmful about raising them "aware" (but not indoctrinated) in a world that clearly hasn't converged on a religious truth? In other words, #3 recognizes that no religious path has managed to sway earth's inhabitants to the degree that, say, facts supporting a heliocentric universe, a round earth, evolution, or mathematics have. Thus #3 suggests not pretending that there is an objective/agreed upon answer when raising children.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:27
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    @Beofett - The OP stipulated that his wife is a "strong faithful Catholic." As such, she believes in the faith as truth. She cannot treat it as anything else without lying.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 20:47
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    And circumcision. That's a pretty binary discussion in certain religious doctrine.
    – Doug
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 18:33
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    Doug, the percentage of youth earth proponents, even among Christians, is plummeting. Even standard scriptural "proof" is tenuous and requires various assumptions. You are confusing dogma with belief. Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 18:50

A slightly different perspective: my wife is Catholic, I'm Agnostic. I think there may well be a God, but I wasn't raised in any religion and have no personal experience to base belief on. From the beginning of our relationship, my wife made it clear that she needed her "significant other" to come to church with her, so over the past 25+ years I've only missed a handful of weekly and special masses. No complaints, though, I've seen some impressive Churches when we've traveled, learned a lot of history, even met a Pope Saint. (now that John Paul's been canonized.)

Needless to say, we're raising our daughter as a Catholic...

In general, I think a key component of raising a child well is for parents to be consistent. If the parents deliver dramatically different messages (on almost any topic), that's going to lead to negative psychological impacts somewhere along the way.

In our case, dealing with religion is easy: my wife is very devout, but also very rational. I'm very rational and have no objection to religion despite not having any belief myself. We both agree that there's no problem with looking at life from a Catholic perspective and that the time to give them the Catholic (or any religious) perspective is as they grow up. At 8 years old now, our daughter knows that I'm not Catholic (obviously I don't go to communion), but she knows that there's nothing wrong with that.

Given how important I think consistency is, none of your options is very good because you and your wife don't seem to be able to reach a compromise. I've read a bit of your blog, but am not going to read all the relevant posts to figure out how strongly anti-religious you've become, but clearly there's a conflict and unless you come to some agreement, I think there will be some negative psychological impact on your kids.

  • Thanks for the comment. Regarding being "anti-religious," I admit to having a massively difficult time allowing my child to be taught that some X is a verified fact when I do not believe it to be so. When you say you have no objection to religion, do you mean you have no objection to individual believing in, say, bread becoming flesh, even if it's not true? if we didn't teach them something was true or "raise them Catholic" but simply lived our parallel lives, are you saying that would be psychologically detrimental (assuming no blatant fighting/arguing in front of them)?
    – Hendy
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 18:29
  • It's easier for us to compromise because although I don't believe myself, I think all the teachings could be true. For something like Transubstantiation, it helps that my wife is well aware that you could interpret the whole thing very cynically and say that it's convenient that Catholics believe a miracle occurs at every mass (bread and wine become flesh and blood) but nothing perceivable happens... Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 18:59
  • When it comes to "allowing my child to be taught that some X is a verified fact," I don't object to them being taught that miracles can occur, I'm not up on what all the teachings are that require faith. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 19:04
  • @Hendy - Wait, "verified" fact? I thought the whole point of most religions, including Catholicism, was that they are based on faith, not verification? If you need verification, that shows a lack of faith. I'd think your kids would be taught that these things are facts without verification.
    – Warren Dew
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 15:10
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    @WarrenDew digging deep in the memory banks here as this is from a long time ago, but yeah... perhaps that phrase wasn't the best. I think we mean the same thing. What I meant is that as a non-believer, having an authority figure (like catechism class teacher) tell a child something like "the eucharist becomes the body of Jesus" or "there is an afterlife" is stating these things (which you rightly point out require faith) as fact. While there's an underlying requirement of faith, I don't think this is highlighted by most religious teaching figures -- things are simply states "as is" (as true).
    – Hendy
    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 4:09

My view, for what it's worth: I don't know how the last four years have panned out for you, but everyone has missed the most important point. It's not so important which religious view you "teach" your children. Much more important that you teach them that two people can differ on religion, but still love each other and live together. Let her take them to church for as long as they still want to go. The world doesn't suffer from too much or too little religion, only too little tolerance.

  • Such a blast from the past! I haven't looked at this in what seems like ages and agree with this. Sometimes my daughters go to mass, sometimes they don't. I think four years has panned out nicely and we have plenty of talks openly about this topic. My wife remains catholic, I remain not. I think they are aging with your above sentiments nicely.
    – Hendy
    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 4:14

I think this is an issue no matter what the mixture of religious beliefs are in the house. My wife and I are both free-thinking Christians, raising our children in the church, and we still struggle with differences between our own beliefs, as well as with the kids' own idiosyncratic opinions on religion.

I would counsel honesty combined with humility for both of you. It's OK to say "I don't know," or "I believe but I could be wrong" or "we have different points of view" if asked. In other words, you can advocate your own beliefs without it being a knock-down drag-out fight. Ultimately you'll both be trying to raise kids capable of making the best choice on their own.

Personally, I grew up in a household with one parent who was a non-church-going Christian, and the other who was pretty allergic to religion, and ended up far more religious than either of my parents. Ultimately I found it a support to my faith to have grown up with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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