When it comes to mixed-faith marriages and raising children, it can become complicated very quickly when you both want to share your beliefs with your children. It is human nature to want to share about things that matter to you, and as parents we want to use our knowledge and experience to help guide our children’s lives. Understandably, it might be hard to navigate how to do either of those things when parents have different beliefs. It might be that one parent feels undermined or threatened by the beliefs of the other. Or, it might be that one partner stays quiet while the other partner shares all their beliefs with the children which can feel one-sided and resentment can build. Sometimes, both parents end up feeling like they always have to walk on eggshells around each other if they want to share something and as a result they might only share their beliefs secretly when their partner isn’t around. Sometimes sharing beliefs can feel like it is more harmful than helpful to the family and can set up kids to feel confused or feel like they have to choose sides. It can feel very complicated to share beliefs with your children in a mixed-faith marriage!
One simple and effective way to alleviate this confusion and complexity around sharing beliefs is to move into a values-based parenting model. Values-based parenting is so helpful in multiple aspects of mixed-faith parenting, a few of which I will address in this post. It is an especially useful approach when it comes to each parent being able to feel like they can freely share their beliefs with their children in a way that won’t be detrimental to the marriage relationship and also won’t create confusion or division within the family.
Values As a Way to Teach Children HOW to Think:
In the previous blog post, I wrote about intellectual nurturing and how one aspect of that is giving kids a philosophy of life and strategies for solving problems. Intellectual nurturing is about helping children develop thinking pathways instead of telling them what to think. Values-based parenting is one very effective way to do this. You could share with your child, for example, why you think church or scripture or any number of things are good or bad or whatever you might think about them. But that is telling them WHAT you think. It is not modeling for them how you navigated complexity to arrive at your conclusion. Instead of sharing what you think about any given topic, you can share your personal values that are the driving force behind how you navigated your choices and reached your conclusion. However, this requires some work on the part of the parents to understand their values before they can even begin to share them with their kids.
Values As The Driving Force:
Parents may not even know what their underlying values are that are driving the way they navigate life. Getting to understand your own unique value system is an internal process that can take some guidance and effort. My favorite resources for parents to learn about their own unique value system comes from Dr. John Demartini, who is an expert in human behavior and the way that values drive so much of what people do and how they think. His book “The Values Factor,” although it is not even a parenting book or relationship book, is an excellent resource to understand how values drive all aspects of human behavior. It has been one of the most influential books I have read in my own life and it's applications are so broad. Understanding your own unique value system can be a huge asset to your relationship and your parenting. You can buy the book here: https://a.co/d/j6AVCC6
Dr. Demartini also has a quiz on his website where you can identify your own hierarchy of values that might be driving how you choose to navigate your life. You can access that quiz on his website here: https://drdemartini.com/values/start
Once you have an understanding of your own unique hierarchy of values, then you can more easily see how they play into the way that you may be processing information regarding religion and why you are navigating your faith in the way that you do. It is hard to communicate something to our kids that we don’t understand ourselves, which is why the self-reflective process of understanding your own value system is so critical to mixed-faith parenting!
Let’s use some different examples from the LDS faith:
For example, Maybe you don’t really believe in prophets and so you don’t find it necessary to make choices based on what they say. Instead of sharing that belief system with the kids, which might feel very threatening to a parent who wants their children to believe in a prophet and obey a prophet, you could share and emphasize your values. You can share your values for the purpose of helping your children see how your set of values helps you to navigate certain life situations and complexities.
For example, one parent might say something like “I really value learning and gathering information, I do that in a lot of different areas of my life. And because that is my value, it helped me reach my own conclusion that _________.”
The other parent might say something like “I really value being in touch with my internal experience, I do that in a lot of different areas in my life. When I do that, it helps me to reach my own decision that ________.”
Can you feel the difference between sharing values and just sharing mom believes X and dad believes Y? Sharing values feels so much more like modeling different and useful ways to navigate life as opposed to only focusing on what the conclusion is. It models for the children that adults don’t just decide or know things, and that instead there is complexity and they have values that guide the way that they navigate it in different ways. What a gift we can give our kids by sharing all the different values we have that guide how we move through the world. The more examples our kids have of the variety of ways to navigate complexity, the better it is for them! Sharing values is also easy to alter as needed to be age-appropriate. As kids get older, you can share more about how and why those values developed within you (which you might understand about yourself if you read Dr. Demartini’s book) and other choices you have had to navigate based on those values. For younger kids you can just name a simple value like community, connection, education, knowledge, etc. which can help younger kids build a vocabulary around values. By knowing your own values, you can inspire your children to start to think about what values they might have to help guide them.
Values As A Broad Base To Encompass More Variety:
Another way that values-based parenting is so helpful in mixed-faith parenting is that zooming-out to find a broad value that you both share will naturally allow for more collaboration. When you can find a broad value where you agree, it helps you be able to not get as caught up in the smaller differences between your views. I imagine values to be like a funnel. There is a narrow end and a wide end. If you are working from a value that is more on the narrow end, there’s not much room there and only certain things can fit. And then it can become very frustrating if you are trying to fit a family with all of their differences through a very narrow opening! Narrow values don't encompass many differences!
On the other hand, if you move to the wide end of the funnel, there is much more room for all kinds of differences. A narrow value might be “we value going to church together as a family.” A broad value might be “we value unity and cohesion.” If you have a broad value, you can expand your definition of what fits that value. Church can be a part of unity and cohesion, but it can also include so many other things like working on a family project, attending each other’s activities to be supportive, eating meals together as a family, etc. If you agree on a more general/broad value, it makes it much easier to find solutions that will satisfy that value. If you only have a narrow value, it tends to lead to frustration and resentment because there isn't enough wiggle room to allow for alternatives. When it comes to mixed-faith parenting, look for broader values where you can find some agreement! When you have broad values, they can encompass more variety and will lead to more workable family solutions!
My favorite recommendation for helping families figure out their own set of values is the Family Brand program. I mention this program often because I think it is a fantastic resource. It walks you through figuring out your family values together in a way that is broad and more encompassing of everyone, and it is also very fun because it is helping you create your “brand” as a family. It can at least kick-start your process of recreating what your family values are because even outside of mixed-faith marriages, families have to reprioritize and re-define their values as people and situations change. You can find out more about the Family Brand Program here: https://familybrand.com/
I find that of the most powerful shifts a mixed-faith couple can make is to move into focusing on values-based parenting. This is both to help nurture children’s capacity to navigate their own lives, and to help the family be able to encompass and unify around broader sets of values that will allow for more individual differences which actually increases unity and collaboration. Personally, I find using a values-based model of parenting not only empowers my own children in their lives, but it feels more unifying than divisive as a family. It takes work to explore and re-define what your personal family values are, but that is also part of family growth and development, and also models for kids that things change and need to regularly be reworked to keep things healthy and thriving!