Ask Richard: Disagreeing About Future Children and Prayer July 12, 2009

Ask Richard: Disagreeing About Future Children and Prayer

”Disbelieving on a Deadline” wrote a long and detailed letter about his relationship with his girlfriend. I have edited it to distill it down to the essential issues of their relationship. To summarize their background: They are both scientists, currently finishing their PhDs at the same university. He has a few months to go, and she has two years. He is 29 and she is a little younger. Pressure for finding work in their field as soon as they graduate is beginning to build, and he feels that he must reach a decision about their relationship within six months. Where I paraphrase him, I use parentheses and italics.

My problem, briefly, is that my current girlfriend (of two years) is a theist, I’m an atheist, and we can’t quite agree on how to raise the hypothetical children we’d someday like to have. I believe my girlfriend has the additional problem that she isn’t completely comfortable with the fact that I think her religious beliefs are nonsense.

We’ve both compromised our plans for our hypothetical children some, with me saying I could allow the kids to go to church sometimes, but preferably UU, and her saying UU would be okay (although she still wants to go to an Episcopal church herself sometimes).

We appear to have reached a stumbling block on prayer, however. I’m adamantly against having small kids pray, because they have no idea what’s going on and it can get weird behaviors ingrained in them before they have much of a filter. She’s apparently not very flexible on wanting them to pray. There may be other issues; it’s an ongoing conversation.

We discussed religion a great deal at the beginning of our relationship. As we talked, however, we ran into two problems from my perspective: First, she couldn’t actually define God in any coherent way. (and I think children should not be taught a concept so complex and vague that even adults cannot understand it.) The second problem was that she admitted that when she really started to think about these things it did make her question the existence of God, which was horribly uncomfortable for her, and so even if there were no or even contrary evidence, she was going to believe in God anyway.

I respect her as a person, I respect her intelligence, I respect her reading, her hobbies, her friendliness, her morality, her research, her thoughtfulness, her charity, and more. But there’s no way I’m going to respect her papered-over cognitive dissonance. This nonsense of religion is very important to her, however, and she’s not sure if she wants to commit fully to someone who will never share it with her.

The problem is that we are very compatible apart from the religion issue. I’ve never met anyone I mesh with as well as her, and I really don’t want to lose her.

(I have some work prospects in my field out of state and overseas, but I’d be willing to take temporary work nearby to wait for her to finish her PhD if I felt more confident that we have a future together.) I love my career, but I love her more. My girlfriend and I talk about this stuff, we respect each other, we both want marriage to be a life-long thing. I’m not sure what advice you could give here, but as a former marriage and family counselor, I imagine you might have some. Thanks,

Disbelieving on a Deadline

Dear Disbelieving,
Firstly, I apologize if my editing, summarizing and paraphrasing does not feel entirely accurate from your point of view. Let’s summarize the pluses and minuses of your current relationship:

Plus: You love her, you mesh well, and you respect her many excellent qualities.

Minus: You do not respect her religious ideas, which you consider to be nonsense and self-kidding. Her religion is very important to her, and she’s uncomfortable knowing how you feel about it.

Plus: The two of you have hypothetically arrived at a compromise about religious exposure for your future children, most likely involving UU.

Minus: The two of you have reached an impasse about teaching your future children to pray. She is adamantly for it, you are adamantly against it.

Plus: The two of you are able to talk extensively about these issues of religion.

Minus: Talking extensively about these things is beginning to make her feel doubtful, anxious and obstinate about her faith. This may shut down your dialogue.

Plus: Both of you agree on marriage being a life-long commitment.

Minus: Both of you have serious doubts that you will ever be able to be comfortable and compatible with your differences if you marry.

These pluses and minuses seem to cancel each other out, adding up to zero. Zero does not mean “no chance for you,” it means “neutral.” The two of you can continue to enjoy each other’s company as you are, unless the two of you decide that you must marry. The only reason to marry would be to have children, and these non-existent people are complicating your lives. Don’t let them. Considering all the issues about children now, before you have established careers, is very premature. By creating an irreconcilable conflict about this now, you are stealing trouble from the future, a future that for many other unknown reasons may not come to pass.

I suggest that you both agree to shelve the prospect of kids for now, which takes away the need to marry, which in turn takes away the pressure to find agreement on so many things. Continue to enjoy how well you mesh, talk gently about your differences, and let some time go by as you finish your doctorates and start your careers.

You’re 29, but believe me, you are both still very young. So many parts of your personalities are still developing and changing. As the two of you continue to change and grow, you might converge or you might diverge. Only time will tell, and you don’t have to rush things by pulling the future into the present. The future will get here of its own accord. What you will be to each other some day is not yet knowable. In the meantime, the present contains this interesting and loving couple. Just appreciate each other in the fullness and richness of the present moment.


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  • Another Atheist

    I disagree with the advice given, 29 is NOT young for a woman who wants children, especially if she doesn’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments. A woman’s fertility begins to decline in her late 20s. It seems perfectly clear that there is an irreconcilable difference here. If they KNOW they want children, there is no way this is ever going to work out. Move on now and don’t waste any more of her precious child bearing years. I believe that there are some differences that can be tolerated within a marriage, like driving styles, taste in fashion, mexican food vs. chinese food, political candidates, etc. Belief in god isn’t one of them.

  • Erp

    They are young but the clock is ticking in regards to children for the woman in the relationship and that might be a concern for her.

    Episcopalians do vary tremendously on their views on God (some are almost atheistic, see Bishops Spong and Richard Holloway [of Edinburgh]). Her views are likely still evolving. They also tend to have good music.

    What decision was tentatively made on baptism for the children? Could a different evening ritual be established (perhaps a time for reflection on the day’s events though that is more appropriate for older children)? An Unitarian Universalist minister might be able to offer some pre-marital counseling for both of you even if you have not definitely decided on marriage and may suggest some workable compromises.

  • Matthew

    I respectfully disagree with the advice. I think it’s important to establish agreement on certain very important aspects of a relationship before you get too far into it. As an example, my wife and I both agreed that we didn’t want to have kids. We both understand that things can change and so we occasionally “check in” with each other about the kid thing and see if we’re both on the same page.

    You can’t predict what will change in a relationship, but you can very well predict what will become an issue if it’s an issue already. Ignoring the issue seems to me to be wasting time, especially for a woman that unfortunately has a biological clock to consider.

    In this situation I’d propose highlighting that the atheist in the relationship has already compromised extensively and yet this does not seem to be enough. The girlfriend wants to have the children indoctrinated into religion belief at an early age which is precisely the time at which children accept things without critical thought – that’s just how they’re programmed.

    Perhaps you can come to a compromise that before a certain age (12? i dunno) there is:

    -No praying
    -No church
    -No talk of god, etc
    -No talk of god NOT existing

    Then, give the kid options. Let’s go to church and talk about god. Let’s talk about what dad thinks about god. Let’s talk about what buddists say.

    Raise a child that is comfortably experimenting in a number of areas, that can think and ask questions, and let the kid decide when its brain is more able to think. Surely the future wife is not going to want to indoctrinate the child? She sounds intelligent.

  • MacCrocodile

    I have a problem with the assertion that having children is the only purpose for marriage. There are a plethora of economic and legal reasons for getting married, not to mention the symbolism behind the ceremony.

    The disagreement over children is, of course, a major obstacle that needs to be resolved before this decision is made, but it’s the other reasons that make the child issue an obstacle in the first place; I disagree about children with millions–probably billions–of people, but I don’t have any desire to combine households with any of those people or establish contracts with them.

  • TJ

    Simple solution: Save yourself a ton of stress and problems by avoiding religious nitwits like a plague.

  • Dr.Bruce

    I too disagree with the advice. In this discussion, “marriage” is also a shorthand for what the guy should do in 6 months. Realistically, his options are to (1) sacrifice his lifetime career options by abandoning the normal search for a position in order to stay in their current town for a couple of years in order to preserve this relationship at all (i.e., marriage, official or not), or else (2) to pursue the standard expectations of a successful scientist making normal career progress, by getting a decent position through a nationwide search, which will almost certainly require moving away from the girlfriend for 2 years, which in practice means the end of the relationship. I advise an immediate ultimatum that the woman agree to no god talk or praying in front of any kids. If an agreement isn’t made like this now, then they should release each other from any commitment, and he should take a job even out of state. If they feel like some long distance commuting to visit, that is fine but in practiice this cannot be a commitment. Good luck to both.

  • SN

    I agree with Erp. Try going together to talk to a UU minister. That gives you an objective third party who is likely accepting of both atheist and theist viewpoints. And they’ve probably seen this before.

  • I also have to disagree with the advice. One reason my ex wife and I divorced was exactly this issue. She was adamant about raising kids with some belief, largely because she worried the kids would get picked on. I saw no reason not to raise godless kids. She also was of an undecided faith and leaning toward UU.

    My ex and I avoided talking about these kinds of big issues (including whether we were having kids at all) out of fear of conflict and the thought all we needed was love. Not so if you are going to spend your life with someone. I spent 7 years with someone I ended up not being a good match for. Going forward now I’m never going to leave the big things unspoken. It’s made it harder to meet someone, a lot of people get scared off by my candor but I think the one who isn’t scared off is going to be the right one.

    I would hate to see these two break up now over this if they really are a good pair otherwise. But better now than 7 years from now when the issues have sat and you look back and wonder if you wasted your and her time. People change, maybe she’ll change her mind and become an atheist. Maybe he’ll become a believer. At least be open about the chance you’re taking by shelving the issue.

  • panoramafly

    It is quite a dilemma when a couple cannot agree on how they will bring up their children on issues surrounding religion.

    I agree with Richard that both of your views may change throughout the course of your life. Looking back at my own life, I can honestly say that my kids are lucky to be sane after all the changes I have gone through in the last 15 years.

    One thing that I’d like to point out is that you don’t always have to be the voice of authority when it comes to what they should think. Surprisingly, kids are very receptive to “I don’t know, what do you think?” You can talk openly and honestly about every issue under the sun (age appropriate of course) and trust that they can handle it.

    I’ve always told my kids, “Don’t believe what I believe… decide for yourselves.” I want every choice they make to be their own as much as possible. This may sound strange, but training them NOT to mimic me is so much harder than the other way around, because kids naturally want to follow you and do what you do. (at least until they’re teenagers):-)

    I see the two of you having differing views as a great advantage, because you will be able to show them more than one side. What an awesome opportunity to be an example of two people who disagree on such an important issue but still love each other!!

    People in situations such as yours tend to think they have to come to an agreement to present to the children, but how about looking at the situation not as a problem but an opportunity to raise critical thinkers?

  • Aj

    Compromise: The kids get to pray but it has to be a god of Disbelieving on a Deadline’s choice, whether that’s the FSM, Krishna, Zeus, Thor, W?den, Ra, Quetzalcoatl, or Anansi is up to him. Better yet, choose multiple gods for them to pray to, intentionally fictional ones like Anoia, Bibulous, Offler, and Om. Perhaps then Disbelieving on a Deadline’s girlfriend might be able to understand where he’s coming from.

    Religions are so popular because they rely on conditioning the young. When presented with an unfamiliar religion, even religionists can be taken by how strange the beliefs are. By getting kids to pray they’re getting them to create an imaginary person, that they can then exploit by connecting it with their doctrine, externalizing the imaginary with logical fallacies.

    I agree with Another Atheist’s point, women have a window of fertility that starts to close at around 30, although technology can lengthen that it’s expensive despite not having a high success rate

  • Never forgot that kids are like sponges soaking in everything that their parents do. That being said, as long as even one parent is consistent in his/her non-observance of religious practices, that will be enough to let the kids know that region is not “automatic” and unquestioned. Life doesn’t have to be all figured out before you live it. If you are compatible with her on the little things in life, she may be the “one” for you.

    Your bigger problem will probably be both of you finding suitable professional positions in the the same geographic area… Academia is a hard mistress especially at the beginning. I have a Ph.D. after my name but I ended up in private enterprise, not academia. I wish you luck in both your relationship and your career.

  • jemand

    women have kids even into their forties. Look at the Duggars.

    But I have to disagree with the thought that long distance is automatically a death sentence on a relationship. It certainly isn’t. Of course… in my experience long distance relationship success is also combined with lack of jealousy and lack of assuming exclusivity so your millage may vary.

  • Chakolate

    There are two ticking clocks here. One is her biological clock: a woman’s fertility drops precipitously after 27. The other is the career clock. If he has serious job offers now, he is one incredibly lucky dog and may not have similar options in the future. Sticking around on the possibility that it will all work out is not realistic.

    He’s right to want to settle things now.

  • Zahada

    I have a suggestion. Could you possibly compromise by suggesting to her to consider raising your children to be religiously literate and to also teach them to become critical thinkers.

    Dale McGowan (a fellow atheist) does a very good job of explaining how to raise children to be religiously literate and how important it is for critical thinking skills.

  • Disbelieving on a Deadline

    Thanks for all the comments here. I especially appreciate Erp’s suggestion to talk to a UU minister, and MacCrocodile defense of marriage (which we would certainly both want whether or not children were involved). I agree with Zahada, and certainly would like kids who were both religiously literate and critical thinkers.

    I have to point out that the “long-distance” aspect of this relationship would not be a guaranteed 2 years. My father married my mother, then had to serve in the Navy for a set time. It was hard, but they were committed and it worked out fine. Postdocs and faculty positions aren’t like that. We’ll never end up in the same place again unless we commit to each other. I’ve never heard of a healthy long-term relationship where the separation was certainly indefinite and possibly forever. (And yes, solving the academic 2-body problem is hard, but we are willing to be pretty flexible there in terms of what kind of institutions we teach at, or even looking outside academia.)

    And TJ? Religious yes, nitwit no. I don’t appreciate that comment.

  • Matt D

    For Disbelieving on a Deadline,

    I have been married for 10 years and have 2 little kids, and I spend a good deal of my time thinking about how have I ended up in a marriage where I have no common ground with my wife.

    When we first got serious I knew she was “churchy” (her dad is a minister) and she knew I was non-thiest. But we were young and the topic was never really discussed the way it should have been.

    Now 12 years down the track, she is heavily involved in her church, leading ladies groups and even teaching the little ones at Sunday School. In the same period my “passive” non-belief has evolved into strong atheism.

    The stuff she teaches these toddlers blows my mind, we all know how wacky the bible is.

    The other day my 4 year old son told me dinosaurs arent true!!

    My advice – your disparate views on the supernatural make it impossible for you to lead long, fulfilling lives together.

    While you might “mesh” now, it wont last. You will come to resent her more and more and marvel at her foolishness and gullibility.

    End it now – harsh, but true.

    You dont want to wake up in 10 years sleeping next to the Sunday school teacher.

  • Disbelieving on a Deadline

    One further note.

    I appreciate what panoramafly had to say. Very helpful perspective. One thing, though, is that I doubt our religious views will be changing much. The first time I can remember having a thought of my own on religion was when I was 8, and decided to stop saying the “under God” part of the pledge because I didn’t think it was true. While my ideas have (of course) expanded, matured, and broadened since then, the fundamentals of no god and using science haven’t changed. If they haven’t changed from 8-29, they’re unlikely to ever change (particularly because they’re not apathetic defaults, but the result of reasoned empiricism). I can’t speak with the same certainty for my girlfriend, but she is lifelong religious, has thought deeply about religion, and is quite set in that worldview.

    I have a different perspective from “Another Atheist” on one matter. They say religious differences are irreconcilable, but political ones are okay. Not true for me. I wouldn’t for an instant consider dating a conservative, because they would have an incompatible morality from my own (and to me, an abhorrent one). These are very practical differences about how things are done in the real world. At some level, religious differences are more airy metaphysics – why does one believe morality exists, etc.. Ethical (normative) differences I can’t deal with, meta-ethical differences I probably can.

  • Jen

    I have no kids and in fact plan on having no kids (and good I decided already, as I am apparently mere years away from total infertility), so take what I say with a grain of salt, but, Disbelieving, have you noticed that it is a recession? I have no idea what its like in your particular industry, but it sucks out here, and may get worse before it gets better (it will get better). Go where the best job is. She might be able to join you in two years, or the separation may give you clarity and an open mind on the subject. I am not clear on how you can get a job in town and assume that she will have the same option in two years- she may in fact have to leave town to get a job. In fact, I am completely unclear (perhaps Richard excised this part of the letter) how you both plan on ever being in the same town after graduation.

    As for marrying a theist, I am currently reading Godless by Dan Barker, and he discusses going from Christian minister to atheist. He did divorce his first wife over that very issue, and she is now married to a Baptist minister, I believe, and he is married to a atheist-feminist. The first wife was so embarrassed over the whole thing that she didn’t even want to be mentioned in the book. Now, one couple is hardly data, but it still something to keep in mind as you move forward.

    Oh! And of course even though you will both have great jobs, statistically speaking, she will probably have more responsibilities raising the children because she is a woman- therefore, she will make less than you, in part because she will have two years less experience- and because society dictates that women love the babies and men watching their children are merely “babysitting” which is of course ridiculous and sexist bullshit. While you don’t include how you plan on doing the day-to-day raising of the children, my guess is that she is going to be more involved, and thus can have them pray while you are at work. If you plan on being the one to stay home, you do have a greater chance of raising little rational people.

  • I would also like to point out that there isn’t a ton of evidence for women’s fertility “plunging” after 27 or 30 or whatever. One of the major sources for that piece of conventional wisdom was a study done in France of women whose husbands were infertile and were trying to get pregnant with AI. Not exactly representative.

    As far as DoaD goes – have you shown her this letter? If you can’t because she’ll flip – this is not a marriage material relationship right now. If you can’t share something that is really upsetting you NOW, when would you expect that to change? Obviously when you’re casually dating is one thing, but 2 years in I would hope “This really concerns me and I don’t know what to do about it” conversations would be doable.

    Also – go ahead and look for jobs. While long distance relationships are tough, they are NOTHING compared to kids, let alone kids that you can’t agree on how to raise! If you can’t weather the time apart, likely kids and religous fights are going to be a deal breaker.

    Oh, and YMMV on ANY of this!

  • Another Atheist

    I have a different perspective from “Another Atheist” on one matter. They say religious differences are irreconcilable, but political ones are okay. Not true for me. I wouldn’t for an instant consider dating a conservative, because they would have an incompatible morality from my own (and to me, an abhorrent one). These are very practical differences about how things are done in the real world. At some level, religious differences are more airy metaphysics – why does one believe morality exists, etc.. Ethical (normative) differences I can’t deal with, meta-ethical differences I probably can.

    Yes, I tend to agree with you, but I thew that in there because I have met many are couples who are very happy together despite their political incompatibilities. For instance, while canvassing during the last election, I ran into literally dozens of households where the woman supported Obama and the man supported McCain (never the other way around, interestingly enough).

    In any case, I think it is possible to work around political differences because many people are willing to let their children make their own decisions about politics when they grow up. Meanwhile, they are not willing to grant the same latitude with respect to religious belief – they insist on indoctrinating the child at a young age. I think it is interesting that you wouldn’t consider dating a conservative, but you are agonizing over whether to stay with a theist. I am married to another atheist, but if I wasn’t, I would date a million conservatives before I even talked to a theist.

  • Peregrine

    Sometimes I wonder if we don’t worry too much about some things. Not just atheists, but people in general. I spent the weekend with some friends, most of which are theists, and there were some similar discussions.

    Children are influenced by both their parents.

    Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a spiritual life. As an atheist, I’d agree that you need to maintain grounding in reality. Children with both theist and atheist parents can arguably benefit from the best of both worlds; finding something enjoyable, useful, beneficial in a spiritual lifestyle, while knowing that it’s not strictly necessary for a productive life. Even if they are raised with the beliefs of the theist parent, when they come of age to choose for themselves, they will have the influence of the non-theist parent to rely on, so their options will not appear as limited. Likewise, if they are raised with the beliefs of the non-theist parent, they will have the influence of the theist parent to know that a spiritual life is available if they want it.

    Not all things can be planned in advance. Sometimes you’ve got to just go with what feels right, and make some decisions on the ground when the time comes.

  • Erp

    To Matt D.

    I double Disbelieving’s girlfriend is going to end up as a creationist. First she isn’t one now (or it would have been mentioned), second she is highly educated, and third Episcopalians in the US generally aren’t creationists. Their current presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has said

    “The vast preponderance of scientific evidence, including geology, paleontology, archaeology, genetics and natural history, indicates that Darwin was in large part correct in his original hypothesis.”
    (She has a phd in oceanography from the University of Oregon and studied squid and octopuses [might be interesting to see what PZ and she would talk about])

  • Disbelieving on a Deadline

    Erp, right again. No chance of her becoming a creationist.

    As for Dan Barker’s experience, one can’t help but believe that the problem in the relationship was not so much that he was an atheist and she was a theist, but that he radically changed his beliefs after they got married. That’s entirely different from going into this knowing and discussing our differing views.

    As for the recession, that’s not a factor. Postdocs are actually probably more abundant now because of stimulus money (in the US). That said, it is always crazy hard to find academic jobs regardless of the general economic situation.

    RedSonja: I have shown her this letter. In fact, she’s read this thread (and might decide to comment).

  • @DoaD

    Good for you, and for her. Difficult conversations are, well, difficult for all involved. Being able to talk about this stuff dramatically increases your chances of figuring it out. I sincerely hope that things work out well for both of you.

  • Aj

    I would also like to point out that there isn’t a ton of evidence for women’s fertility “plunging” after 27 or 30 or whatever. One of the major sources for that piece of conventional wisdom was a study done in France of women whose husbands were infertile and were trying to get pregnant with AI. Not exactly representative.

    I don’t think anyone said that fertlity was “plunging” at any age. It would be very strange to base an interpretation on male fertility on a study involving infertile men, let alone female fertility.

    There have been studies done in the US and Britain that were not connected to male infertility. They suggest that fertility starts to decline at around 30 that has been stated a number of times in this thread. Also the precentage of birth defects and miscarriages also rises. Maybe stillbirth and premature births as well.

    IVF success rates also declines. If a woman hasn’t tried to get pregnant until 30 she may not know she has a problem until over a year later. Money may push back the age of when IVF attempts are made reducing the chance.

  • jemand

    “Chakolate Says:
    July 12th, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    There are two ticking clocks here. One is her biological clock: a woman’s fertility drops precipitously after 27.”

    That sounds like saying it’s “plunging” to me…

  • Aj

    That sounds like saying it’s “plunging” to me…

    I stand corrected, I missed that comment.

  • textjunkie

    Dear Disbelieving,

    I’m glad both of you are reading this thread, that’s definitely a good sign. I’m an Episcopalian, also went through the Ph.D., and I walked away from a few theist-atheist possible marriages in my time, to find the guy who meshes with me theologically as well as politically and academically (musical tastes are a bit more tricky, but you can’t have everything ;).

    I wanted to marry some of the atheists, convinced that everything was perfect in our relationship *except* for the religious issue; but when I got serious about it, I couldn’t see pledging myself to someone who thought my beliefs were nonsense, any more than I could marry someone who wanted me to be a traditional subservient wife or wear a veil outdoors or who would think I was going to hell because I didn’t believe in transubstantiation of the bread and wine.

    Only you two can answer the question of how important this difference is to the two of you, though. I’ve certainly seen other theist/atheist marriages work, and even raise kids, but both parents have to be kind of laidback about their sets of beliefs, and respectful of their spouse’s. Some couples develop something of a mutual cognitive dissonance about both sets of beliefs, but that’s over time.

    In your particular question about prayer, though, given how many kids are raised saying prayers at night and then decide Jesus is on a level with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, I doubt your kids would be permanently warped one way or the other by praying. Or going to church, for that matter. Particularly if you stick to the Episcopalian/UCC/UU end of the spectrum.

    But good luck to both of you making your decision, either way. I disagree that 29 is “young”, by the way. You know your own minds by now, though growth in depth and breadth are hopefully a life-long process.

  • T. Bult

    I would also like to disagree. If this has the potential for a serious long term relationship, then discussing these types of issues is the wise and responsible thing to do. Failing to discuss this will result in more pain and frustration for both parties later. The writer and his love obviously are in a relationship that is moving towards commitment, and now they are finding the common ground that will be the foundation of their life together. Instead of ignoring the issues, hoping that they will be worked out later, let me offer a bit of advice.

    How about a compromise, one that will let both father and mother express themselves and their worldview, without forcing it on the children. Prayer is often seen as a purely spiritual religious action, and many people find comfort in it. Taking this away from them, or not allowing them to pass this experience on to their children will just cause tension. Understanding that the comforting aspect of prayer is what is most important will help to find a solution to the issue.

    Try offering this type of compromise. Choose a time, like the classic time before or after dinner, to have a moment of silent reflection. Thirty seconds of silence, and each member of family uses this time for their own thoughts or prayers. Then afterwards, maybe while eating, each person shares their thoughts – children included.

    Since mom is a believer, she may share things like:

    “I thanked god for this food”
    “I asked god to watch over us”
    “I prayed that god would watch over grandma when she’s in the hospital”
    “I asked god to help you with your spelling test.”

    Dad, since he is a unbeliever will have the opportunity to express thoughts like:

    “I thought about how much I love your mother, how wonderful she is, how much joy she gives me.”
    “I thought about how proud I am that you got an A on your math and spelling test – you studied so hard and your work paid off!”
    “I thought about a problem I have with a coworker, and how I should change my approach to the way I interact with him…”
    “I thought about what I can do to help your grandmother in the hospital, and how I can make this time easier for your mother.”

    Dad has the opportunity to show a down-to-earth, factual view of life, expressing feelings that lift up the family as a whole. As the child grows, they will see the difference between dad’s practical humanistic approach, and mom’s more spiritual ideas.

    It also offers an opportunity for teaching, talking about real issues, at the child’s level, allowing morality and ethics to be taught. Reading the bible and prayer were used this way in my family, and this time was used as a teaching time. The same thing applies here – minus bible.

    It can also be interspersed with occasional humor – “I’m so hungry that I let my stomach do the thinking today, but it forgot to be silent!” Since the sacred is not required at this time, teaching is not the only option – it can have joy, fun, and bonding.

    And don’t forget to let the children express their thoughts, without criticism or guidance beyond discussing the ideas like you do with your own.

    Oh, and start doing it before you have kids. Make it normal now, so that when the baby is coming you don’t hit the emotional wall of prenatal stress. This is not something she is missing, but instead part of the shared values and practices of your unique family. She will feel more comfortable, instead of seeing the difference with her childhood, this practice will be a sign of the togetherness of her marriage, something she looks forward to sharing with the children.

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