Ask Mommy: Should I Tell My Ex That Our Son Is An Atheist?

Telling your ex your kid is an atheistOn this blog, I’ve been pretty repetitive about inter-faith relationships. I have said again and again that it’s easy to fall for someone with a deep faith or even someone who believes but doesn’t take it so seriously. It’s easy because there are beautiful, kind, intelligent and funny religious people out there that anyone would be lucky to have by their side. Where I always encourage caution, though, is how the future might play out, especially if you have kids together. You have to ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is there a chance that having a child will cause my significant other to take their faith more seriously?
  2. Will we be able to agree on how our child is raised, ie. faith school? regular church? baptisms?
  3. What would our co-parenting look like if we broke up?
  4. Is there a chance that your significant other could use your lack of faith against you in the event you broke up and were in a custody battle?

 

If you’re unsure how to answer any of these questions, you might reconsider how serious you allow your relationship with a religious person to get. Perhaps it is best for both of you to consider people you see eye-to-eye with.

To illustrate just how murky the waters can get in an inter-faith relationship involving kids, I wanted to answer a reader’s question for you. A single father reached out to me and wondered how to deal with his situation. He’s an atheist separated from his 10-year-old son’s mother, who is religious and now married to a religious man. They share custody. Recently, his son told him that he no longer believes in God or Jesus or the Bible. For now, they are keeping this from the child’s mother out of fear she will accuse Dad of “brainwashing” his son.

“What should I do?”, he asked me.

I thought about it for a long time and I still honestly have no clue. This is such a sticky situation. Of course, you always want to be honest with the mother of your child, but the risks you face if you do in this situation are:

  1. The mother will believe you have put your own ideas in your son’s head, thus making your relationship with her more strained and difficult to manage.
  2. Your son’s mom could take it more seriously and drag you to court to adjust your custody agreement. Sadly, history shows that judges often side with the religious parent over an atheist one.
  3. She will push religion on your son more forcefully, making him miserable.

 

Of course, the other alternative is that she will get over it and no serious repercussions will come of it. Which outcome you get depends entirely on what sort of person she is. So, to the best of my ability, I came up with several choices. Here are the ways you could potentially deal with this situation:

  1. Don’t tell her and urge your son not to as well – of course, urging your son to keep secrets from his mother is not the best idea in the world and you always run the risk of him telling her anyway. After all, he is a child and children aren’t often the best secret-keepers. If she finds out despite your agreement with your child to say nothing about it, you could find yourself in a much deeper pile of shit than if you’d just been honest with her outright. The only time I would suggest considering this option is if you fear the mother will overreact and it could affect your access to the child, the child’s physical and mental well-being, or his safety.
  2. Have your son tell her the truth – If he can articulate why he doesn’t believe and explain to her that it has nothing to do with you, this could be your best option. You may catch a bit of heat, but ultimately, she can’t really blame you if the kid himself is telling her it’s got nothing to do with you. Not every kid is going to feel comfortable in this situation, though and some may not be able to find the words to explain this to her. Choose this option only if your kid is up to it.
  3. You can tell her yourself – This choice comes with a high risk of catching shit, but if you’re fairly confident your ex is not going to blow it out of proportion and use it to hurt your access to your child or use it to make the child’s life miserable, then catch that shit and deal with it. Who cares what the mom thinks of you, so long as you still get to see your son as much as you do now? If she wants to blame you and carry that anger around with her, that’s her choice. Of course, you could also be pleasantly surprised and she could just not care all that much and appreciate the fact that you were honest with her.

 

The thing you have to keep at the forefront of your mind is what’s best for your son. You have the opportunity right now to teach your son by example that telling the truth, even when it’s not easy, is a good thing. If you can do that without risking his well-being or your access to him, then I say the option you need to choose is pretty clear.

To those of you, religious or non, considering a serious relationship with someone who does not agree with you on the topic of religion, I hope this situation acts as a warning. These are the problems your future could hold. Keep this in mind while weighing the pros and cons of getting serious in an inter-faith relationship.

What would you do in this situation? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Mark Caesar

    Sticky problem. I think being honest is certainly the best policy here. Perhaps the father could be a little pro-active about telling the mom and it could even work in his favour. If the father was to approach the mom and tell her that their son said he didn’t believe any more, he could approach it as an opportunity to work with the mom to do the best for their son. They could all sit down and try to work out a plan of action. No doubt the son will feel more empowered to state his case with his father there beside him and the father could be seen to be working for the best of the situation.

    If it worked out it could possibly be a positive for all.

    Of course, every situation is different and the father would have some idea whether it could work or not.

    Good luck to all involved.

  • cary_w

    There is one person missing from all of these suggestions: The kid.

    If a 10 year old is mature enough to declare himself an atheist, he should be an integral part of deciding how and when to tell other people. Dad needs to respect his son enough to have some serious discussions with him and let his son decide how to move forward. Options 1 and 3, asking your son to keep a secret from his mother or going over his head, both seem like colossally bad ideas for any situation. That leaves option 2, but I wouldn’t tell him to necessarily tell his mom, but to consider all the ramifications: How will she feel? Does he want to stop going to church? Is he really sure about his beliefs? Could he truthfully tell her he has doubts in order to make it easier for her to accept? Is it lying or deceitful if he doesn’t say anything to her for now and continues to go to church? Is that something he would consider doing? All of these things are things a 10 year old is capable of understanding and then he can decide for himself when and how to talk to his mother.

  • Janeen White

    I think one of the questions is is the son going to church and if so, does he want to continue going? My daughter at 11 years old outright stopped going to church. She decided one day she was done and that was that. She had been unsure for awhile, felt she was more agnostic than anything else but then suddenly decided she wasn’t going to go anymore. I think at the time my husband I were at the beginning of our separation or it was right before we separated. He moved back home but she has not returned to church.

    So I do agree that the child should have a say as to when and how. In my daughter’s case, my husband wouldn’t have believed me anyway and would have accused me of being the one to decide on it. Now he just blames me because I didn’t go to church in the first place with him and I didn’t make her go with him when she decided to stop going.

    And YES on the getting more into the faith with children. Having children made my husband even more zealous in his religious beliefs. Actually, us getting married did too. Might have had something to do with us no longer “living in sin” or something, not sure but while he hadn’t been going to church in the four years we had dated (and one year before we met), he started attending again shortly after we married and not long after that, started following many of the tenants he hadn’t been following such as no longer spending money on the sabbath.

    My warning, be VERY VERY careful if you decide to marry someone who is religious and you are not. Massive minefield.