Parents of Different Religions: How to Raise Your Children

Raising children with parents of different religions requires more flexibility than raising children in a single-faith family. Learn more.
Parents of Different Religions: How to Raise Your Children
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 22 May, 2023

Just a few decades ago, most marriages and families shared a single religious creed. However, there are more and more interfaith families. This can raise several questions about how to talk about God with children and how to involve them in different traditions. If you find yourself in this situation, we want to share with you some tips for raising children with parents of different religions.

You may have questioned whether growing up with this religious diversity can be negative for your children. Also, you may have been reproached by some people around you for wanting to instill a faith in them from childhood. However, we all do it. Even in secular families, a belief is transmitted (for example, agnosticism) and it’s the children who choose to follow one path or another when they grow up.

Therefore, keep in mind that, far from being a limitation, living at home with parents of different religions can nurture the experience of the little ones and help them to be more tolerant of others. But, for this, some basic guidelines or principles should be followed.

Multi-faith families

As we said in the introduction, interfaith families are becoming more and more common. According to the Survey Center on American Life, only 52% of couples married in the last decade share the same faith. This is in contrast to previous decades when that figure rose to 81%.

Specifically, according to a Pew Research Center study, 27% of millennials experienced this reality, and the trend of parents of different religions is on the rise. This raises some questions: What will the creed of these children be? How will the disparity of religions be experienced at home? Is it positive to cultivate the children’s spirituality or is it better not to?

A Jewish family sitting down for a meal.
With each new generation, more children are growing up in homes with parents of different religions.

What options are there?

It’s worth mentioning that there’s no right alternative, but that each family can choose the one that best suits their needs and preferences:

  • In some marriages, one of the spouses may decide to adhere to the creed of the other and this is the one they pass on to their children.
  • It may also happen that both spouses maintain their own worldviews, but choose only one to share with their children.
  • Another option is to involve the children in the precepts, practices, and traditions of both religions. In these cases, these may be lived as a family or each parent may accompany the children in the practices of their own faith.
  • Finally, some adults choose not to transmit their religious beliefs to their children. These parents prefer to educate them only in values and in accordance with the culture in which they’re immersed. Here, parents can share their beliefs with their children, but without really ascribing them to any religion.

As you can see, the alternatives are many and will depend, to a great extent, on the importance that each spouse gives to their religiosity. It’s one thing to be a truly devout and practicing person, and it’s another to simply feel culturally united with that creed.

Keys to raising children with parents of different religions

Whatever the option parents choose, there are some principles that must be present to offer a quality upbringing. These will avoid certain frictions, tensions, and conflicts in the home. In addition, they’ll allow the children to grow up in a healthy and free environment, beyond the beliefs professed by the family.

Respect the creed of the other

It’s essential that both parents deeply respect the beliefs of the other party. This doesn’t mean sharing or adhering to them, but it does mean being tolerant of them.

If a power struggle develops in which one adult tries to disqualify or ridicule the faith of the other, it can cause pain and confusion for children. In fact, living in a multi-faith family is a perfect opportunity to learn about diversity, tolerance, and empathy. Let’s seize the opportunity!

Look for commonalities

Although each religion has its own precepts, the truth is that most religions share several commonalities. For example, the connection with oneself, introspection, and the belief in a God or superior being. Beyond the name given to it and the specific practices performed, there’s always a point of confluence. And, taking it as the basis of parenting can help children to feel coherence in their environment.

Families enjoying a picnic in the park.
If at some point complex situations have to be addressed and there’s no agreement between parents, one can resort to values, which are usually common to all beliefs.

Educating in values

Values are the ultimate expression of this shared point. People of different faiths, as well as those who identify themselves as agnostics or atheists, advocate and appreciate the same qualities. For example, kindness, generosity, empathy, helping others, and the desire to improve.

Taking into account the age of the child

Finally, it’s important to take into account the stage of development in which a child is when it comes to transmitting faith. In their early years, it may be difficult for them to understand abstract concepts, reason, and apply critical thinking. Therefore, instilling a creed at this time will be based, above all, on sharing rituals, traditions, and family practices.

Later, when they reach the stage of formal operations (the last stage of cognitive development according to Piaget’s model), they’ll have already acquired these skills. Therefore, from the age of 11 or 12, you’ll be able to talk to them about beliefs, what God means, and what professing a religion implies.

Flexibility is key when raising children with parents of different religions

As a final point, we’d like to remind you that raising children with parents of different religions requires more flexibility than raising them in a single-faith family. It’s true that cultivating spirituality brings great benefits. For example, according to a review published in the educational magazine Propósitos y Representaciones, it promotes self-esteem, personal strength, and hope. It also improves physical and psychological health.

However, faith is deeply personal and individual and should never be imposed. In fact, a 2008 study published in Social Science found that when parents try to push their children toward particular religious beliefs, relationships become more complex. Therefore, they become poorer, of lower quality, and with less affection.

Therefore, let’s remember that children also have the right to choose their creed. And, although we may share with them what we think and feel as parents, ultimately, it’ll be their choice whether or not to follow that path. If we’re talking about interfaith families, this flexibility will have to be even more evident. It’s important to respect the worship of each member and to understand that spirituality can change or modulate over time.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.