I’m An Atheist, My Wife Is Catholic, And Here’s How We Are Raising Our Son

We made our fair share of mistakes.

by David B. Younger
Originally Published: 

The following was syndicated from Thrive Global for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.

One of the most challenging things about being in a relationship with Deb is how hard it can be at times to deal with our differences. We are so different from each other in pretty much every way except our core values, including our devotion to each other, to our family and to close friends.

Deb was clear from the very beginning about how important it was to her that her children are raised Jewish. She grew up in Peru, a predominantly Catholic country, with a tiny Jewish community consisting almost exclusively of people that had survived or escaped the Holocaust. Her grandmother survived 3 years in a camp and most of her family was wiped out.

I grew up outside of New York City in a family of reform Jewish atheists where Passover was more about gambling and food than the Exodus from Egypt. That said, my maternal grandfather, a WWII veteran, has always been passionate about the Jewish people, Jewish culture, and Israel.

I had a Bar-Mitzvah when I was 13. I went through the motions. There was even a time when I told my grandfather that I planned on continuing to go to Hebrew school. That was short-lived. In hindsight, I think it was more about wanting to please a man that I deeply admired.

I tried believing in God as a kid for a brief amount of time, but even then it just never felt right to me. I feel angry with the amount of damage that has been inflicted over the centuries in the name of organized religion.

If there was ever a time to devote to it, it’s now.

When Eric was born, he had a Bris, which is a ritual circumcision. I didn’t want it, but it was part of our agreement. I sat on the couch and cried when it was chop-chop time.

I have dealt with discussions about religion and religious events over the years really, really poorly. Please learn from my mistakes. I was outspoken in my derision and when I hear Eric today, at the age of 12, say that he used to be agnostic, but now he’s an atheist. I won’t lie that I feel a bit of pride, but I also know how much influence I have had. He has his own mind, but my heavy-handed approach was self-indulgent and damaging.

I have tried of late to work on repairing my approach by encouraging him to be open-minded and to learn and question versus making pronouncements and decisions, but I have not modeled that for him at all. Not only have I hurt Debbie, but I have done him a disservice.

I don’t mean that not believing in God has done him a disservice, or not liking religion. I mean that approaching something so personal and sensitive and complex with so much vitriol has not encouraged him to be expansive in his thinking.

I regret how I have behaved. If I could take it back, I would. There are ways to be true to one’s values and beliefs without being destructive. I always equated participating in events and going along for the ride as selling out as opposed to doing something that was important to Debbie.

If I could go back in time:

  • I would participate more actively.
  • Ask more questions instead of condemning.
  • Propose other ways of looking at things that promote inclusiveness and exploration.
  • Explore and focus on my own spirituality more.
  • Curb the intensity of my criticism and talk more about it alone with Deb instead of in front of Eric.

I cannot take it back. I have done what I have done. I have apologized and will continue to do so and will continue to try to repair. Dealing with differences can be so bloody hard. But if there was ever a time to devote to it, it’s now.

David B. Younger, Ph.D is the creator of Love After Kids, helping couples with their relationships since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couple’s therapist with a web-based private practice and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Thrive Global. David lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 2 kids and toy poodle.

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