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How Religion Shapes My Parenting, According to 12 Dads

"I pray all the time. And I know I’ve become a better parent by listening to what my heart tells me when I ask for help.”

Faith is a personal journey, so it differs from individual to individual, family to family. But how does religion shape parenting? Through religion, many parents find principles, purpose, faith, community, and a way to frame the world for their children. The basic tenets of religion —  faith, hope, and love — highlight what so many aspire to teach as parents. 

Religion — or lack thereof — is a lens through which we view so much of the world. Some parents have been steadfast in their beliefs for a long time, others have recently evolved their thinking. Some choose not to have religion play a role. All of them, however, know belief and faith are an important part of life, and all of them have a story to tell. Here’s what a few had to say.

1. Our Relationship With God Has Helped Us Become More Loving Parents

“We go to church every Sunday as a family, and it’s become a very big part of our life as a family. Obviously, it’s been different for the past year, but our relationship with God has helped us become more loving, more attentive parents through the friends we’ve made at church. Many of them are close to our age, with kids, and all experiencing the same challenges as we do. So, it’s like an informal support group every week. We meet in the lobby after the service and talk about life — well, we used to before COVID — and just empathize with each other about being parents. No one knows what they’re doing, and that’s always a comforting reminder.” – Alan, 38, Louisiana 

2. We Celebrate Two Religions. But Focus on Trying to Be — And Raise — Good People.

“My wife is Catholic and I’m Jewish. Neither one of us converted when we got married, which was almost 15 years ago. We celebrate all of the holidays, and teach our kids about aspects of both religions. I think our parenting has shown them compromise and acceptance, more than anything. We just try to be good people, rather than a good Catholic person and a good Jewish person. Just good people. They get excited about all the holidays and the traditions, which really makes me think we’re doing a good job raising two intelligent, caring, respectful boys. That’s more important to us than declaring a single religion.” – Jim, 48, California

3. Religion Is Important. But Open-Mindedness Is More-so.

“Our son goes to a Catholic school for students with special needs that embraces all faiths. If that’s not a great setup, I don’t know what is. They pray, and have mass, but no one is forced to participate so long as they’re respectful of those who are. They offer kosher meals, and really try to perpetuate the idea that all faiths are valid. So, the school does all the heavy lifting. At home, we just try to emphasize what our son learns. Obviously, they teach Catholicism, but our son will ask us about some of his friends who practice traditions and customs that are different than the ones they learn about. Our son is too young to fully grasp the concept of religion, but we love that he’s open-minded, inclusive, and asking questions.” – Andy, 43, Pennsylvania 

4. I Answer Questions.

“I was raised Catholic, and it kind of screwed me up. I stopped going to church when I left for college, and never looked back. Then, one of the priests at the church I went to for all those years with my parents got arrested for flashing a guy in a parking lot or something. I don’t remember the specifics, but it really made me consider how I’d introduce religion to my children. So far, it’s been a question-by-question thing. If they ask, ‘What happens when we die?’ I tell them about heaven. If they ask if God is real, I say, ‘Tell me what you think…” I think my parenting has been guided through the conversations about potentially religious topics, rather than any sort of organized religion itself.” – Aaron, 38, Ohio

5. We Look to the Natural World

“My biggest connection with religion has always been through nature. My wife, kids and I try to appreciate the outdoors as much as we can. We go on hikes, sit in the backyard, and just try to watch all of the amazing things that could only have been put here on Earth by a higher power. My daughter loves animals, and she’s just amazed that a bird can exist in the same world as, like, a frog. They’re so different. I think we use that as our parenting connection to religion. Not, ‘We have to go to church!’ But rather, there is just so much beauty in this world that we can’t explain. That’s where God – or, like I said, a higher power – fits in.” – Sam, 37, Indiana 

6. We Don’t Push Religion on Our Kids, But We Explore It Together

“Our kids love the Bible stories. There’s this cartoon called SuperBook that’s basically anime Bible tales. I don’t think they’re old enough to understand the significance of God, but they really enjoy the episodes. They come away with questions, which we usually don’t know how to answer. But at least they’re being introduced to a high-level concept through an admittedly awesome show. We’ll never push religion on them, but we enjoy watching it together and, when they have questions, talking about them afterward. That’s definitely a good step toward exploring religion and, more importantly, spending quality time with our kids.” – Mark, 37, Michigan

7. We’re Atheists But Want Our Kids Find Their Own Way

“My wife and I are both atheists. She’s a little more hot-headed when it comes to religious discussions with friends and family but, for the most part, we try to model tolerance and acceptance of diversity for our kids. We definitely don’t have all the answers. But we both agree it’s important to make a choice regarding who you want to be, and what you choose to believe. Our kids are on the verge of becoming teenagers, so they’re starting to have questions about our beliefs, their friends’ beliefs, and what they read and hear. The best thing we can do as parents is be honest with them, and let them find their way.” – Jerry, 43, Minnesota

8. Our Gratitude for God Keeps Us Growing As Parents

“One of my favorite quotes from my therapist is: science is for what we can explain, religion is for what we can’t. Our son was born premature. It was easily the scariest experience of our lives. The fact that he survived was nothing short of a miracle, which is why my wife and I both firmly believe in God. Scientifically, or whatever, he shouldn’t be here today. So we’d be pretty arrogant not to acknowledge the presence of a higher power that we don’t completely understand. Because whatever ‘it’ is kept our son safe. That gratitude keeps us growing as better parents every day, because we’ve never forgotten how it felt knowing we might lose him.” – David, 41, Florida

9. We Don’t Push a Specific Religion, But We Stress Religious Values

“We don’t push a specific religion on our family, but we agree that the values of all religions are worth living. I mean, you don’t have to decide on a specific religion to know that love, compassion, kindness, faithfulness, and all those other good ones are going to help you become a better person, right? I’ve always viewed religion as ‘rules’ for spiritual guidance. I don’t think you need rules to talk with God, or Allah, or whomever you choose to worship. I try to remember that my relationship with my higher power – just like my relationships with my kids and my wife – is completely unique, sacred, and special. And that helps me be a good dad and a good person.” – Kevin, 38, Oregon

10. The Power of Prayer Is a Huge Part of My Parenting

“I pray all the time. If you can really call it praying, that is. Sometimes, I don’t even know who I’m talking to. Sometimes it’s, ‘Dear God…’ Sometimes I talk to my dad, who passed away years ago. Sometimes I just kind of look up and start thinking, and talking in my head. Whatever it is — let’s call it ‘praying’ for argument’s sake — I do it almost exclusively to become a better parent and husband. Every single day seems like a new challenge that I’m unequipped to face alone, so I reach out to whoever — or whatever — is listening, and ask for guidance. It’s never obvious, but I know I’ve become a better parent by listening to what my heart tells me when I ask for help.” – James, 38, Maryland 

11. My Relationship With Religion is Complicated. But My Kids Can Make Their Own Choices.

“Religion made me a better parent because I saw how screwed up it made my childhood. My parents were hardcore Christians. Not old-school Christians, but the kind that would go to church, proclaim the goodness of the Lord, forgiveness, kindness, and then go cuss out the waitress at Cracker Barrel. I grew up around so many religious hypocrites that I realized who I didn’t want to become, as a person or as a parent. I don’t not believe in God, but I realize how twisted religion can make that relationship. If my daughters ever become interested in church as they get older, I’ll be more than happy to help them find their places. But, I’d caution them against losing themselves in the crowd.” – Tim, 37, North Carolina 

12. Religion Helps Me Teach My Kids About Strength And Understanding

“As a Muslim family, we know we have to rely on each other quite a bit to stay strong, stay faithful, and stay positive. Our community — neighbors, the kids’ schools, and our friends — are all very accepting, of course. But, I’d be lying if I said the unrest over the past several years hasn’t been scary and concerning. I guess religion has helped me teach my kids about strength, and knowing that it’s okay when you and someone else don’t share the same beliefs. We’re fortunate in that we haven’t been met with hate or violence, but we realize that’s untrue of many people’s realities right now. So, I’ve tried to teach my children to be proud of who they are, and know that there are good people in the world who do want them to succeed just as much as anyone else.” – Samer, 38, Ohio