Co-Parenting With a Non-Believer


One question many blended families ask us is: How do you co-parent with someone who is a non-believer? Even if the divorce was amicable and you agree on most parenting issues, conflict, and disagreements can flare up quickly at the mention of matters of faith. If you are a believer but your ex-spouse is not, these differences can strain an already tense relationship. However, while every co-parenting relationship is unique, there are some basic principles and action steps you can take to navigate these choppy waters.

Keep the kids in mind. As you work at co-parenting with a non-believer, try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Because their biological parents do not believe the same things or criticize each other’s beliefs, children may be confused and conflicted about what to believe or not, especially as they (the children) get older. They may feel stuck in the middle between their parents and may feel pressured to side with one parent over the other. Children love both of their parents and want to please both parents, which can cause doubts and confusion. It can be difficult for them to figure out their relationship with the Lord, so being patient with them is one of the best gifts we can give them during this process. Allow God to work in their hearts in His timing and according to His plan.

Parallel parenting. While you may be able to agree and co-parent well on matters of discipline, communication, finances, and other issues, parallel parenting may be necessary on matters of faith. In this method, each parent takes their own approach when the children are with them, regardless of what the other parent chooses to do. You are both focused on the child but are running on two different but parallel tracks.

In other words, while you cannot control what your co-parent says or does in matters of faith when your child is with them, you can control how you approach faith formation when your child is with you. You can model for them what being a believer looks like. You can teach them how to pray. You can read the Bible together at bedtime. You can do family devotions together and go to church together. You can tell them about the love and mercy of God shown through Jesus’ incarnation, life, and death. Modeling your faith at home gives your children a positive example they can observe and experience themselves.

As you pour into your children, refrain from speaking negatively about your co-parent’s non-belief. We always want to speak in truth, grace, and love, but negative talk about the other parent is not what we want to do. Over time this can build resentment within the children and cause damage to the parent child relationship and even yours. Instead, when your children ask questions about the other parent’s beliefs, offer age-appropriate answers without sensationalizing the facts or going on tangents about why the other parent is wrong. 

Maintain a baseline of respect. Even though you and your ex-spouse may have opposite beliefs about God, both of you deserve and want to be treated respectfully. That means treating your co-parent the way you would want to be treated (Luke 6:31). Your children will match their level of respect with yours, and they are watching to see how you and your ex-spouse treat each other’s beliefs.

Your kiddos need to know that people can think and believe differently without attacking each other, especially in today’s cultural and political climate, so maintain that baseline of respect you demonstrate (or need to demonstrate) in other areas of your co-parenting relationship. 

Communicate your wishes and concerns. Your co-parent may not hold the same beliefs as you do, but they may be willing to partner with you on giving your children consistency in their spiritual development. You can ask to have a respectful conversation about your desire for the children to attend church, read the Bible, and pray regularly. In other words, find out if they would support your efforts to nurture your child’s relationship with God even though your ex-spouse does not have one. Some parents will be willing and others will not, but it is worth a conversation.

If you are concerned about how your ex-spouse’s non-belief may be negatively affecting your child, talk with your ex-spouse about what you are observing. Explain the reasons for your concerns, but be respectful when you do so. Focus on how best to co-parent your children in the best way possible without trying to “win over” your kids to your point of view. If faith matters continue to be a source of conflict with your ex-spouse, you might want to consider enlisting the help of a mediator who can guide you to find neutral ground. 

Do not use God as a weapon. Unfortunately, some people use their faith (or lack of) as an excuse to get back at or alienate their co-parent. These people may say or do things to their ex-spouse in the name of God, but they do not reflect the character of God. For example, isolating children from their other biological parent because they do not believe in God does not accurately reflect His desire for both parents to have a growing and healthy relationship with their children. In addition, cutting off contact or mistreating an ex-spouse for their faith choices does not reflect God’s patient and unconditional love.

In addition, how you treat your co-parent for their non-belief could warp your child’s perception or relationship with God. Kids are smart. They will pick up on the subtle microaggressions you level against your ex-spouse and may equate your actions with God’s character. For example, if you are harsh and judgmental toward your co-parent (or anyone else), your children may choose sooner or later to reject a faith that treats others with such contempt. As teens or adults, they may see believers as hypocrites who do not treat people as God commands in Scripture.

Invite questions. Children are naturally curious, which is why they ask so many questions! Try to adopt a posture of curiosity about their questions. Don’t assume that their questions about faith signal that they agree with your ex-spouse or are rejecting faith altogether. Doing so could shut down any chance for open discussions about faith. Refrain from defensive responses. Try to answer their questions as honestly as possible without bashing your ex-spouse. At the same time, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out together.” Your child’s questions are not only an opportunity to learn something together, but they are also opportunities for discipleship.

Pray for your children. While you cannot control what happens when your child is with your ex-spouse, you can pray for your child while they are away. Ask God to protect your children while they are with your ex-spouse. Pray for protection over their eyes and ears, that God would guard them against exposure to anything that would draw them away from God. Ask Him to protect your child’s heart and mind and to guide them into all truth (John 16:13). Pray for your ex-spouse, too, that they would trust in Christ as their Savior.

God is at work in the lives of your children. Even if they say they do not believe in Jesus or disagree with you on matters of faith, do not panic. Their responses are not a surprise to God. He knows the path your children will take to encounter Him and it may be a long and winding one. That is okay. Continue to pray for them and surrender them to Him. He is their Heavenly Father, and He loves them even more than you do!

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