Parenting Beyond Belief: On secular parenting and other natural wonders

Poll: How did you get mixed?

blendAs I work on my book about religious/nonreligious mixed marriages, one of the important variables is when the couple got “mixed” and whether they still are. Couples who were both religious at the beginning, then had one partner lose the faith, deal with different issues than a couple that was already mixed at the altar. Same with couples who were both nonreligious, then had one partner become religious.

There’s also much to be learned from couples that started mixed, then both ended up on one team or the other. This is all part of the formal survey coming out later this month, but for now, here’s the informal poll question of the week.

IF you are (or have been) in a religious/nonreligious mixed marriage, please choose the most accurate statement:

  • We were both religious when we were first married, then one of us became nonreligious. (33%, 32 Votes)
  • When we got married, one was religious, the other nonreligious. Now we are both nonreligious. (32%, 31 Votes)
  • One of us has been religious and the other nonreligious since we were married. (28%, 27 Votes)
  • We are a religious/nonreligious mix, but none of the above. (7%, 7 Votes)
  • We were both nonreligious when we were first married, then one of us became religious. (1%, 1 Votes)
  • When we got married, one was religious, the other nonreligious. Now we are both religious. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 98

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[Note: If you choose “none of the above,” please explain in the comments. Thanks!]

Stories: The first discussion

Off to a great start with the new form for sharing stories about religious/nonreligious marriages. To make sure all categories are covered, I’m going to prime individual questions once in a while.

If you’re in a religious/nonreligious mixed marriage, or once were, or almost were…let’s start with the first time you and your partner discussed the difference in your beliefs.

Ours happened in 1990 when I was 27. After the usual series of misfit relationships and a lot of thinking, I’d become incredibly picky. I finally knew exactly what I was looking for…and Becca was IT. Compared to everything else she brought to the relationship, the fact that she was a churchgoing Christian was a footnote. Honestly, if I’d learned she had a second head growing out of the back of her neck, I’d have bought it a little hat. This, at last, was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life, the person I wanted to raise a family with, grow old with, the whole cliché.

We’d known each other for years and been dating for a few months, but my atheism had never come up. I finally decided it was time. I was terrified of the possibility that I’d lose her over it, but I knew this was too big to be an “oh-by-the-way, funny-thing” moment later on. If it was going to be a big deal, it needed to be a big deal right then, before we got engaged, before we got married.

I decided that a fast-moving car was the right place to bring it up.

kettlemanWe both lived in LA at the time and occasionally drove to San Francisco to see her parents. Perfect. Somewhere around Kettleman City, in the middle of nowhere, I got the nerve. I don’t remember the exact words I said, but at some point it was out there: I don’t believe in God, it’s something I’ve thought about seriously for years, and it’s not likely to ever change. Is that, uh…okay with you?

The tires thrummed for a while. She clearly hadn’t seen it coming, and she seemed a little shaken.


Finally she said, “Well…is it okay with you that I do believe?”

I said yes, of course. I’d known that from the beginning.

“It has to be okay for me to go to church.” You’ll note that this was not in the form of a question. I said it was okay, of course it was. At which point I learned why it was so important for her to go to church. And as is so often the case, it had nothing to do with God.

She laid out the whole story. Her stepdad, a former Baptist minister, had an ugly falling out with his church when he left his first wife. As a result, he didn’t allow Becca’s very religious mom or her daughters to attend church. Becca vowed to herself at the time that she was bloody well going to church once she got out of that house, and that no one was ever going to keep her from it again. It wasn’t religious uniformity she needed from her eventual husband. She just needed to know that that particular bit of family history wasn’t going to repeat itself. It was never about salvation. As much as anything, her churchgoing was an act of proxy redemption for her mom.

By the end of the conversation, I was relieved, we knew each other a lot better, and the biggest secret I had was out in the open. And it had gone just fine.

So if you’re in a religious/nonreligious marriage, what’s the story of your first discussion across that line? Sharing in the comments is great, but please be sure to also share on the story form. Your story might make an appearance in my book.

Sharing stories: the religious/nonreligious marriage

As you may know, I am writing a book on marriage between religious and nonreligious partners. In addition to an upcoming survey, I am collecting stories to personalize the issues. If your marriage straddles that religious/nonreligious divide, I’d like to hear your insights and stories by using this form.

Possible topics include:

  • The first discussion of your different views
  • Extended family issues
  • Dating across lines of belief
  • The wedding
  • Churchgoing
  • Holidays
  • Family identity issues
  • Talking about differences in belief
  • Kids and baptism, naming, circumcision, etc.
  • Kids and churchgoing / Sunday school
  • Kids and religious identity
  • Separation or divorce
  • Death, loss, funerals
  • Other/General

    Submit one story or ten, one sentence or a hundred. What have you learned? What would you do differently? What has made your relationship stronger, and what weakened it? Are you both in the same place belief-wise that you were when you married? Did kids bring out the complexities of the issues in a whole new way? Has the mixed marriage made you more tolerant of other beliefs…or less?

    Thanks in advance for anything you can give. I can’t wait to read them. The form will be available until July 1, so no particular rush. Take your time and dig deep, then click here to submit your stories!