Hi Surly Amy!
My boyfriend and I have started very generally talking about maybe someday thinking about having a baby. I’m worried. Eg, I am 34 so we don’t have forever to be ambiguous about it, & he has a disability that makes it difficult for him to do many baby-helping things. I can deal with those! My question is- he’s not a go-to-church-all-the-time dude, but loosely Christian, mainly likes to think there’s “a plan”. I am atheist & think of it as a weird quirk in an otherwise lovely, smart man. A friend said we’d have to do it like any couple who have different religions. Which is fine except, for the love of fuzzy bunnies, HOW does that actually work? Is it like jesus-y easter with no easter bunny, or christmas with no christ but with santa? Because I can’t really going along with supernatural beings of any sort, or any of the other misogynist crap that comes along with most religious stuff. I can see it causing huge arguments. Help?
~ One half of the odd couple
Dear One Half of the Odd couple,
My initial response to this is to be sure to discuss these issues with your partner before you decide to get pregnant to make sure that you can come to an agreement before there is a baby in the mix. I completely understand the feeling that you need to hurry up and have a baby because you feel like time is running out but having a child is a huge, life-changing responsibility that is all about the child so do try to sort out any problems now, while you have plenty of rest. You know what is worse than not having a baby you want? Bringing a baby into a home where the parents are fighting.
That being said, my family celebrated most of the major holidays without invoking any gods into the mix. We still celebrate Xmas and Egg-and-Bunny-day and Turkey-Day we just don’t acknowledge any of the misconceptions or supernatural stories associated with those days. Holidays and festivals have been around much longer than Jesus and I think these days are important for bringing friends, family together and the community together. In fact, I love holidays! I don’t think there is any need to opt out of celebrations, just make them your own. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas. In your case I think you will need to come to an agreement before hand as to how much, if any religion is shared in conjunction with those days.
I also thought, since I am child-free, that I should seek out someone who has more experience with parenting to get their take on this issue for you. So I went and found, Dale!
Here is what Dale had to say:
Most atheists in long term relationships or marriages ARE paired with Christians — statistically, it’s just going to be that way. And yes, some of them are entirely doomed by inflexibility on one side or the other (or both), but most are not, and yours doesn’t even sound close. Yours, in fact, sounds just like mine was. My wife was Baptist by upbringing and loosely Christian, lovely and smart (as you so perfectly put it) at the time we got together. She was not insistent that the holidays include supernatural elements, and it doesn’t sound to me like your boyfriend would be either. Why not ask to be sure?
Every religious holiday worth its salt has developed a purely secular parallel — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter — and many nominally religious people happily celebrate those rather than the far less fun religious versions. Even if he did want some mention of the nativity story, that shouldn’t be a deal-killer. All kids need is to hear more than one perspective, then get the clear message that they get to make up their own minds about things in the long run.
You might also want to read Pete Wernick’s essay “Parenting in a Secular/Religious Marriage” in Parenting Beyond Belief. He does a brilliant job of describing the open and honest compromises he and his Catholic wife worked out. Good luck!
Thanks to Dale, for his input and I hope this helped. Best wishes for a happy family!
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