The decision was finally made amid tears and frustration. My husband, a member of another church, would allow our future children to attend church with me because I would have more time to teach them.
The years since then have brought challenges, learning, and growth for everyone in the family. While having a two-faith marriage can be difficult, I have discovered many ways to teach and live the gospel in the home while maintaining love and unity. It helps to remember that my husband and I are both children of God and that He wants us to work together to make our family strong.
First on the list of lessons I’ve learned over the years is to avoid contention. A good husband-wife relationship is the key to family closeness.
I had hoped that my husband, Mike, would become a member of the Church easily and quickly. When he did not, there were numerous arguments, partly because I felt responsible for his not being converted. But when I began to focus more on living the gospel than on worrying about my husband’s faith, I was able to love him more deeply, converted or not. This helped dispel defensiveness in our relationship.
We also discovered it is important to focus on shared beliefs rather than differences. But when religious differences are discussed, both spouses should listen without interrupting. If contention arises, they should end the discussion quickly. When contention arises, no one is practicing what our Heavenly Father desires for His children. He wants us to love each other, as His Son expressed, “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
At times it may be tempting for both spouses to pass judgment on each other because of their beliefs. But the Lord taught: “Man shall not … judge; for judgment is mine” (Morm. 8:20). The more we can learn to accept each other’s agency, including the right to have philosophical differences, the easier it may be to love each other. (This, of course, does not require one to accommodate unrighteous actions that might grow from some philosophies.) Children can learn to understand that people they love and respect may have contrasting beliefs. This lesson may help them later when they are missionaries to understand individual challenges and differences as they teach the gospel to others.
It is always a mistake for either spouse to belittle the other’s beliefs, and especially troublesome to do so in front of children. This causes contention and divided loyalties and may make children question how much their parents really love each other. It is far better to point out the spouse’s strengths: honesty, compassion, diligence in work, willingness to help others without being asked.
When my five children were younger, taking them to church by myself seemed intimidating at times, but it can be done. Sometimes I have been strengthened by the successful examples of other “single” moms and dads; some, like me, were alone because their spouses chose not to come to church, and some had lost their spouses to death or divorce. I have often been able to find an older member who would “grandparent” my other children when I had to leave the meeting with a fussy one. It has helped to bring the Friend or Church books for my children to read at times. But as my children have gotten older, they have begun on their own to absorb the talks as I try to set an example of attentiveness.
There are many opportunities to attend church functions that spouses may find acceptable. My husband will attend sacrament meeting, for example, when our children are giving talks or singing. Ward and branch activities such as picnics, dances, or sports events can be enjoyable for the whole family—times when family members and others can extend love and fellowship.
For many part-member families, Church practices like family prayer may tend to be “put on the back burner”—ignored or employed infrequently. My husband and I found mealtime prayers were a common ground for our first family prayers. He is the head of our family and chooses who will offer the prayer. Often he offers the prayer as he was taught to do in his church, but he has also lovingly supported me at times by teaching our children on his own to pray as Latter-day Saints do.
There may be many ways in which a husband and wife can find common ground on morning and nighttime prayers. You can adapt to your own situation. If your spouse is not comfortable with praying but does not mind if the family prays together, perhaps he or she will participate by choosing the setting or the timing.
Concerning family home evening, I remember a lesson I gave on Adam and Eve. After disapproving looks and comments about the doctrine being taught, my husband left the room. I learned how important it is for spouses to choose topics of shared belief.
Many faiths have similar beliefs in basic principles such as integrity, chastity, harmony in the home, and so forth. If a spouse does not want always to be an active part of family home evening, you can still ask for his or her ideas on subjects to be included in the lessons, things you both agree that the children should be taught. It is best when both spouses are able to teach some of those concepts personally. In our family, we found a very practical opportunity for a lesson on first aid when we were putting together a box of emergency supplies for a camping trip. As we came to the part about choking, my husband showed our children how to perform the Heimlich maneuver since he had already had to use it on one of our sons. Together you will find many ways to teach your family.
If you choose a religious theme for family home evening, such as “Christ Is Our Savior,” remember that children who love and respect both parents can learn to accept truths that are taught in both faiths. When lessons are taught in an atmosphere that invites the presence of the Holy Ghost, that Spirit will bear witness of every truth, and children will learn to incorporate those truths into their lives.
The importance of the example set by a member spouse cannot be overstated. In attending church whenever possible, the member parent silently teaches where God’s children should be on the Sabbath. Children also have the opportunity to learn and accept the gospel for themselves. Through your own temple attendance you can teach the importance of making sacred covenants and of providing this opportunity for our ancestors as well. Tracing family history together can help a family develop a sense of being one.
Any principle that we hope to teach must first be incorporated into our own lives. Trying to do this can help us confront our own weaknesses and improve in areas such as fasting, studying the scriptures, paying tithing, and avoiding the subtle, false ideas of the world. The Lord has said:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
What a powerful promise this is! It should bring confidence to all of us who sometimes wonder whether we have the ability or stamina to rear our children no matter what our circumstances are.
I am blessed that my husband has always approved of my asking priesthood holders to give members of our family needed blessings. If you are able to do this, you may ask your husband and children to witness the blessing so that they will sense the faith and trust you have in the Savior and in the authority of the priesthood.
Even so, it is important for priesthood leaders to respect the husband’s role as head of the family. Most will sensitively do this, consulting him before issuing callings to a wife or child, or in other matters that affect the family.
It is natural for children to ask questions concerning differences they see in their parents’ beliefs and practices. Have you thought how you might answer them in ways that will be loyal and true to your spouse?
When my children were small, it helped to explain that some people might not know, for example, about the harm some actions relative to the Word of Wisdom can bring. This led to the opportunity to talk about making choices and how we all may need to change at some time if we discover that some of our choices are hurting us. I could easily find examples of the need to change in my own behavior—or in theirs. But the most important thing to do, I found, is to end the conversation on a positive note.
The scriptures can quickly become a valuable aid in resolving questions or in providing needed comfort. As we use the scriptures in everyday life, we will teach our children what a valuable guide they can be. Some scriptures that have comforted me or taught valuable principles in times of need include:
“He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13).
“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (D&C 88:63).
“I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:40).
When we face tough questions or situations, the most important and most effective way to seek help is to talk with our Father in Heaven. He is aware of our problems and needs. He will answer our righteous, humble prayers, though not necessarily in the way we have asked or the way we expect.
We can help keep tough situations to a minimum by talking with our spouse daily, keeping the love flowing between us. Perhaps we can talk sometimes about activities we and the children have been involved in at church. If we are having trouble preparing a talk or lesson, why not consult our spouse for ideas? We might be surprised at the insights we receive.
Keeping our eyes on the cherished goal of a spouse’s baptism or temple sealing can help us move progressively toward it, but bear in mind that a sealing alone will not be a solution to unresolved marital or family discord. All marriages require continuing effort. However, when everyone in the home is willing to exercise charity, we can make our earthly family a wonderful one even before achieving that goal of a temple sealing. We can make it a family prepared to accept eternally binding covenants.
It is the plan of the Lord for us to raise our children with the help of our spouse, member or not, and if we maintain a loving relationship with the person we marry, it will usually be possible to incorporate gospel teachings into our lives together.
It requires time, effort, and prayer to raise children in the gospel when a spouse is not a member, and many times we will feel alone in our endeavor. These will be times to draw closer to our spouse and find strength in his or her good characteristics and example. These will also be times to open our hearts, in sincere prayer, to all the guidance available from our Heavenly Father. And we can feel of His peace as a child chooses to enter the waters of baptism or prepares to serve a mission. You are not alone. And as spouses, we are not alone.
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
Is it clear to my spouse that I love him or her without reservation? Or am I withholding love that I would give more freely if only my spouse were a member of the Church?
Am I more concerned about pointing out my spouse’s good points to our children than I am about explaining our religious differences?
Do I live as an example of what I hope my children and spouse will want to be like?