Q: My former spouse is taking our kids to services at his Lutheran church, although when we were married, we’d agreed our children would be raised Catholic. I’m furious. What are my rights, and what are his responsibilities?
It’s understandable that you feel frustrated. Although you may view this as your ex-husband’s attempt to undermine the religious foundation you established for your children, in reality he may just want to share his religious traditions as a way of feeling close to the kids.
In either case, the first place to look is your separation or divorce agreement, depending on which stage of the process you’re in. If your agreement does not expressly prohibit him from bringing the kids to church with him, then your ex is acting entirely within his rights.
Now, there’s the matter of how to cope with your feelings of resentment. Perhaps they are coming from your thinking he has a hidden agenda – that he is trying to influence the kids behind your back. If that is the case, a frank conversation about your concerns is in order. Keeping your tone neutral, you can inquire about his intentions. Perhaps it helps him feel closer to the children when he worships with them. Perhaps also he would simply like to expose the children to the traditions of his own family.
Concerning how to talk about this with the kids, the rule of thumb is the same for other differences in parenting that may arise. You can tell them, “This is how Dad does things in his house; here we do things this way.” That way, you avoid demonizing the kids’ other parent, and it allows you to stand united, yet apart.
If the children sense your discomfort, they will use it as an opportunity to divide and conquer, to pit one of you against the other, all in an attempt to gain leverage for things they may want from either one of you.
Think of this disagreement as an opportunity for you to demonstrate to the children that you and your ex-spouse are able to withstand a difference of opinion, and that you are able to resolve differences amicably. You will also be setting the tone for how you handle future disagreements, everything from curfews to college choices.
And, at the very least, the children will gain an appreciation for two different spiritual traditions, making them more tolerant, open-minded and better prepared to live in our diverse society.
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