Preserving Culture and Religion During Divorce
The importance of a child’s culture and religion (if they have one) cannot be overlooked as you are considering what it will look like for them to live in two separate households with potentially different perspectives. It’s imperative that parents at least recognize and honour the important elements of a child’s culture, heritage and religion, even if only one parent leads the way in upholding these traditions.
To contradict or speak disparagingly of the other parent’s choices in front of the children regarding these issues serves no positive purpose, but it will create a cognitive incongruence, or irreconcilable tension, in the minds of your children. The long-term psychological harm this can cause far outweighs any perceived benefits, as any adult-child who has grown up in such circumstances can testify.
The best approach is to work out your differences during your Agreement-creating process and where necessary, work with a mental health professional or mutually agreed-upon clergy person to help you.
This can be a very important topic, especially for younger children. If English or French is not your child’s first language, you may need to request some additional resources to help them when they enter school. Falling behind in school because they do not understand the language can cause children a tremendous amount of anxiety and may cause low self-esteem. Some children will even be bullied or left out of activities because of their inability to communicate in the common language at school.
Some families wish to enrol their children in a language school that runs after regular school or on weekends that will help their children to develop skills and acquisition in a language of their heritage. If this is something that your family will do, be sure to write it in your Agreement. It could be considered an extracurricular activity and should be accommodated.
Religious and Culture Decision-Making
How each family celebrates culture is unique for themselves. If one side of the family leans heavily toward incorporating their culture through including the children in regular events such as language school, dance, sport and special community events, it stands to reason that the parent on that side will facilitate these activities.
Nonetheless, having support from both parents is always best, even if one parent is doing the lion’s share to keep their traditions alive with the kids.
As always, try to consult directly with the other parent when deciding how to manage your children’s involvement in their religious and cultural communities and how your family’s religious belief system will be integrated into daily life.
If this is challenging, or each parent has a different religion or only one parent is interested in practising religion, you may need to enlist the help of a neutral third party such as a family mediator or counsellor, who can help you and your ex work amicably and efficiently on figuring out the details of how this will affect your children.
Remember, your kids are the priority here and their needs must come first regardless of how strong your religious convictions are.
Basically, navigating the many options and approaches to keeping heritage alive is going to be a unique journey for each family. Ensure that you honour your responsibilities around this.