Raising your children with a non-believing spouse has so many challenges—but perhaps one of the biggest challenges is loving your spouse through them! Let me tell you a story to help us understand what the best—and worst—things a spouse can do in this situation.
Sue was a believer when she married Frank––who was not a Christian. Sue convinced herself that after they were wed Frank would come to realize how important her faith was and join her in her walk with Christ.
Sadly, Frank never saw his “need for religion” as he put it. Frank was a decent guy and resented the idea of being called a sinner. So, Sue resigned to the idea of being unequally yoked with an unbeliever. She wasn’t happy about her situation, but she had learned to live with it…until their kids came along.
As the children grew, Sue desperately wanted them to know Christ. Frank didn’t object to her taking their kids to church. In fact, enjoyed having the house to himself for several hours each week. But what Frank did resent was the undermining comments Sue would make in an attempt to guilt him into joining her and the children at church.
The more involved Sue became at church, the more Frank felt judged by her. The digging comments she made under her breath, and in front of the children, made Frank feel disrespected and angry.
In hopes of manipulating Frank to change, Sue felt justified in shaming him in front of their kids. But it only served to alienate Frank.
When Sue looked at other families in church, where the husband was the spiritual leader, she felt jealous. She began wondering if it was time to leave her unbelieving spouse to find a Christian husband.
Hard to Swallow Advice
Sue sought advice from an older woman in the church named Pat, who was also married to an unbeliever. Sue was hoping for a sympathetic ear. Instead, Pat challenged Sue to reconsider the way she treated Frank. Pat said, “Your resentment toward your husband is sinful. And treating him with disrespect in front of your kids will never draw him to Christ. In fact, it will push him farther away. And, you might push your kids toward rebellion as well.”
Sue wanted to be angry with Pat. But as she drove home, the Lord began opening her eyes to how wrong she had been. She was sinning against her husband by resenting him. She was wounding her children by shaming their father in front of them. And she was betraying her spouse by wishing he were someone else.
Sue knew it was time to repent and change the way she treated Frank. After asking God to forgive her, Sue looked for guidance from a godly mentor.
Sue asked Pat to help her reestablish healthy interactions with Frank. She needed to view him in a different light. And, Sue needed instruction to know how to show Frank honor in front of the children––without them thinking she approved of his ungodly lifestyle. Pat was more than happy to share with Sue what she had learned in her own, unequally-yoked, marriage.
Does Sue’s story resonate with you? Are you married to an unbelieving spouse? Are you trying to raise your kids to know Christ when their father is uninterested or even antagonistic? You, my friend, are not alone. And just like Sue, you would do well to seek out godly mentors who can walk you through these difficult waters.
From Sue’s story, let’s consider these 8 ‘do’s & don’ts’ to help you raise your kids with a non-believing spouse.
1. Don’t Be Disrespectful
While it is tempting to dishonor your spouse for rejecting Christ, consider how your disrespect will drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Ephesians 5:33 says, “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Why? Because being respected is a husband’s love language.
When you withhold respect, your husband will feel unloved, which will only hurt your Christian testimony to your husband––and to your kids.
Your children will either rebel against your hypocrisy, which has turned many kids away from Christ. Or they’ll take their queue from you and disrespect their dad too. The Bible commands children should honor their parents. All parents. Whether they are believers or not.
If you inadvertently train your child to dishonor their father, you are actually inciting them to sin.
2. Do Show Honor
Consider ways to show honor to your spouse. Speak highly of him to your kids.
When they ask why Dad doesn’t want to go to church, help them realize that God has not yet helped their father realize his need for a Savior. Explain to your children what a blessing it is that The Lord has opened your eyes (and theirs if they’re saved) to know Christ. And guide your children to humbly pray for God to help their daddy come to know Jesus too.
In front of your husband, make it a point to tell the kids what you admire about their daddy. Celebrate how hard he works to provide for the family. Rejoice when he comes through the door at the end of the day. Laugh out loud when he attempts to be funny.
In so doing, you’ll endear yourself to your husband by showing him honor. And you’ll create a sense of wellbeing and security for your kids.
3. Don’t Betray Him
When you’re with your Christian friends, be careful what you share about your spouse in front of your children. In a small group setting, it’s tempting to sort of dump out as a prayer request all the things you wish God would change in your husband. But this sort of betrayal is not helpful.
It’s alright to ask the group to pray for your husband’s salvation. And it’s acceptable to ask them to pray for God’s wisdom to show you when and how to share your faith with your spouse. But sharing his personal struggles in an open setting is a form of betrayal, and it will embarrass your kids––so don’t do it.
4. Do Speak Highly of Him
You would be wise to hold your husband’s reputation in high honor when you speak of him––especially in front of your kids. That doesn’t mean you cannot privately counsel and encouragement from one or two godly women. But be sure it’s out of earshot of your kids.
Speaking honorably about your children’s father will bless them and encourage them to think well of him too.
5. Don’t Manipulate Him
Seriously, just don’t do it. Spouses do not respond well to manipulation. Most will do the opposite. And if you’re in the habit of manipulating you’ll likely raise manipulative kids, which has the potential to harm their future relationships.
So, if your children have observed your habit of manipulation, you may need to go to them and ask them to forgive you. And then, it is going to take determination and commitment on your part to refrain from this divisive practice. But God will reward your efforts.
6. Do Encourage Him
Rather than looking for ways to manipulate, determine to be a source of encouragement to your spouse by living a joy-filled life of peace. The Bible says that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. And that the unbelieving spouse, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives (see Revelation 12:11, First Peter 3:1).
The testimony of your genuine peace and joy will do far more to shine the light of the gospel to your spouse, and to your kids, than any manipulative words you could ever say.
7. Don’t Worry
If your kids see you filled with worry they will become insecure and anxious also. Worry about tomorrow only robs you of today’s strength. And fretting will train your kids to fret as well.
8. Do Pray
Prayer is a powerful weapon against your spouse’s unbelief. Training your children to pray for their daddy’s salvation will help them focus their attention onto Christ. And as you pray, ask the Lord to search your own heart so that you can repent of any sin that might hinder your prayers.
James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.” So, train your kids how praying with power for their father’s salvation begins with their own repentant heart.
These are only a few do’s and don’ts to help you raise your children with an unbelieving spouse. Finding a godly mentor is important. And humility is the key. Pride is your enemy. Remember, that it is only by God’s grace that He has revealed to you the way of salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith…and that not of yourselves...” (see Ephesians 2:8-9).
In humble gratitude teach your children how to love, honor and respect their father, so their prayers for his salvation are powerful. And that by God’s grace through your loving testimonies He might tender his heart to hear and respond to the gospel of hope.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/LittleBee80
Rhonda Stoppe is the NO REGRETS WOMAN. With more than 30 years experience of helping women build no-regrets lives. I could have listened to Rhonda talk all night, is what women say about Rhonda’s enthusiastic, humorous, transparent teaching, and zeal as an evangelist.
She’s committed to fulfilling the Titus 2:4 commission by mentoring, teaching and writing books that are inspiring, grounded in Scripture and easy to read––like you're visiting with a friend over coffee.
Rhonda is the author of 6 books and appears on numerous radio programs including Focus on the Family, Family Life Today and Dr. James Dobson’s FamilyTalk, & hosts The No Regrets Hour. She’s an evangelist and speaker at women’s events, College Women’s Chapel, Pastor’s Wives Conferences, MOPs and Homeschool Conventions. Sharing the gospel at her NoRegretsWoman Conference is her sweet spot. Rhonda is a regular contributor for Crosswalk and many other magazines.
Rhonda ministers alongside her husband Steve, who for 20 years has pastored First Baptist Church of Patterson, California. They live out their own Real Life Romance writing books and speaking at their No Regrets Marriage Conferences, but their favorite ministry is their family. They have four grown children and 10 grandchildren. To learn more about Rhonda’s speaking topics, watch her teaching and to book Rhonda for your next event visit: NoRegretsWoman.com