Raising Kids in an Interfaith HomeBy: Tuvya Zaretsky
Preparing for and rearing children is a difficult feat, but it can prove to be even more challenging in an interfaith household. Each parent may have unique hopes, dreams, and expectations for their children, whether or not they’ve vocalized them to their partner or even to themselves. When these deeply-held cultural expectations surface, you and your partner may be in disagreement. We’ve found that discord over how to raise children is one of the biggest challenges that Jewish-Gentile couples face.
It’s understandably rough terrain to navigate. Some couples avoid the conversation altogether until (or even after) their children are born. Vocalizing your hopes for your future children in an interfaith relationship can seem dangerous — a sure-fire way to evoke problems in a relationship with otherwise little turbulence.
But once children come along, the conversation is inevitable. We’ve found that Jewish-Gentile parents primarily wrestle with two questions. First, “What is our child’s identity?” and second, “Who and how will we teach them to integrate our different heritages and values?”
Interfaith parents face difficult decisions: Should you raise your children in two different religious traditions, choose one faith, or present none at all? How will your decision affect your children’s identity and future? How will your family, friends, or community react? Will you face backlash for your choice?
Vocalizing your hopes for your future children in an interfaith relationship can seem dangerous – a sure-fire way to evoke problems in a relationship with otherwise little turbulence.Many couples turn to family, friends, or elders in their communities for answers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always help clear things up. After all, they too carry their own deeply-held cultural expectations about identity. Family members or close friends may start vocalizing their own desires and create an atmosphere of competition over the identity of the children: “Don’t you want your daughter to be baptized?” “They should be reading from the Quran every day!” “My grandson will have a bar mitzvah, just like I did.”
Some family or friends may tense at the mention of religion altogether and advise against introducing any faith traditions to your children. Even the most well-meaning loved ones can unintentionally alienate a son or daughter-in-law by imposing their own cultural expectations of what is best for children.
Although Jewish and Gentile relationships today are the norm, it hasn’t long been the case. As recently as the 1970s, the Jewish-Gentile intermarriage rate was below 13 percent. This means that most parents today are on a journey through uncharted territory that their parents and grandparents likely never experienced.
Our mission is to help guide you through that territory. We can help you find solutions, possible strategies of religious cultural training, and ethnic identity formation for your family. We’re available to extend our support and expertise to your family as you grapple with the challenge of raising children with dual identities.