ANN ARBOR, Michigan - The No. 1 stumbling block interfaith couples have is deciding which religion to raise the children. For many, not being able to reach an accord on this issue is what prevents them from taking the relationship to the next level - to go from “just dating” to engaged - or engaged to married.
After all, this is a huge decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. How on earth do you decide something like this?
First, for most people, it’s not an easy decision at all. Second, there are numerous ways to work it out. The way that my wife, Bonnie,
When we were in the “just dating” stage, we didn’t worry too much about our differing religions. We were just going to the movies - no big deal. We had a live-and-let-live policy toward each other’s faith and culture. But suddenly, weeks turned into months that turned into years, and we became serious about our relationship.
Easy up to a point
If we got married, what would we do about the kids? (“Whoa! Kids? Who said anything about kids?”)
Oh, it was so nice and easy up until that point. We didn’t want to endanger the relationship by starting what we knew would be a long debate, but we also knew that we had to start talking about the options.
We discussed what it would be like if one of us converted. This works for many couples and certainly adds uniformity to family holidays. However, neither of us wanted to change religions, because we were both firmly rooted in our faiths.
As conversion was out, we next considered raising them in both religions. This way, they’d get a taste of Judaism and Christianity. It would certainly be fair to the two of us. After discussing this option for a long time, though, we started wondering if it would be fair to the kids.
While this does work for some families, we had our doubts that it would be right for our situation. We had talked with a few interfaith counselors who said that many kids raised as “both” tended to grow up neither. We knew we didn’t want that.
So, it had to be one or the other: Christianity or Judaism. However, neither one of us was sure we’d be comfortable raising our own offspring in another religion. We both come from fairly religious families and wanted to pass along many of the wonderful memories and traditions from our childhoods.
This is the point in the relationship where we began to stick to our guns and dig in our heels. If there’s one decision that we reached at this juncture, it was that we were committed to making it work. We loved each other too much to give up on it now.
What was holding us back from making the decision? Personally, we had no objections with either religion. We believed in the same God. That’s a good thing (I’d hate to see a Jewish-Ancient Roman interfaith discussion. At least one of us was not polytheistic.).
Then what’s the real issue? Fear. Fear of not feeling connected to your family - whether it’s to your parents or to your future kids, or to both. Many interfaith couples wrestle with anger and disappointment from their extended families. A lot of parents (and future grandparents) feel that they’ve failed - their adult child is giving up his identity and won’t be connected to them anymore. I don’t want to gloss over this issue, but it’s harder to control how others feel.
In the end, we decided to raise our children Jewish. We would make sure that our kids learned about my religion, too. But, they would not be “both.”
How did we know it was the right decision? It’s hard to say, but it just felt right. Everybody has their own reasons, but for us, we knew it would also ease Bonnie’s transition to moving away permanently from her family in Boston. I was born and raised here in Ann Arbor. We see my family all the time. I realized that I’m still connected.
But what about my future kids? Would they think of me as different? That was a leap of faith that I decided to make. I felt there was a good chance that they would be just fine. After all, I would be “Daddy” to them.
Today, I am still Protestant; Bonnie is still Jewish. Our two daughters are enrolled in Hebrew school at our temple. After 14 years of marriage, things are going pretty well. It is possible to be an interfaith couple and have a Jewish home. It’s funny, but feeling connected comes naturally. I’m glad we never gave up.
Jim Keen is author of “Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family,” contributor to “The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: an InterfaithFamily.com Handbook” and columnist for InterfaithFamily.com . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Column reprinted by permission of Detroit Jewish News