RAISING CHILDREN OF FAITH
I have received a number of responses from recent posts about the issue of raising children in one faith or the other. There are groups that espouse doing both and whatever your mindset you will be able to find experts that agree with you and present research to support your decision. Some of the objections of the “single religion” school are:
- it’s not fair to the spouse of the other religion,
- it limits the children to exposure to only one faith tradition and thus marginalizes the other parent and extended family, and
- since we are all seekers and will eventually find the path that is right for each of us, it makes more sense to introduce children to a variety of traditions early in life.
However, I still believe children need to be taught about God, about faith, and about tradition in clear, direct conversations that leave no doubt about whom they are and what you believe.
I think perhaps we are asking the wrong questions: Instead of asking whether or not we should have a Christmas tree in a Jewish home, or whether or not we should be celebrating both sets of holidays, or if we should be raising our children exclusively in one religion, we should be asking ourselves if we and our children know who were are and what we believe.
On November 27, 2014, Huffington Post Religion offered an article by David Briggs entitled, “The No. 1 Reason Teens Keeps the Faith as Young Adults.” Briggs stated in part that one major determining factor was the level of engagement of parents while children were growing up. Perhaps this explains some of the success for those who are raised in interfaith homes where both religions are practiced—these parents were actively engaged in conversations regarding matters of faith.
My position is that children need, and deserve, to have a clear understanding of who they are and to be raised with a strong identity. That doesn't mean you ignore the other parent’s religion or culture. You embrace it, you celebrate, you learn about it and you teach your children to respect it, but you don’t teach them to worship it in the same way. In the same manner, you and your spouse ideally will be willing to learn about one another’s faith practices so you can have thoughtful conversations with your families, including any children you might have.
Another recent article that was pointed out to me by a friend was quite disturbing to me. It was written by a woman who had converted when her oldest child was still very young and before her two other children were born. But she felt her identity as a Jew, and that of her children, was always being questioned. She was never quite “Jewish enough” for the people in her congregation. This time of the year one of the reasons was obvious—they had a Christmas tree in their home.
This tree held no religious significance for her, it was simply a cultural symbol, and according to the article, she went to great lengths to make sure her children understood the difference. Her story is on Kveller.com; it was posted in December 2013 under the title “The Interfaith Message is Wrong” by Melissa Cohen. I agree that there is a problem, but I’m not sure it’s the message that is wrong. I wonder if it’s the shaming prevalent in many communities that is the source of the problem.
So many people believe themselves to be experts on how those who were not born into Judaism should express their adopted faith and practice and how to best blend their two traditions. They are so eager to share the wealth of their knowledge they don’t even wait until they are asked for advice. And when their valuable insights are not requested, they often resort to shaming in the form of criticism. Most of the time it’s not meant to be hurtful or antagonistic, it’s really meant to be helpful, but still, it hurts and it alienates.
One of my closest friends has been married to a man for over twenty years who was raised Catholic. They have four boys, all of whom have become Bar Mitzvah and so far the two oldest have been Confirmed. They are decidedly Jewish. They spend Christmas with their Dad’s family and go to church with them Christmas Eve. And, oh yeah, they have a Christmas tree and presents every year in their home—a huge tree. Why? Because it’s part of his tradition and it was important to them that something of his culture be incorporated into their family. They also dye Easter eggs. There is nothing of religious significance in either of these actions; it is purely cultural, but still some chastise her for both. They live in a small town and some people don’t understand, it’s confusing for the community—how can they be Jewish and still have a tree and dye Easter eggs? Some members of their small Jewish community would prefer they be less visible. They think it would be easier for the community but would it be better for the family?
I share all of these examples of interfaith living because there is no right way; there is only the path that works for you. It isn't really about the tree. It’s about the way you live. It’s about the way you express your faith and practice your religion. It’s about your core values and ensuring that they are in sync with one another. It’s about passing on the values and traditions that are most important and enduring to both of you. It’s about making certain that your children understand the basic tenets of the faith traditions you observe and not confusing a tree or colored eggs for something other than what they are—cultural and family traditions.
Interfaith Life Coaching is about embracing family, faith and tradition. This is a great time of the year to begin a thoughtful reflection on your journey. Contact me at www.interfaithlifecoaching.com and let’s begin the conversation.