Raising Kids in an Interfaith Family: Not everyone can pick a salad fork out of the cutlery line up, but most American’s made it through their childhood with a few ground rules of inviolable etiquette in place: say please and thank you; don’t chew with your mouth open; if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all; and, for goodness sake, never ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table!
As a child my mom added in two other life rules regarding love: marry a man that loves you more than himself, and marry a man that shares the same beliefs as yourself. Being who I am, I had to break those rules and claim my individuality. 20 years later I am married to a man I adore…a man who does not share a single political or religious belief that I do.
In the last decade, 45% of all American marriages have been interfaith. While many see this as societal growth, it is still highly taboo. In my case it took years for me to tell my family that my husband was of the Mormon faith. The months that followed me spilling my secret were filled with questions and strong opinions from those that I love dearly about how we could make our marriage work when it came to religion and raising kids.
So much for the never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table! The times they are a changin’…
When it comes to opinionated family and/or friends, patiently stand your ground. The most important thing I learned while being bombarded with my loved one’s fear was that while I do care for and love them, their opinions regarding how I raise my children hold no weight. Your mother-in-law is not the one you committed yourself to; the only ones that should be involved in this decision process are yourself, your partner, and your children.
This does not mean isolate yourself while ignoring all their concerns. In fact, giving your loved ones the cold shoulder as they attempt to express their viewpoints more often than not will back fire on you by making them more persistent than ever. Instead, ease their fears by listening to them, showing them you care, and gently letting them know that they cannot and will not influence any decision that you may make. When you take the time to clearly set your boundaries family members and friends are more prone to respect them.
Decisions…Decisions…How Can You Raise Children in an Interfaith Family?
When it comes to raising children in an interfaith family there are multiple options that are in front of you. Do you raise children in solely one religion? Both? How do you handle holidays? What about questions of faith?
If anything, raising children in a two religion home will always bring about colorful dinner discussions! (While the choice is always yours, below is what I have found has worked for my family and the other interfaith families that I know).
For many interfaith families alternating attendance is one of the easiest ways to maintain balance. This exposure allows children to see first hand why their parents believe what they do and how they practice their faith. At the same time this approach can be very confusing for children. Religion in its very nature is confusing as it did after all evolve to address questions without answers. To make this approach work families need to focus on unity. Encourage questions, learning, and explore how cultures are entwined. Use your shared values to bring your family together.
Faith at Home:
As much as possible try to involve both religions at home. This can be difficult if your religious choices are drastically different. In this case you might do things such as celebrate the holidays or study the history of each religion. To avoid making your children feel like they have to choose between religions or parents embrace the choice that has already been made – the choice to celebrate both. The choice is always there for a parent to choose a label for their children, but in the end all children have the right to grow up and make the decision for themselves. And they will.
By embracing and celebrating your unity as a family, children will feel supported when they reach the stage where they feel the need to make a decision instead of feeling as if they are choosing between parents.
An interfaith community church includes people of various religions who celebrate shared beliefs and learn about areas where they differ. Services such as these may be more comfortable for some families because they provide a service where your religious diversity is accepted.
While interfaith communities are a wonderful option, they are something to look into if you feel it is the best fit for your entire family, not just your child. A very common misconception I come across is that interfaith families must attend interfaith churches because their children may become confused or feel uncomfortable in a Synagogue, Church, or other place of worship. Whether or not a child feels comfortable in a house of worship stems from three factors – feeling welcome, familiarity, and comprehension of the underlying theology. Finding a comfortable religious home is not always easy, even for one religion families. Don’t be afraid to try out your options until you find a house of worship both you and your children are happy in.
Religious diversity is a fact of life. While some may not understand your decision on raising your children in a two faith home, you are giving them a valuable gift. One of the biggest opinions thrown at me is that my kids are being raised in a watered down religion. This is far from true. By taking an approach of raising a child in an interfaith home that child is getting far more instruction than if the parents decided to teach nothing, or only teach one religion. When exploring two (or more) religions those children are exploring history and the causes behind shifts of opinions and beliefs. This alone provides a far greater comprehension while providing an appreciation towards diversity.
I’m not going to tell you that raising children in an interfaith home is an easy path, because it is definitely full of it’s challenges as awarding as they are. But, it isn’t one I would change for anything in the world!
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