Planned Interfaith Marriage Raises Questions About Raising Children

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Dear Miriam,

Groom puts wedding ring on bride in ceremony

I am Jewish and marrying a Catholic man, and we are creating a wedding ceremony that focuses on spiritual elements and incorporates aspects of both of our religions. My fiance and I don’t consider ourselves religious, but we plan to expose our children to religion through both sets of their grandparents. How do I talk to my mother about these plans so she understands my kids won’t be raised the same way that I was raised?

Signed,

Interfaith and Intergenerational

Dear Interfaith,

Mazel tov on your upcoming marriage! You’ve already begun the important work of talking about the role of your backgrounds in your wedding ceremony, and as you start to think about the future, I think (and hope!) you realize the need for compromise and conversation doesn’t end there.

It sounds like you and your fiance are on the same page about what you want your wedding ceremony to look like and what aspects of your individual traditions you want to incorporate. But there’s a lot of life after the ceremony. The time post-wedding and pre-kids can be a test run of how you envision your own spiritual, religious and communal lives.

Looking ahead towards your life as a couple, I encourage you to expand the conversation. What does spirituality mean to you? Will you celebrate holidays together following particular traditions? What rituals are important to you? Will you make time for prayer or reflection in your home? Do you want to be part of a spiritual community of like-minded individuals? If, for whatever reason, you end up not having kids, will you feel spiritually fulfilled based on the decisions you’re making about how your backgrounds inform your future?

As for kids specifically, this sounds like a lot of pressure to put on the grandparents. If both sets of grandparents feel responsible for their grandchildren’s religious education, a kind of competition could emerge between them, which won’t be good for anyone. Also, the real potential exists for both sets of grandparents to try to promote values and beliefs to your kids that neither you nor your future husband ascribe to.

I’m not sure what outcome you’d be hoping for, but abdicating responsibility for this aspect of your children’s upbringing doesn’t seem like the best way to create a nuclear family unit based on shared values. Certainly, grandparents can be influential in carrying on family traditions, but the sole responsibility shouldn’t be theirs.

Finally, as for talking to your mom, no one raises their kids exactly the way that they were raised. Rather than break the news to your mom that her grandchildren won’t be Jewish unless she finds a way to pass on those traditions, talk to your mom about how she decided what your religious upbringing would look like. Learn from your past and hers, and combine that with your current reality. Talk with other interfaith families about what has and hasn’t worked for them. Consider signing up for a class with InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, or seeing what other resources they have to offer. Imagine your ideal Jewish/Catholic family and ask yourself what you need to create that rather than waiting for someone else, even your own mom, to do it for you.

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