Interfaith / raising children

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October 14, 2009 at 2:53 pm #3860

Amanda

So we just had our first child in July and before my husband and I married we had agreed that we would raise the children in both religions (chirstianity and Judaism).  I have been very very supportive of his religion going to synagogue with him and celebrating his holidays.  He has not been the same for me.  This last sunday we decided to go to church together for the first time since we have been married due to other circumstances we have not really gone to church before together.  We went and he was totally unaccepting of my religion.  We have talked about it and decided that it would be to confusing to raise our children in both religions so we decided to just raise them Jewish bc he doesn’t accept my religion at all.  I feel very hurt by this.  My question is how do other couples decided to raise their children Jewish and how does the non-Jewish parent feel about this?  How do I get beyond these feelings. 

October 14, 2009 at 3:43 pm #3861

Debbie B.

What do you mean by your husband not being “accepting” of your religion? For you or for him? What does he say or do? Maybe you are misinterpreting his reaction which is only that your religion doesn’t feel right for *him*?

He may not understand that it is possible for you to practice your religion without it meaning that he or his children cannot still be just as Jewish. Perhaps you can show him some of the many positive examples on this web site of how it is possible for interfaith families to work out. He should appreciate that your willingness to bring up your children as Jews is a big concession, likely to take a lot of time and effort on your part, and that (IMO) it is asking less of him to just accept that you still want to  practice your own religion.

October 14, 2009 at 4:49 pm #3864

Sara

You might find the book “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” helpful – written by a rabbi, a pastor, and a sheikh, about the three Abrahamic faiths – they offer guidelines for interfaith dialogue and how to explore together what unites rather than what divides us. I was very impressed and moved by it.

October 14, 2009 at 5:14 pm #3867

Ruth Abrams

Hi Amanda,

Our whole site is set up to help interfaith families by providing Jewish resources because we really want interfaith families to be able to raise Jewish children. As the editor for the site, I’ll lay a bunch of links on you.

But first–I don’t think this is the way to make the decision. I think you need to seek a couple of sessions with a couples counselor (since I fear a clergyperson can’t really be objective, even though they are often great at counseling.) I understand why your husband might have a stronger negative reaction to your religion than he anticipated, but…I don’t think this is the way to decide things. I just feel uncomfortable about you being strong-armed into a decision about something so important. I don’t think that’s good for your marriage or your kids, and I don’t think it’s going to make your children happy (or Jewish.) Communicating with each other more about your feelings will help.

Anyway, we do have a lot of good stuff to help you should this be the right thing for you. We have a Parenting Resource Page, which as current articles about how to raise Jewish children in an interfaith family, plus links to other helpful sites and a book list. Plus we have links to support groups like the Mother’s Circle[/url] (that link is to the one in Atlanta, but there are more) and events like Tot Shabbat that are local to you. We’re here for you if you need us.

October 14, 2009 at 11:10 pm #3871

Rebecca

Excuse me for being so blunt, but I think your husband is acting like a jerk.  He can’t all of a sudden change the rules after a mutual decision, about the religious education of your children, was made.  You have every right to feel hurt and angry.  You have just as much right to raise your children in your religion and culture as his does. 

Your husband obviously knew you were a practicing Christian when he met and started dating you.  Why does he have a problem with your religion now?  He’s being disrespectful to you and your child’s heritage. 

I agree with Ruth that you both need to go to marriage counseling because this looks like it could lead to more serious problems in the future.  Your husband is in the wrong and he needs a professional to tell him that because it’s obvious that he isn’t listening you.

It’s impossible for a non-Jewish parent, especially a mother, to bring up children in a different faith and culture.  Children know when a parent is being insincere and that will have adverse conquences.  Children in interfaith families need brought up in both religions.  The choice ultimately will be up to them what path they want to follow.  Good luck to you and stay strong.

October 15, 2009 at 12:43 am #3872

Alix

It may be that he heard something in the sermon that offended him.  The statement “There is no way to the Father except through the Son” may be offensive to many people.  East is East and West is West!  I don’t think he is being a jerk.  He is being true to his beliefs.

October 15, 2009 at 3:56 am #3874

Debbie B.

Amanda,

You asked: “how does the non-Jewish parent feel about this?” I think the answer is that when children are successfully brought up as Jews in an interfaith family, the non-Jewish parent does not feel hurt the way you do, but rather the decision about the religious education of the children is mutual. I think Ruth is right that you and your husband should get marriage counseling.

You mention having not gone to church since getting married. But assuming that your child was not born immediately after you were married, it seems like it might have been quite awhile. Did your husband attend church with you before you were married? If not, he may not have realized that he would have such a strong negative reaction, particularly if he didn’t think of himself as particularly religious. Or perhaps his reaction is different because he didn’t really think hard before about what it would be like to raise his child partially as a Christian. Your husband is not necessarily a “jerk”, but he either didn’t think hard enough about this issue before or was not willing to be honest with you and/or himself. However, I’m assuming that lack of “acceptance” is for himself. If he actually does not even want to accept *your* own practice of your Christianity, that is a more serious problem.

I’m a Jew by Choice, and like Ruth and Alix, I can imagine how your husband might have felt very uncomfortable attending church. Sometimes Christians assume that since they have no problem going to a Jewish service that a Jew should not have any problem attending their service. But there are other religious rituals that would make most Christians uncomfortable such as bowing to an idol which is something clearly in violation of the religious rules of Christianity (and in that case, Judaism and Islam too). More generally, it may seem superficially equivalent for people to attend each others religious services, but that is not necessarily true since each person’s reaction depends on his background and religious identity as well as the nature of the particular religious service since some are more universal in message than others.

I do believe that it is better to bring up children in one faith. But it needs to be a *positive* decision based on what is best for the children and what both parents are comfortable with doing. Children pick up on the feelings of their parents towards each other and it is not psychologically healthy for them to sense that a parent does not feel like her/his religion is respected by the other parent regardless of whether that is the religion that they are being brought up in.

October 15, 2009 at 11:48 am #3880

Robin Margolis

Dear Amanda:

What you are going through is actually very typical in some intermarriages. So you and your husband are not alone, and there are answers.

There are many complex issues on why the Jewish spouse in an intermarriage sometimes behaves like this — your husband is not atypical.

I would suggest contacting the Jewish Outreach Institute at:

http://www.joi.org

They have a “Mother’s Circle” listserve of women who are mostly Christians, married to Jews, and raising their kids as Jews. I believe that you would find help, advice and comradeship from these women, along with space to consider how best to deal with yours and your husband’s concerns.

Rebecca is incorrect in saying that a Christian woman cannot raise a Jewish child.  Many women in the “Mother’s Circle” listserve are actually doing this. Some of them have likely had to deal with the same pain and questions that you are experiencing.

As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, the largest organization for adult children of intermarriage, I would urge you to contact these peer mothers as soon as possible, as they can lay out for you the various solutions that can best fit your needs.

Cordially,
Robin Margolis
http://www.half-jewish.net

October 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm #3885

Karen Kushner

Amanda,
First of all, I want to congratulate you on the birth of your first child! Secondly, I want to thank you (and all those partners of Jews), for supporting your husband in his identity as a Jew.  You give a great gift to the Jewish community that is not enough appreciated.
I am really sorry that in spite of the promise you made to each other, he finds that he is uncomfortable in church. As a family therapist who now works exclusively to create a warmer welcome for interfaith couples in the Jewish community, I want you to know that your sad story is fairly common. Why? Because it is really hard to know before you are married and before you are a parent, what you are going to feel like later! Happily, we are all in a loving glow when we find our life partners. What is difficult to realize then is that the “all things are possible because we love each other” glow can wear thin when life starts to happen.
As Ruth mentions, there are books and lots of stories at IFF that can be good discussion starters for you and your husband BUT feelings are liable to run strong and be hard to manage. If you were here in San Francisco, I would recommend that you join a group at the InterfaithConnection where couples share their experience and solutions. It is so much easier when you realize you are not alone and that others feel like you do!! If you write me back directly, I will and I’m sure other readers will suggest places where you can go to find a group or a counselor who can help you.
There is so much that goes into how people feel about their own religion and other religions; good memories of childhood and family celebrations, bad memories of being a minority in a majority culture. What is important for the two of you now, is to create something that works for the both of you, as individuals with religious and identity needs, and works for all three of you as a family. Amanda, be patient and expect that this will evolve. A family is organic and doesn’t stay the same. We grow and change and our needs and attitudes change. This is why making promises in this way, often leads to disappointment. I hope that you can forgive your husband for being different than he promised. Believe me, he may be surprised at himself! And please expect that you will grow and change too and need to have those new needs and changes be accepted in your marriage.
Key to all of this is continuing to talk and talk and talk! Also key, is mutual respect for each other and your needs. How much involvement you need from your husband in your church, how much you decide to give to him in his Judaism, how you will support your child’s Judaism, all this will probably be decided and redecided often. My best advice is to be honest about what you need and feel and to give to your partner as much as you can possible give with the expectation that he will do the same.
Karen Kushner/Jewish Welcome Network
karenk@jewishwelcomenetwork.org

Karen Kushner
Executive Director
415 713 7716
KarenK@jewishwelcomenetwork.org
http://www.jewishwelcomenetwork.org

October 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm #3888

Rebecca

Some of the comments here are disrepectful toward Amanda’s Christian beliefs and excuse her husband’s outlandish behavior.  Amanda wants to teach her children Chrsitian beliefs while letting her husband teach them about Judaism.  That’s was the agreement between Amanda and her husband before they got married.  He’s the one at fault not Amanda.

Alix, How is the husband “being true to his beliefs”?  That doesn’t make any sense.  He knew that Amanda was Christian before they started dating so why would her religion be a problem now?  If he didn’t want Christianity to be any part of his children’s life he should have only dated Jewish women.  When you interdate or intemarry compromise,respecting and acceptng the other person’s beliefs are an essential part of the relationship.  Otherwise don’t have relationships with people outside your faith.

Robin, Amanda doesn’t want to raise her children soley Jewish.  Those organizations that you mention have nothing to do with her. I’m correct when I state that Christian women are not capable of raising Jewish children, just like Jewish women are incapable of raising Christian children.  It’s impossible for a person to raise their children in a faith that they don’t personally believe in, or a culture that they’re unfamiliar with.  Ever person has the right to raise their children in their beliefs, culture and that includes Amanda.

October 16, 2009 at 5:57 am #3892

Debbie B.

Rebecca,

I believe you have projected a lot of your own animosity towards Jewish men who marry Christian women into Amanda’s story. I asked for more details from Amanda because “not accepting” can mean many things, not necessarily the “outlandish” behavior you assume that it means. I don’t think that his finding that his feelings were different from what he expected makes him such a terrible person. Note that Amanda doesn’t specifically say that her husband has a problem with *her* being Christian, although you assume it. That *might* be the case. But whereas you believe I am giving the husband too much the benefit of the doubt, you seem to want to interpret things in the most negative way for the husband.

I do not detect a lot of anger in Amanda’s writing. She says she is “hurt” which is not the same thing. I interpret this as a desire for more understanding on the part of her husband rather than being upset because a strong drive to teach their child Christianity is being denied. They evidently both agreed that it would be better to bring up their child in one religion, although the decision-making and choice of Judaism seems problematic as pointed out by Ruth. 

Rebecca, you clearly know cases in which Jewish husbands have behaved badly to their Christian wives, and I think your anger comes more from those cases than Amanda’s case where we really don’t know a lot of the details.

You seem so unwilling to believe that it is even possible for a Christian woman to bring up Jewish kids that I wonder if you might decide that some families I know were lying rather than believe that they have done exactly that *and are happy with their decisions*. There are also a number of those kinds of stories on this website. Do you think they are made up or the stories are not entirely truthful?

To be sure, I think the above interfaith families have had to think hard and work hard on it and there are certainly families who have had difficulties with that choice. But I also think that people need to understand that “bringing up the kids in both religions” is not necessarily going to be easy either, and there is a danger that it will actually be *neither* religion or very shallow versions of both.

Whether or not it is the best decision for Amanda to try to bring up her children as Jews, I think she should not be told that it is impossible. Difficult? Yes. But it is an option that should be considered.

October 16, 2009 at 7:00 pm #3896

Ruth Nemzoff

Amanda,

In every marriage, it’s important to understand each other’s backgrounds. In fact, we often fall in love as we share our views about our nuclear and extended families. It is also important for each member of the couple to understand the culture of the towns and cities each person grew up in. Equally important is knowing each other’s religious and spiritual contexts.

It is possible in this case that your husband is uncomfortable with Christianity because of past persecution–such as the Inquisition. On the one hand, like all religions, Christianity has been a force for good in the world, and, like all religions, some people have distorted its intentions and caused great harm. Over the centuries, Jews have often been the victims of a distorted view of Christ’s love.

Or, he may just be uncomfortable with the newness of the situation. Or perhaps he feels he is betraying his parents. Essentially, it is crucial to understand the roots of his discomfort. AS you sort out the roots of his discomfort, hopefully you will have an opportunity to share some of your discomforts with Judaism. In this way, you can begin to figure out what each of you needs to understand and support each other in the religious choices you’ve made.

Ruth Nemzoff
Author: Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Relationships with Your Adult Children

October 17, 2009 at 10:32 pm #3898

alix

I get a lot of hostility from Rebecca. I have attended Christian services on occasion and at times have felt very uncomfortable and I mean, uncomfortable.  If I said otherwise, I would be lying.  Does that make me a jerk? No, it makes me realize I must be true to my own religous beliefs, which are Jewish.   I certainly would not get up and take communion at a Catholic church.  I also don’t like hearing that “there is no way to the Father except through the Son.”  This is not what I believe.  I also don’t care for the Good Friday story which used to terrify my rel;atives in Europe.  Try to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes for a change.  You seem very, very angry.

October 19, 2009 at 9:40 pm #3911

Rebecca

I can’t believe how ridicoulous the reaction to my comments have been.  People are projecting their own personal feelings and experiences on my comments.  I have no hostility or anger at anyone.  I am upset at a man who put his wife in a difficult situation by changing the their mutually arrived at decision.  It’s obvious that Amdanda feels that she was pressured to bring up her children as Jewish because her husband totally is unaccepting of her religion, which she clearly writes about.

I never wrote that Amanda’s husband is a bad or terrible person but he is acting disrepectful toward her.  Your the one that seems very angry, Alix.  You obviously had bad experiences at Christian services.  So have I, and I’m not negating Amanda’s husband uncomforatable experience, but he has to be more accepting of her Christianity just like she accepts his Judaism.  No one will force to take communion or pledge alligence or whatever to Jesus.  Amanda just wants for her husband to experience a little of what her religion is.

I have no hostility toward Jewish men who marry Christian women.  It’s a free country and people have the right to marry who they want.  I haven’t’ seen Jewish men behave badly toward their non-Jewish wives.  I have seen bullying and think it’s absolutely ridicoulous to expect a spouse who has another religion to change their beliefs.  No one should change for anyone else!

October 19, 2009 at 11:20 pm #3913

phaco

Just adding my own personal two cents.

I am Jewish my husband is agnostic, raised Catholic.  We had extensive conversations before we got married about raising our children.  We agreed that we wanted to raise the children in one religion, and that religion would be Judaism.  We will likely be adopting a child within the next year.  If my husband suddenly decided that he had changed his mind and wanted to raise Catholic children, I would be very upset.

People sometimes do change their minds about these things, but it is certainly traumatic to have an agreement which was supposed to be settled territory suddenly up in the air.

Counseling may be in order.  Certainly alot of thinking and discussion is in order.

The original poster is to be commended for her flexibility, I do not know what I would do in a similiar situation.

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