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I am going to admit to something that I would not normally cop to in such a public forum. I watch Private Practice. It is a guilty pleasure. In the show, Cooper (Jewish) is married to Charlotte (Christian). They are pregnant with triplets, and the topic of what religion to raise the kids comes up. It is discussed for 2 minutes (which we all know in tvland is a deep heartfelt discussion) and they decide to expose the kids to both and let them decide.
My television still works. I did throw everything I thing I could reach from my nest of blankets at it though. My husband is so glad I was too tired to knit, so I was not armed with pointy sticks. All I had near me were old magazines and papers, not a good weapon to be found. That will teach me to clean. I was disgusted. Really? We will let the children decided.
My poor family had to listen to me yell at Cooper and Charlotte and tell them that they are massive wimps. Make a decision (there may have been more colorful language here, but this is a family blog). Seriously, you are the adults and you can’t decide so you abdicate the decision to your children? After I calmed down a bit, my kids asked me why I feel so strongly about this. (They were not watching with us, but came down when they heard the ruckus.)
First, one reason they gave for doing both was that the kids would be denied the other parents religion. Ok, I can see that is a very scary prospect. Seriously, I almost didn’t get married because of that. I understand. But, in reality, you can still celebrate and expose your kids to both, without identifying them as both (or really nothing).
My kids very strongly identify as Jews. Yet, they happily go to see my family every year for Christmas. They know it isn’t their holiday, but that does not mean you cannot enjoy it. Just like we invite Christian friends to have latkes and share in a Passover Seder.
But, the real reason it irritated me so much is that by raising the kids as both, you raise them as nothing. You put your child in the position that you found yourself in, having to choose one parent over the other. Imagine how that must feel? Life is hard enough without having to choose which religion you want to practice, while potentially alienating one of your parents. That is why the parents need to choose. Best if you do this before you get married, because really if you can’t agree it will become a deal breaker.
My husband pointed out to me as we wrestled with this decision, that you cannot be a Jewish Christian. They are separate religions. In order to do one of them well, you cannot be the other. I am not advocating one way or the other, but I am saying CHOOSE. When the rabbi told me that he didn’t care what decision we made just that we made one, the reality of this situation was brought home to me.
The statement that people make of “I will let the kids choose,” tells me that they recognize that a choice needs to be made. But, for some probably highly logical reason, the adults in the family did not want to make it. We make thousands of decisions during our kid’s lives that have immeasurable impact on their development. Some right, some wrong, many without so much as a second thought, I would like to encourage everyone to make this choice for their kids. Let them have an identity.
It was ugly at my house as all of this went down. When the child that the couple already had said, “I like being both, double the holidays, double the presents.” I had to turn the television off.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to narrow down the eleventy-seven questions that run through my head this time of year. (Couple that with my work barely coming out of busy season in time for the added holiday stress, and I’m often a real joy to be around this time of year.) I know my household isn’t alone in facing the December Dilemma, and I know we all have unique circumstances in our dilemmas. So, to keep the confusion in my head from just spilling out all over the page here, I’ll try to limit today’s post to just a couple issues.
We live in the Bible belt where, to put it nicely, people just assume you’re Christian. There are no Jewish day schools or daycares near where I live, so Baby goes to “school” at a wonderful daycare near our home. This school uses the A Beka curriculum, which is a Christian-based curriculum. We knew this when we chose the daycare, and we decided it was still the best place for Baby to go while we both work during the day. He’s happy there. His best friend (not coincidentally, the child of one of my best friends) is in his class. The teachers love him, the directors love him, and we’re quite pleased with the care he gets.
The school is warm and caring, and they decorate for all the seasons and holidays. Christmas is no exception. Yes, you read that right. Christmas is no exception. There are no menorahs or other Hanukkah decorations. There are no Kwanzaa decorations. It’s all snowflakes and Santa and stockings and trees. (At least it’s all “secular” Christmas decorations, even though many of you – my husband included – will tell me there’s no such thing as “secular” Christmas decorations. I hope we can agree to disagree on that for just this minute.) It’s festive and fun, and Baby LOVES the snowflakes and blue ball ornaments hanging from the ceiling all down the hall. As the Christian parent in the family, this actually doesn’t bother me…except…Baby is Jewish. Should it bother me? Should I request that the adorable Santa face outside the classroom that has Baby’s name on it be replaced with a Star of David or a menorah? We’ve not been overt about Baby’s religion, nor do we feel we need to be…should we be? Would it make things awkward at school? Should it matter to me if it does?
Bottom line, I know that the quality of care Baby gets at his school is the most important thing, and that he’s happy there. And I know that one day – or even one “season” (in the sense of the Christmas season) – won’t make him any less Jewish, if his Daddy and I do our jobs right as interfaith-parents-raising-a-Jewish-child. But still, these types of questions nag at the back of my mind. I’d love to hear thoughts from others in similar situations out there.