Dr. Paula Brody, Ed.D., LICSW, is director of Outreach Programs and Training for the Northeast Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement), where she develops and coordinates a wide range of programs and services to welcome interfaith families into Reform congregations.
Dear Dr. Paula: Can I Take My Jewish Grandchildren to Church with Me This Easter?
InterfaithFamily.com was pleased to offer "Dear Dr. Paula," written by Dr. Paula Brody, the nationally prominent specialist on interfaith family issues. Dr. Brody's monthly advice column responded to email letters submitted by our readers.
Dear Dr. Paula,
I have found InterfaithFamily.com interesting and helpful to me as a Christian grandmother. My daughter, Marie, is married to a Jewish man, Steven, and they are raising my two grandsons, Joseph and Max, ages two and four, in the Jewish religion. I have lots of questions about what to do this Easter weekend as my daughter has asked me to babysit while she and Steve vacation for a few days. While we will be delighted to be with our grandsons, we are somewhat disappointed that their parents will not be with us for the holiday. We also will be going to church and would like to take our grandsons. Do you have any advice for me?
Dear Grandma Nell,
Thanks so much for writing. I am glad that you have found InterfaithFamily.com to be helpful to you and I hope I can offer some sound advice. There are not any definitive right or wrong answers to questions like these but I would suggest some guidelines for grandparents.
The most important issue at hand here is your communication with your daughter and son-in-law. Although you may not want to spoil Marie and Steve's weekend away, it is okay to let them both know that you hope that next year they will make every effort to be with you for your holiday celebration, and that you will be happy to babysit on another weekend other than Easter next spring so that they can have some alone time.
It is generally important to be honest and clear about your feelings. You should also let them both know that you are planning to take the boys to church services with you, since this is what you always do on Easter Sunday. Let them know about any other Easter festivities that you plan to have the grandchildren attend. If they strongly object, then discuss it with them. Marie and Steve should understand that you shouldn't have to change your plans, nor are they apt to want you to hire a babysitter for Joseph and Max.
As a general guideline, when your grandchildren are visiting you it is appropriate to continue all your regular routines, including attending church. In this case, since your grandchildren are still too young for any discussion of deep theology, I would simply remind them that you are Christian, and that Easter is a Christian holiday which they will be helping you to celebrate. If Jewish children have a full exposure to Judaism and Jewish traditions, they will not become confused (or become Christian) by attending church with you. Similarly, if they hunt for Easter eggs, explain that this is a tradition of your spring Easter festival. Remind them that they have special traditions for the Jewish holidays they celebrate, including their spring festival, Passover.
Exposing your grandchildren to what Grandma likes to do lets them learn more about you. Over the weekend, you may also take the boys to other places in your community which are meaningful to you. Interestingly, you might not question bringing them to a sports event where you root for your home team; in that case you might just explain to them that they have a different home team. You might say to them that you root for the White Sox, for example, just as they root for the Yankees. Similarly, if you take them to your favorite restaurant, you explain that this is where you often go to eat, just as they have special restaurants at home.
Well, religion isn't quite that simple, but it doesn't have to be extremely complicated either. At this age and stage, explaining that you go to church and they go to synagogue, and that you are Christian and they are Jewish, could be done in much the same calm, easy way. Should your Joseph or Max want any deeper explanations, I would let Mommy and Daddy do that upon their return from their weekend away.
I hope you have a very Happy Easter. Enjoy introducing your grandchildren to your friends and other people in your community. Have a wonderful weekend with your special boys.