March 22, 2012
Every year, the Easter/Passover dilemma surfaces in interfaith families. This year, the first seder for Passover and Easter's Good Friday fall on the same day. Passover and Easter are holidays where the religious element is definitely in the forefront, which can make the tension more difficult. The confusion and conflict of two sharply contrasted and differing religious cultures is a tough balancing act for parents. Passover and Easter often involve deeply held beliefs that can make it far more difficult for parents to reconcile, and for the children to understand.
Today, more than half of all Jews who wed marry non-Jewish spouses. Grandparents are finding that the tradition of passing on their heritage to their grandchildren has become a perplexing exercise in diplomacy.
Problems for the interfaith family may arise when visits are made to each of the grandparents' homes. For example, Sally and Ben Weiss have stopped visiting Sally's parents for Easter. Her mother cannot accept Sally's conversion to Judaism and talks constantly about a baptism for Sally's children. These visits have become too stressful; the young parents have chosen not to visit at holiday time so as to remove the strain and conflict.
For grandparents, one of the biggest challenges is to listen non-judgmentally to interfaith grandchildren as they try to understand and talk about their beliefs.
I advise grandparents whose adult children have intermarried not to meddle in the religious upbringing of their grandchildren. The number one rule of interfaith grandparenting is "follow the parents' wishes." These are your grandchildren, not your children, so play by the rules. Don't be judgmental, and try to accept the parents' choices even when you might not agree. It will make the family a more harmonious one. Talk to the parents in advance about what may or may not be said to their children regarding religion.
It is essential that grandparents from both sides of the family support each other and make an effort to compromise where it is needed. There are many things that may be new and strange to the other family. If possible, share the holiday. Invite the Christian grandparents to your Passover seder and join the fun if you are invited for an Easter egg hunt. In this way the grandchildren will have an opportunity to develop an understanding of both cultures. You can't expect the privilege of sharing your religious heritage without accommodation being made for the other side of the equation.
Here are some suggestions to avoid in-law problems:
- Do talk frankly with the parents about how you would like to transmit heritage to the grandchildren.
- Do indicate your respect for the rituals your children or the other grandparents observe in their homes, even if they are unfamiliar to you.
- Don't take your grandchild to religious service or give books or religious objects to them without parental approval in advance.
Being a part of a Jewish/Christian extended family offers special challenges at holiday time. With patience, families can learn to adjust to the differences. It may not be easy, and it takes effort on the part of all generations, but it is worth it.