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What Is a Parent to Do?

June 27, 2006

Like all parents I struggled to find balance as I raised my children. I did not want to be too lenient or too strict, and I thought hard about which issues were worth fighting for. As my children grew, I noticed that the importance of the questions we struggled with only increased. My family lived a clearly identified Jewish life; and as an outgrowth of that I wanted my children to choose Jewish partners. When my children were older, I found myself saying things like, "Jews are a small minority and our continuity is important." or "Marriage is full of decisions and compromises; it is easier if you are both from the same cultural and religious background." I tried to send a clear message regarding my values and desires, but I also wanted to bring up independent thinkers who judged people on their merits.

I had always enjoyed a close relationship with my son Elliot, and when he went off to college I felt a void. I missed our easy talks and his frequent and generous hugs. He chose a college close to home, but we agreed that he would not come home with dirty laundry and I would not come to campus unannounced. We sealed the agreement with a smile, knowing it would allow both of us to grow. He and I found a new balance in our relationship; our parent-child dialogue receded and transitioned into a more adult connection.

When Elliot one day told me he was dating a non-Jewish girl, I decided to remain silent. I hoped that by ignoring this relationship, it would go away and I would not have to confront him about it. I loved watching him mature during those college years, and I treasured our conversations from his new vantage point. Why bring up a hot topic and address an issue with no easy resolution?

Then, during a phone conversation he asked if he and Barbara could meet us for dinner. I agreed, but decided not to encourage the relationship by choosing a wonderful restaurant or having a leisurely dinner. After all, I still wanted him to meet and fall in love with my dream: a nice Jewish girl from a nice Jewish family.

When my son and his girlfriend walked into the restaurant, I greeted her warmly, and we started to chat. She was lovely--confident, intelligent, easygoing, and an absolute pleasure to be with. I was charmed by this young woman and the dinner flew by. On our way home I told my husband how much I had enjoyed her, but added that I was not going to encourage anything because she was not Jewish. They were a long way from anything serious, so I was just going to wait for the relationship to pass. My son and I continued to have wonderful conversations, but they did not include the increasingly important relationship with his girlfriend. At the beginning of his senior year, though, he broke up with her. I was secretly relieved.

He soon meet another girl, this one Jewish, but they were not a particularly good match. My son talked to me frequently as he tried to understand his new girlfriend and sort out his feelings. When he graduated from college and took a job in another city, their long-distance relationship continued to be stormy. Finally, she broke up with him. No mother wants to see her child suffer the pain of love, but we talked about what was wrong with this relationship and what he wanted in future relationships with women. I felt privileged to be having these conversations with my son. As the months passed, his heart mended.

One night the phone rang, and it was my son. He sounded sober and serious. "I started seeing Barbara again. She moved here recently and we ran into each other. I know how you feel about the interfaith issue, but I don't want my relationship with Barbara to be a secret." This delightful young woman was back in my son's life, and therefore mine. She made my son happy. She possessed every quality I valued, except she wasn't Jewish. I knew I was at a pivotal moment. So, I told my son he was right. I wished Barbara were Jewish, but my relationship with him was more important than that dream. I told him how much I liked Barbara as a person and asked him to be patient as I adjusted to the idea of him being with a non-Jewish woman.

Five years have passed. My husband and I live in the same city as my son and daughter-in-law, Barbara. I love watching their marriage grow and flourish and am so happy to be part of their lives. And I tell my daughter-in-law often--I love her just the way she is!

Carol S. Targum

Carol S. Targum is a retired social worker with a deep interest in interfaith issues. Carol has served as co-chair of Interfaith Initiatives at Temple Israel, Boston, a large urban congregation with a diverse population, as a program facilitator for Reform Jewish Outreach Boston, on the Combined Jewish Philanthropies "Interfaith Task Force," and on the boards of InterfaithFamily and Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center.

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