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The Horse's Mouth: Ask the Adult Children How to Raise Interfaith Kids

Who would know better how to raise happy, psychologically healthy children of intermarriage than the grown offspring of interfaith relationships? I'm the child of a Jewish-Orthodox mother and an Episcopalian white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) father. I now teach adult education classes for interfaith couples. Here are some of the comments that adult children of intermarriage have shared with me about errors that their well-meaning parents made. If you can avoid making these mistakes, you will be much more likely to raise a happy, well-integrated child.

1. Please don't raise us as "nothing" with the idea that we can choose when we grow up. The word "nothing" is devastating to a child, and has really bad effects on an adult's self-esteem. Plus, it guarantees that we won't fit into either the Jewish or Christian communities. If you're not religious, take us to secular Jewish or Christian groups, but don't leave us with no information at all.

2. Please be wary about raising us as a "compromise." Children are very sensitive to the words that you use. Also, a "compromise" such as Unitarian usually means "Christian." Many "compromises" are historical offshoots of Christianity, and it means we will never be part of the Jewish community, but will become part of the mainstream Christian world. And other compromise routes, such as various forms of resurgent Paganism, will create a Jewish-Christian child with a coating of Paganism or Hinduism. Is this what you want?

3. Be careful if you decide to raise us as "both," because many times all we get are superficial smatterings of Judaism and Christianity, but not enough to be comfortable in either culture. And if you do raise us in "both" thoroughly, you need to accept our decision if we pick one faith or culture. Please don't oppose our having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or Christian confirmation if we say we want one. And please don't lobby us to put off choosing for the rest of our lives.

4. Raising us in one culture is the best way to raise us, and we're generally happier that way. But you must keep in mind several conditions if you want to make that route successful: (A) we need to meet the other parent's family and learn some information about their culture so that we're not ashamed of one half of ourselves as adults; and (B) you must realize that, despite your best efforts, we'll always have "two halves." And there's nothing wrong with it--you married someone from an entirely different culture, and we know and love that parent as much as we love you. We may make very good Jews or quite hearty Christians, but our ties to your spouse--not to mention our inheritance of the other family's looks, allergies, and computer addiction--mean that while we'll identify as Jewish or Christian, it will never be in the same way that you do.

5. Be aware that if you have several children, there's a strong chance that at least one of us will switch over to the other parent's culture as an adult, even if you raised us in yours. It doesn't mean we're rejecting you. It just means that we belong in that parent's culture, and we know this at a deep, instinctual level. It doesn't mean that we don't love you or that you did anything wrong. If we do this, please accept it as graciously as you can.

6. Please talk with us about societal problems that affect our interfaith family, and stand up for our family when people attack intermarriage. Talk to us when we're kids about how to stand up for ourselves about interfaith family issues when you're not around. And if we come to you and say that we're getting bad feedback about being children of intermarriage, whether we're five or fifty, we need you to be supportive of us. Having you on our side will help tremendously.

A ceremony created by the Reform movement as a way for young adults to show their decision to embrace Jewish study and reaffirm their commitment to Judaism. Confirmation is typically held at the end of the tenth grade. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah."
Robin Margolis

Robin Margolis is the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, a rabbinical student at Rabbinical Seminary International, and currently lives "between" Washington, DC and New York City. Her views represent the Half-Jewish Network, not www.interfaithfamily.com or her rabbinic program.

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