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.
Opening Up Communication in an Interfaith Relationship
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 was raised Jewish but had never felt very religiously connected. When I married five years ago, I felt it was no problem to commit to raise my children within my partner's Catholic faith. Our two young children have been baptized and we celebrate Christian holidays as a family. Recently, one of my children became seriously ill, causing me to feel a strong need to reconnect with my own Jewish faith. I feel that the best way to connect with Judaism would be through Jewish rituals shared with my children. I am seriously questioning the earlier commitment I made to my partner regarding the religious identity of my children. I am feeling that I made a terrible mistake. Can you help me?
The issue you raise in your letter is on the mind of many interfaith couples as they reflect on choosing one religion for their children. Wondering about the permanency of this huge commitment causes many couples to avoid choosing a clear faith identity for their children. Like you, couples ask themselves, "What if I make a commitment to my partner that I feel, in time, I cannot keep?" "What if my partner makes a commitment to me that isn't a lasting one?" Truly, at the heart of every couple's decision to raise children with one clear religious identity is the concern, "What if I feel differently about my decision in the years to come?"
Your own religious needs, and those of your partner, may change with life events. Often a personal illness or the illness of a child motivates people to seek out a deeper faith connection. The illness or death of a parent or the experience of any life tragedy may cause a change in an adult's religious needs. Keep in mind, these are changes in your adult needs (or, were the case reversed, in your partner's adult needs). Because, even with your child's illness, you are not describing a change in your children's needs, I would encourage you to focus on your personal faith connections first, rather than focusing on changing the religious identity of your children.
As you grapple with the illness of your child, I would encourage you to begin to strengthen your own connections with your Jewish faith--optimally, with the support of your Catholic partner. Strengthening your own faith connection can bring you solace. You may begin to feel that your faith and your needs are no longer being ignored in your interfaith relationship. Perhaps you are the person who had been doing most of the ignoring of your own connections with your religious needs.
How may re-connecting with your Judaism influence your feelings about the decision you made to raise your children in your partner's Catholic faith? As for every major commitment you make in your relationship, it is important to have trust. Trust in yourself that you made a good decision even though you may have moments of regret. Trust in your relationship that it is even okay to discuss your feelings of regret. Trust in your own ability and your partner's willingness to communicate, and to re-communicate, about your feelings and needs.
Let some time pass. As your own needs are more fulfilled, you can better evaluate what a renewed connection to your own faith means for your family. I hope you find Judaism adds meaning to your personal life.
It is also my wish that your child experiences healing so that this difficult personal and family crisis will also ease with the passage of time.