Carol S. Targum is a retired social worker with a deep interest in interfaith issues. Carol is co-chair of Interfaith Initiatives at Temple Israel, Boston, a large urban congregation with a diverse population. She is a program facilitator for the Union of Reform Judaism Northeast Region and she has written a pilot program titled "Inside Interfaith Marriage." She serves on the Combined Jewish Philanthropies "Interfaith Task Force," and on the boards of InterfaithFamily.com and Mayyim Hayyim: Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center, for spirituality and learning.
Tips for Telling Your Parents About Your Interfaith Relationship
Your relationship with your partner has become increasingly serious. You now find yourself talking in terms of "we" and envisioning a long future together. But you have not yet communicated the depth of your interfaith relationship to your parents. How you approach this discussion with your parents is an important juncture--for you, your partner and your parents. Initiating the conversation with your parents and responding to their reactions calls for calm, clear communication. Here are some tips to make the conversation smoother.
- Have the conversation in person, without your partner, if at all possible. Although sitting in the same room as your parents, without your partner, may provoke some anxiety, it is the best way to talk about your interfaith relationship. Having a face-to-face discussion allows for eye contact, observation, attention to nuances and the greater possibility for empathy, all of which are important ingredients in good communication. And what could be more significant than talking about the love in your life and the deepening relationship between you?
- Be direct and tell your parents how important this person is in your life. Let your parents know you would like them to get to know your partner better and that you believe over time they will see the same wonderful qualities you do. Ask them to be open to getting to know your partner's many good qualities. Perhaps your partner is smart, funny, kind, thoughtful--or all of these. Religion is only one aspect of a whole person. Share specific examples with your parents of some of the ways your partner has been good to you and for you.
- Know where you and your partner stand on interfaith issues. Even if you do not have all the answers, reassure your parents that as a couple you are ready to face the challenges interfaith issues will play in your future life together. Tell them you are giving careful consideration to the subject and know that some aspects are part of an evolving process. Let them know what you have decided so far, and assure them that you will keep them informed as your plans and decisions crystallize. It is easier for parents if they feel they will be kept "in the loop."
- Anticipate their reactions and listen to their concerns respectfully. You have known your parents all your life, so let that be your guide. Imagine yourself in their place--what might they be thinking and feeling while you are talking? Be prepared to acknowledge their feelings and validate their concerns while continuing to be diplomatic and considerate. If you want them to respect your decision, then you must be prepared to respect their feelings. Thoughtful listening and understanding of their viewpoint does not mean you have to agree with it or follow it. Expressing empathy allows you to leave the door open for continued dialogue.
- Reassure them that you want to continue to be part of the family. Your parents may fear that you will not stay connected to them because you are serious with a person of another faith tradition. Ease their doubts by telling them that being part of an interfaith relationship does not mean you will disconnect yourself from your own family. You will still be part of the family's celebrations and traditions. Let them know that your partner would like to get to know them better also. As a couple you would like to forge a new relationship with your parents and continue being part of their life.
- Acceptance takes time. Acknowledge that this may not be what your parents had dreamed of and that you understand it may take a while for them to adjust to your interfaith relationship. Let them know you are willing to give them the time they need. Patience and consideration can keep the doors of a relationship open.
- Use this as an opportunity to grow. If you handle this conversation with clarity, calm and understanding, you will demonstrate to your parents that you are a thoughtful and caring adult, albeit always "their child." New ways of relating to parents can bring about wonderful changes for both the adult child and their parents. Wouldn't it be wonderful to begin the next phase of your life with a new and improved relationship with your family?
- If this talk does not go as you had hoped--leave the door open. Disappointment in your parents' reactions may be painful for you, but by remaining open to revisiting the conversation both you and your parents have much to gain. Try to remember that your parents' concerns and attitudes actually have their roots in their love for you. Most parents eventually come to understand the importance of their child's interfaith relationship and come to terms with it. Show your love for them by continuing contact despite your frustration and gently persist in keeping communication open.