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While logic says that two thoughtful adults can learn to negotiate and share a home in which two religions dwell, the tough work comes when a child is added. Often we as adults attribute to our intelligent, inquisitive children the capacity to understand ambiguity. But, being just kids, they are looking for clear, straightforward messages. Is there a God? Yes or no? Are there fairies? Is heaven real? Who am I?
This is not to say that parents don't try their darndest. But there is a Catch-22 to being a religiously engaged interfaith couple. Ironically, the more the two of you care about religion and the more you each want to give your child a part of you, the harder it is on your child. If both religiously engaged parents care deeply about their child's religious identity, the child is often put through the psychological challenge of being expected to embody two religions as an extension of their parents' identities. And you may never know what your child is going through because the more emotionally charged the topic, the less likely they will tell you.
Then there are those parents who say they don't care, that it's up to their children to decide for themselves. But this is so rarely valid. Most human beings have deep needs to mold their children. Look at the emphasis on extracurricular activities for grade schoolers. Does religious identity take a backseat to piano?
Alternatively, parents may want to be fair to their partners, and so don't want to choose one religion for their children. They are making a statement to the world about equality, balance, inclusiveness. But these sweeping cosmic goals don't meet the needs of little kids.
The young people who call me report that they don't discuss these issues with their parents. They may have at one time but then gave up, or they may know better than to open the subject. Having left behind their parents' home and angst, they want to work out their identity on their own.
So what do they say to me? Often they want to find a Jewish connection, learn about that half of themselves. They want to know how they are perceived by the Jewish community. They may want to take a class or go into a synagogue. Most of all they want to be heard.
Let me share a few comments:
So what can you do, you, the parent poised to make all the choices?
That said, my friends, I welcome your call.