Chana-Esther Dayan lives in Ottawa, Canada, with her husband of five years. She is learning to integrate her Jewish faith in her daily living in a mixed marriage. Since there are no real rules, Hannah and her husband are learning as they go.
We Want to Get WHAT?
May 7, 2009
When my husband and I got together we agreed that kids weren't a priority. We wanted to live our lives together, have fun, travel and be outside. Maybe it is selfish-sounding, but we just didn't think we were parental unit types. That was one of the reasons we got along so well. We wanted the same things out of life. And we have been living life just as we had planned (with a few bumps, but that's OK). We bought a beautiful house in the countryside. We haven't traveled extensively (travel costs money!) but we have shared a few adventures, sometimes by car and sometimes by plane. Usually, it was spur of the moment. One of us would have an idea, we would look into it and within a few weeks our bags were packed and off we went.
We were the envy of our friends. We could take off whenever we wanted. We don't even have a pet to worry about. We would visit our friends and play with their kids. We would joke about how the best part of not being a parent is that we get to give the kids back to their parents.
It was all going so smoothly when it happened. I didn't know that holding my friend's 4-month-old in my arms would prompt a feeling of maternal instinct. The baby relaxed in my arms and it felt ... nice. Uh oh. Suddenly all the fun we've been having seemed a little empty. I started to wonder when we were 70 or 80 and we looked back at our memories, how we would feel. Uh oh.
All of a sudden, the "I'm so certain about our decision" not to have kids was, well, not so certain. I'm not too old--I'm 37--but I'm not exactly in my prime fertile years either. If I had doubts, I needed to talk to my husband about them. And soon.
I talked to my friends. The ones that envied us (or said they did). The diapers, the sleepless nights, the fears ... were they all worth it? It was unanimous. Yes, it was worth it. Their lives were full and full of life.
I was so nervous about talking to my husband, because he seemed so certain about not having kids. Some of our friends got divorced because one partner changed their minds. So a deep breath and ... he didn't say no. He had to think about it, but it wasn't a no. And as it turns out, it's a yes. A scared, holy cow, what are we doing, yes.
So here we are trying to get pregnant and of course there comes the next question: what about religion? I had thought, as did he, we would do the hybrid, combination thing. A little Christianity and a little Judaism. It seemed only fair.
I wanted to know how best to approach this, so I started to surf the web. (One of the places I found was interfaithfamily.com!) I also bought Andrea King's book If I'm Jewish and You're Christian, What Are the Kids?, and read it. The book describes two families: one that raises their children Jewish and one that does the hybrid religion thing. The bottom line: the hybrid thing is good in theory, but in practice, it isn't very straightforward. There is a huge risk of creating confusion for the child.
My husband and I talked about it. It seemed clear to him. Judaism is very important to me, and he isn't religious. He said if raising the child Jewish is the best option then so be it. We will have to work through some issues as my husband isn't practicing any of the Jewish customs like Shabbat. We know we don't have all the answers right now.
The other thing the book is very clear on is communication. This of course is the key to any good marriage. Avoiding the issue or conflict is definitely not the way to go when it comes to marriage, and very especially with interfaith issues. My husband and I discuss every new Jewish tradition I start to include in our home. My husband, bless him, does have his limits, he just doesn't usually express them until he is way past them. This already established dialogue means that when (hopefully) the time comes we can discuss the traditions the three of us need to do as a family, and the ones that he might have to do on his own.
Just as I worry about my husband's comfort, I also worry about our (G-d willing) child. There are of course all the basic things to worry about with a child in this big scary world. I also worry about how the world will perceive our child. When we send him or her to Jewish school, will he or she be seen as a second-class Jew? Will a brit milah be a controversial issue because his father isn't Jewish? Will he or she love the Jewish faith as much as I do?
I don't have those answers and the fact is when it comes to interfaith parenting, there is no guidebook. There are no rules and we will have to improvise and figure things out as we go. Synagogues and rabbis around the world are now learning to deal with the interfaith issue, some being a bit more open-minded than others. (My own two cents: for the continuation of the Jewish faith it is probably in their best interest to be as supportive as possible, but that's just my opinion.)
I do know that we are excited to become parents. We will raise our child to the best of our abilities and with Hashem's help things will work themselves out. They always do.