Parenting During the Holidays

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Return to the Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families

Family Socks

Adoptive Families & Blended Families

For adoptive interfaith parents, there can be additional factors in play when thinking through the December holidays. Some adoptive parents have an “open adoption,” which means that there’s some degree of contact with birthFamily family members (even if the agreement is that this contact is limited to something like an annual exchange of holiday cards and photos, the adoption is considered “open”). If the child’s birth family heritage is different than one or both parents’, then there’s an opportunity to find creative ways to honor the child’s birth heritage within the framework of whatever celebrations your family has decided to have.

It’s also important to remember that not all adoptions are infant adoptions. Some interfaith parents adopt kids who have been in foster care and already have developed some form of religious or cultural identity prior to being adopted. Or, sometimes a relative dies and an interfaith couple adopts their children. In these cases, there can be many considerations to weigh regarding the children’s previous upbringing, the importance of December holiday symbols as a remembrance of their birth family, or the wishes of deceased parent(s).

And of course, there are many “blended families” in our communities – parents who’ve had kids in previous marriages or partnerships and who have chosen to marry and merge households. Parents of blended families often work together to navigate new family dynamics, including step-parenting, sharing custody with ex-partners, moving to a new home, and changing routines. The challenges that blended families take on in building a new family unit out of what were previously two separate families can also add layers of complexity to religious identity issues.

In many ways, adoptive families and blended families face different sets of challenges. But, what they have in common is the presence of children with complex identities tied to more than one set of parents.

In all of these diverse family configurations, the same core relationship skills are the tools that can help interfaith parents make thoughtful decisions about the December holidays together. In the organized Jewish community we sometimes hear the claim made that raising kids in a home that has parents of different religions is hard on the kids because it’s more complicated than everyone in the family having the same religion, and because kids will feel torn in their loyalties to each parent. What this line of thinking fails to take into account is that most nuclear families are complicated in a variety of ways, and that raising psychologically and spiritually healthy kids is more about thoughtful parenting and communication than it is about avoiding complexity.

Divorced Interfaith Parents Co-Parenting the Winter Holidays

Divorced interfaith parents face the challenge of negotiating many parenting and family issues with their exes. Chances are that if they do a good job overall as divorced co-parents, they’ll do a good job handling the issues around the December holidays. The same basic rules that lead to success for divorced parents apply here:

  • Honest, respectful communication
  • Reasonableness
  • Non-vindictiveness
  • Honoring agreements
  • Seeking mediation or counseling when needed
  • Refraining from denigrating your ex to your kids

Again, complexity isn’t the enemy – life is going to bring all of our kids many situations that are emotionally or interpersonally complex. What’s toxic for kids is witnessing their parents treat each other with disrespect, or fail to communicate honestly, or fail to honor agreements.

In cases of divorce resulting from severe harm of some sort having been inflicted by a parent on their partner or the kids, the boundaries that are needed for safety and healing may dramatically change the picture. For custodialparents whose prime focus is sheltering their children from an abusive ex, working with a trusted counselor to explore interfaith identity questions regarding the kids may be the best way to go. Obviously, safety, dignity and respect are the top priorities under these circumstances.

What if We Make Mistakes as Parents in Handling Hanukkah/Christmas?

Menorah and boy

All parents make mistakes about all sorts of things. When it comes to emotionally loaded issues like religion and the December holidays, you may receive unasked for opinions on your decisions from relatives, friends, co-workers, clergy or even total strangers. It’s helpful to cultivate a bit of a thick skin and to think ahead of time about how you might respond in these situations. What someone else considers a parenting mistake may in reality be parenting wisdom.

However, we all do make mistakes sometimes, and if you really think you made an error in judgment about some aspect of how you handled December holiday issues, then what matters is what we want to model for our kids regarding how we handle our mistakes, right?

The Christmas tree decision, or the choice whether or not to mix Hanukkah and Christmas decorations are not matters of life and death. These holidays are opportunities to model thoughtful, caring family communication, and they are opportunities for trial and error.

The Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF