I was the first person in my family to marry outside my religion, and the same went for my husband. Fortunately, our families have been very accepting of our interfaith household, and didn’t pester us with questions about how we’d be raising our children once they were born. However, not everyone is that enlightened. There are things people get wrong about raising interfaith kids and I’m, honestly, always a little surprised by them. Growing up in New York City, I assume everyone is used to a diverse community. I forget that in the rest of the world, or even further down the Atlantic seaboard, some people are quite startled by something as benign as a nice Catholic boy marrying a nice Jewish girl.
My children have never been to church or synagogue for services. All they know from their parents’ respective religions are the family gatherings in celebration of our tradition (which is mostly eating, because duh). In other words, they know that food is always involved when it comes to the holidays: potato latkes for Chanukah (Hanukkah), chocolate bunnies for Easter. I’m not a perfect parent in this way, but at least the kids are learning something. Sort of.
Religion is not a topic I’m totally comfortable talking about, as it’s not a big part of my life. Still, cultural traditions are a part of our lives. Not everyone understands that celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas exposes our kids to more of what to love during the holiday season. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed, since having children, that people get wrong about raising interfaith kids:
That Eventually The Children Will Need To "Pick A Side"
What’s wonderful about raising our kids in an interfaith home is that we are showing them that they don’t ever have to be "just one way." We can have it all, or pick and choose what speaks most to us, as individuals. I don’t want my children to feel they should be boxed into clear-cut categories, whether it comes to gender, or their taste in music, or religion. I want them to feel they can make it all their own.
That It Dilutes Their Understanding Of Their Various Cultures
Knowing about more things doesn’t necessarily mean you have a shallower understanding of those things. I like that my kids are getting firsthand experience with the traditions from both sides of their family. If anything, it sparks more conversation about the differences between my husband and me, and they’re fascinated by the idea that people who don’t come from the same exact backgrounds can find common ground. It makes it easier for us to teach our kids how enriching it is to be exposed to aspects of life that differ from theirs.
That It Causes Family Drama
Actually, it makes things more harmonious. There is no anguish in trying to decide with whom to spend certain holidays; it’s already arranged nicely for us, with no competition on Passover or Christmas.
That It Doesn’t Provide A Clear Set Of Values
For us, family values have nothing to do with a set of religious beliefs. I don’t feel our kids need God in their lives to be kind, respectful, and honest. Those values transcend any faith, in my opinion. At the same time, we have to be careful to show our kids that if other families have strong feelings about God, we are to respect their beliefs.
My first grade son was upset recently because a friend of his “told on him,” because my son didn’t believe in God. It was a hard conversation to have, because I had to convince my kid that his friend really cared about him and wanted him to be OK, because he was apparently being raised to believe that God facilitates that. It was challenging to get my son to understand where this child, and his family, were coming from. I really thought I could avoid the God talk until my children were in double-digits but, well, apparently not.
That It Will Confuse The Children
The kids don’t know what the kids don’t know, right? While a lot of their friends are not from interfaith families, there are plenty who are. My children have never known anything other than having one side of their family celebrate Jewish holidays, and the other side celebrate Christian ones. My husband talks about how he used to go to church and what Christmas was like for him growing up, and I share my lament for never getting a lavish bat mitzvah, but feeling lucky to have gotten out of going to Hebrew school.
That We’re Even Religious
I identify with Judaism from more of a cultural perspective; since I never studied the religion, and we were not an Orthodox family, a lot of what I know about being Jewish I just soaked up by being raised in my New York City Jewish family. While my Catholic husband was forced to go to church on Sundays for most of his childhood, even his parents stopped going once he and his brother were out of the house. Religion, as a belief system, never spoke to either my husband or me. I think that is why we make our interfaith marriage work so well; we happen not to lean on religion as a prescription for how to live our lives. We don’t talk about God much in our house. I happen not to believe in one, and my 6-year-old son is in my camp. But my 9-year-old daughter thinks maybe there is one, and that is OK. She is free to believe that, and I do not tell her she is wrong.
That Chanukah And Christmas Are Two Versions Of One Kind Of Celebration
So many people think this, especially, I’ve noticed, those who really don’t know what Chanukah is about. The consumerism that prevails during the holiday season would make you think that everything twinkly and bright about Christmas applies to Chanukah.
While Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, we don’t have any shrubbery (no Chanukah bush) or a mythical figure (remember Hanukkah Harry?) delivering gifts, like those icons of the Christmas holiday. It’s just that Christmas and Chanukah fall very close together on the calendar every year, so it’s easy to get them lumped together as the same kind of celebration.
That They Expect A Ton Of Presents
Sure, there are eight nights of Chanukah and 12 days of Christmas, but that many gifts would be ridiculous. I love giving my kids presents, but limiting the amount ensures that these gifts will feel special to them. Showering them with toys, to me, teaches them that they don’t have to prioritize what’s important, and also shows them that their parents are willing to break the bank for them, which we are not.
That It Will Make Things Harder For Them When They Become Parents
I guess this is an experiment in progress. We will see how being raised by a Jewish mom and Catholic dad affect our kids later in life. But I see friends of mine who came from interfaith families, and they are forging their own unique path among their blended spiritual beliefs. What I notice them doing is taking the best parts of their respective faiths, and building their own belief system. Having this kind of freedom is a privilege, and what I love about identifying as American. We can choose how to govern our own faiths and, as long as it is not doing anyone harm, we are free to practice them. I’m glad that my children are afforded this choice, and that they do not have to follow a prescribed set of religious rules, just because everyone else in their family does.