Several months ago now, my pastor called a meeting for all parents to discuss spiritual development in children and how to support it. A topic fraught with pitfalls, and probably three quarters of our little gang came away disturbed or offended in some way or another. Everyone was bothered by something different, but what most disturbed me was that all of the things she wanted us to do to incorporate spirituality into our home lives were explicitly Christian. Well, I’m Christian, and Mr. Froggie Pants has been baptized and comes to church with me. But my beloved is not Christian. He’s not going to make the sign of the cross on Mr. FP’s forehead before he leaves every day, as the pastor suggested and as we in fact did in my family growing up. And while I wanted Mr. FP raised Christian, I don’t want him raised thinking that other religions are evil or that his daddy is going to hell for not coming to church with us. So I mentioned this to my pastor (who is really a good woman, if not a parent herself) and asked for some recommended reading. She said that most books are geared towards two specific faiths, and naturally there is no book for our particular combination of faiths. (I’d be happy to be corrected on this if anyone out there knows of anything.) And she gave me this book, which I dutifully read, even though it was designed more for and
If I’m Jewish and You’re Christian, What Are the Kids?: A Parenting Guide for Interfaith Families by Andrea King
King is herself a Christian married to a Jew. She spent ten years researching this book, interviewing families – parents, children, and grandparents – finding out the best approaches towards raising kids in an interfaith family. In the book, she takes the somewhat curious approach of creating two fictional families, the Cohens and the Graysons, who each take one of the two major approaches she found families taking. Though the families are fictional, the situations they are in and the things she quotes them as saying are all actual situations and quotes from her interviews. The Cohens have decided that although the mother is Christian, the children will be raised as Jews. The Graysons are raising their children as both, celebrating major holidays from both religions and providing religious instruction in neither. After some introductory stuff, each chapter profiles each family during a different stage of life – before children, young children, school-age, college, young adult and end of life, with an extra couple of chapters for problems and conclusions.
The conclusion (for those who are curious) is that kids do better raised in one faith. Not that kids turn out badly raised between two faiths, but that they end up feeling like they belong to neither religion rather than both. One of the major benefits of raising kids religious is the rootedness that comes of belonging, which kids raised in both faiths just don’t have. In the Grayson family, while the parents feel that they did their best, their oldest daughter is angry that she never got any answers to her questions about religion growing up. Their son feels that religion doesn’t really matter, but that his grandmothers are having a best-religion contest over him, hoping he’ll choose theirs. Meanwhile, the Cohen kids seem to be doing just fine and are model Jews. But their idea of choosing one religion involved the Christian mother going to synagogue, preparing all the Jewish holiday meals, and sneaking out for Christmas and Easter services with her mother. Even though we’re doing more of this than the other model, I didn’t feel that it was fair to the parent of the other religion to pretend (until the kids were 4) to belong to the chosen religion, and for the kids not to see their other parent’s faith.
So… the book definitely pointed out problems that typically come up at different ages, when you or I might have thought that just making the initial decision on what to do was enough. Even though I didn’t agree with all of her conclusions, part of me thinks that some of that is my wanting this interfaith family thing to be easier than it is. In any case, if you’re in the situation, it’s worth reading.