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Keeping the faith: raising kids in a mixed marriage

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It’s one thing for you and your partner to work through religious differences, it’s quite another to decide which faith your children will follow. While such issues are the undoing of some couples, others find a shared path for their families.

“But how will you raise the children?” When they’re building a future together, interfaith couples are unlikely to avoid such questions. Yet, if they’re planning to become parents, it’s a discussion that they inevitably have to confront. Though in many faiths, children follow their father’s religion, in Judaism, if your mother is Jewish, you are too. However, in many interfaith families, the reality isn’t always so clearcut.

Though her husband, Chris, is Christian, Kerri Rogerson, who is Jewish, says she’s grateful that religion never caused any issues in their relationship. They did, however, discuss the topic long before they contemplated marriage, and laid out their plans for raising kids before their wedding eight years ago. “It’s so important to have these discussions early on because they can have a huge impact on family dynamics later on,” she says. “We built mutual respect and understanding from the outset, and pre-emptively addressed potential conflicts.”

When it came to parenting, the couple, who today have two sons, aged five and three, decided to expose their children to both their religions. “In spite of my husband’s Christian background and my Jewish one, we share a focus on teaching our children to be good people rather than adhering rigidly to any particular faith,” says Rogerson. “In our family, we celebrate religious traditional days that apply to Christianity and Judaism, such as Christmas and Easter, as well as Purim and Pesach. Both sides of the family get involved in both sets of traditions, and we all enjoy them. We’ve maintained an atmosphere of acceptance and support of all these celebrations.”

Rogerson says she finds Judaism and Christianity to be quite compatible. “Our kids are still young, but as they get older, we’ll provide them with answers from both sides,” she says. “Even now, we always try to be as honest as possible. We let them watch kids’ movies based on biblical stories, and talk about what they’ve just viewed. We have open dialogue with our kids all the time.”

The Rogersons plan to send their sons to a Jewish school next year as their oldest enters primary school. They know that the boys may be exposed to numerous religious events and rituals, including the possibility of having Barmitzvahs. When the time comes, they feel their children will be old enough to make their own informed decisions about whether or not to mark this milestone, and they plan to support their choices either way.

“Ultimately, navigating a marriage with different religious backgrounds requires open communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to understand each other’s beliefs,” Rogerson says.

Kim van Eeghem, who has been married to her husband, Georg, for 26 years, also emphasises the importance of respecting one another’s beliefs. “Before tying the knot, we had extensive discussions about how we would incorporate our faiths into our home and the upbringing of our children,” she says. “Georg, being a practicing Catholic, understood the importance of my Jewish faith and supported my decision to continue practicing it. It was crucial for us to establish this understanding early on to avoid any potential conflict down the road.”

She says that though he never converted, her husband’s openness and curiosity about her faith touched her heart. “He took the initiative to meet our rabbi, who warmly welcomed him into our Jewish community. The rabbi explained the significance of Jewish practices and traditions to Georg, and he wholeheartedly embraced them. In spite of not formally converting to Judaism, Georg actively participates in our synagogue activities and has become an integral part of our Jewish community.” Van Eeghem feels that coupled with a foundation of love, communication, and respect, seeking guidance from religious leaders or counsellors can be immensely beneficial in navigating any challenges that may arise for interfaith couples.

Together, the Van Eeghems made a conscious decision to raise their children, now in their 20s, within the Jewish faith, honouring Kim’s heritage and beliefs. “Our home primarily observes Jewish holidays and Shabbat, and we’ve instilled Jewish values and traditions in our children from a young age,” she says. “It was essential for us to provide them with a strong foundation in Judaism while also fostering an understanding and respect for their father’s Catholic background. When they reached an age of understanding, we explained to them that their father practices a different religion, but we’ve always emphasised the importance of tolerance and acceptance of diverse beliefs.”

Gilla Mac Gregor and her husband, Clinton, have been married for 24 years and practice Judaism, observing all the associated holidays. “Growing up, I went to shul with my parents,” Mac Gregor says. “Even though we weren’t religious, we celebrated all Jewish holidays and kept Pesach, and even now, I clean my house for Pesach and follow the rules. My husband doesn’t really follow any religion and went to church only a handful of times to attend family weddings. I’m not kosher or religious, but I do my best to keep the Jewish religion as that’s how I was brought up.”

Before they got married, the couple agreed to bring their children up Jewish. This decision caused some problems with Clinton’s parents in the beginning. “They asked that we still do Christmas as a family with them, which we agreed to in order to keep the peace and to give our two daughters [now 18 and 21] the background of both religions,” Mac Gregor says. “However, we wanted to give them a religious background and a sense of belonging in a community.” The girls were named in shul, and both had Batmitzvahs. As they become adults, they have the choice of whether they want to continue practicing the Jewish faith, says their mother.

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  1. Shaun

    May 30, 2024 at 10:22 pm

    To clarify: Christians may absolutely celebrate all Jewish feasts and events , no problem at all , whether it’s Purim, Passover, Bar and Batmitzvahs etc etc . However, we cannot marry outside the faith- see 2 Corinthians 6:14. These 2 statements are not a contradiction at all but clearly demonstrate the close relationship between the 2 faiths. In light of this it is doubtful whether the Christian spouses mentioned in this article are really true Christians or Christians in name only.

  2. Shaun

    May 30, 2024 at 10:51 pm

    At the same time marriages between 2 spouses of different faiths – who are already married – is NOT a ground for divorce. Hopefully these couples will stay together.

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