Ideally, questions about different religions, especially in relation to child-rearing practices, are best settled before marriage. However, that assumes a perfect world. Even if a couple started out with the same or similar faiths or none at all, people change. For example, one spouse may not have been actively practicing for years, but now they want to return to their faith roots. Or perhaps the husband or wife has decided they want to join a different denomination entirely. So, what should happen to the kids when spouses follow different faiths or have conflicting beliefs, or only one is actively religious? Does it mean a pitched battle or does it boil down to a simple coin toss?
Neither, we hope. Certainly it’s a challenge, one that may be complicated by the input or influence of others, like clergy or other family members. It’s easy to get into a tug-of-war when it comes to little things in parenting, much less hot-button issues like religion. Many faiths recognize this inherent marital stressor and some encourage their followers not to be what they term unevenly yoked. But people join and leave faiths all the time. Even a couple who started out evenly yoked, so to speak, may find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum one day. So the question is not how to avoid the issue, but how to deal with it if it happens.
In her interfaith parenting blog, Susan Katz Miller gives Ten Reasons to Teach Interfaith Children Both Religions. Among the positive reasons Katz offers is that children have the right to understand and appreciate both cultures and religions represented in their family tree, and that people who are religiously bi-literate (know the stories and rituals of two religions) tend to have a greater understanding of world politics, history, culture and literature. Perhaps the greatest reason of all, Katz points out, is that “As parents, we cannot ultimately control the religious identity of our children anyway. All adults can, and many do, switch religious affiliations in adulthood.”
Here are some options that interfaith parents can consider to resolve the issue:
- Allow children to attend alternating religious events with each parent or other relatives.
- Propose that the entire family rotates going to church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other faith-based events to feel and show family solidarity.
- Agree with your spouse on the age when your children are permitted to choose which faith, if any, they wish to observe.
A final word of caution. If you’re a parent in an interfaith marriage, instead of going to the mat to win the right to teach the kids your faith alone, consider compromising. The risk is greater that an unpleasant memory of bickering parents may drive your kids away from religion completely. Remember that they can always choose their own religion or none at all when adults, so it makes sense to start out their journey of faith on a positive, peaceful path.