Q. My husband and I come from different faiths, and until recently it wasn’t a problem. But now we have a baby, and we each want to pass down certain elements of our faiths. We get in heated discussions. How can we work out our differences?
A. It’s not uncommon for a couple to find their interfaith marriage working until, like you, they have children. Then suddenly, each wants the children raised in their own faith. Some folks even agree early on to educate the children in one faith, only to change their minds later.
You’re not alone in having different religious views than your husband. Interfaith marriages have been on the rise, from about 20 percent in 1950 to around 45 percent in 2014. The intensity of our religious convictions can rise and fall over time depending on circumstances, pressure from family and friends, our personalities and the state of the marriage. Interestingly, even people who go to the same church can have differing views.
So what can you do to keep your interfaith marriage working? I checked with a number of interfaith couples representing a variety of religions. Here are some of their suggestions:
- Remember to love and respect each other and hold the marriage important in your lives. Marriage is a partnership that implies each partner is invested in makingnegotiated decisions, so each partner gets some of what they want.
- Look for similarities in your beliefs, not just differences. Find common ground like saying prayers before meals, similar religious stories and important values.
- Compromise to reduce discomfort and strengthen the family unit. In one family, the grandmother was Jewish and her daughter and son-in-law were of two different Christian faiths. The grandmother was uncomfortable with prayers said by the rest of the family, so the daughter asked her mother to say the prayers.
- There may also be compromises around food. A Muslim spouse may insist on no pork in the house, while a Buddhist may eat no meat. An interfaith marriage may require creativity and respect in finding acceptable meals. Some partners take turns bringing the children to their place of worship. Some may even go periodically to religious services with their spouse. With rare exceptions, one need not belong to a particular religion or hold all its beliefs to go to services as a sign of respect and love for a spouse.
- Learn about the partner’s religious holidays and customs. Some families observe all the holidays and customs of both religions. One of the best mothers I know told me her family celebrates Easter, Passover, Hanukkah and Christmas. They also light Sabbath candles in their home.
- Have a sense of humor, even around religion. The same mother said when their daughter was young, she told a babysitter, “My father is Jewish, and my mother is Christmas.”
Keep in mind that whether the children are encouraged to embrace a single religion or to learn and practice each parent’s religion, the reality is that children may grow up to choose a different religion altogether. Also note that in cases of divorce, the courts have said that each parent can have the children partake of their own religious practices.
Someday, your children will be grown and selecting their own mates, perhaps of faiths different from you and your husband. One of the best things you can do for your children is to model a good marriage by demonstrating negotiation and compromise, rather than arguing and fighting.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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