Raising babies in a two religion household

May 27 | Guest post by Lea Grover
M. & babies.
Early on in my very complicated pregnancy, I had to withdraw from school and take a leave of absence. This involved sitting down with the head of my program, and having a nice long talk over my ultrasound photos. She offered me a piece of advice that was absolutely true and good, "The best gift you can give your kids is a good relationship with their father."

A little background- it might in fact be true that nobody has a stronger, healthier relationship than me and my husband. I don't know if that was the case when we got engaged, but nineteen hours later I was rushing to the hospital to find him after he had a grand mal seizure during a softball game. It turned out that he had a few tumors, one the size of a golf ball, in his brain. The diagnosis was astrocytoma- a glioblastoma similar to the one that killed Ted Kennedy recently. The prognosis was very bad, but we forged ahead. With a lot of positive thinking, a lot of love, and an amazing medical study, he's basically as good as new. This July we'll be celebrating his doubling his life expectancy at the time of prognosis.

This tends to put a lot of things into perspective. Like, whether or not it's important that the dishes always get cleaned, or how much stress it is to be out of work, or how hard raising babies can be. No matter what life throws at us, we can smile at each other and say, "At least it's not brain cancer."

That said, we are fighting three of the leading causes of divorce at the moment. The first, we're both out of work. I'm still freelancing but hell- I'm a full time mom these days. And he's still looking, but his field was hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, and when the going gets tough the tough go to grad school. So he's going to be starting a master's program in the fall.

The second is that we have very different diets. I'm a life-long vegetarian (thanks Mom and Dad!), and he's a meat-and-potatoes Minnesotan. You'd be surprised how important comfort foods are to a feeling of security in your own home, and if my comfort food is saag paneer and his is meatloaf. You can see how we might have a problem.

The last is religion. I'm a Conservative Jew, and he's a Lutheran.

Lea & babies.

This is remarkably rarely an issue of contention, even when deciding how to raise our kids. The biggest religion-related fights we've ever had are about whether or not Christmas is a secular holiday. I maintain that it's absolutely not, which he says that all religious meaning has been removed and it has been completely secularized. We've pretty much agreed to disagree, although it's still a sore spot, but the girls are going to be celebrating it regardless.

On our recent trip to visit his family, his grandfather (a pastor) baptized the babies. If they'd been boys they'd have had a bris, but I don't really buy into the "naming ceremony" Jews have for welcoming babies into the world. It's a pretty recent invention, and I just don't get it.

My husband (M) and I are concerned that by baptizing we may give the wrong impression to our families. We don't want anyone thinking that this is some sort of final choice on the girls' upbringings. It's just one element of half of their religious education. As for the bulk of their religious education, we've decided to send the girls to Hebrew school and not Sunday school. It's my hope that they will want to become Bat Mitzvah, but it's going to be up to them what religious choices they want to make in their lives. Living in America and attending public school, they'll learn all about Christianity no matter what. Their Jewish education won't come so easy. No need to push them to spend their entire weekend in parochial classrooms, Hebrew school and an American education should do it.

That said, the baptism was remarkable difficult for me. Not because of watching the babies get Jesus-ed, that was fine, it was more the sudden feeling of being outnumbered by my Christian family members and their desire for my children to grow up and follow their religion. It's made me think a lot about how M will feel when at the end of the month we're in New York for my cousin's Bar Mitzvah. Surrounded by my family, will he feel just as second guessed and pressured, despite not a word being uttered? Probably. And then we'll look at each other, and that silent mantra will fly through both of our heads again. "At least it's not brain cancer."

So I've done it. I've outed myself as a Jew with baptized children. But that doesn't stop me from singing them Hebrew lullabies, it doesn't stop me from putting them in a four questions onesie, and it doesn't hurt any of us. At the hardest, it just teaches both of us to ask better questions, to respect each other's beliefs, and to remember that our children are people. They will make their own choices someday.

  1. Oh I loved this… my husband is devout Catholic, and although I was raised Catholic, I fall squarely in the agnostic category. I felt a little weird about our son's baptism, too, even though I was so familiar with it, because I was outnumbered by people who have immense faith in a particular stream of Christianity. The best religious education a kid can get, no matter what religion, is the encouragement to seek out what spirituality means to them and to ask questions. I bet the mix of religions in your household will be a cornerstone of your kids' understanding of the world someday.

  2. I bet that your wee ones will find both of their family's religious traditions to be a source of information and comfort in their lives :-)

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  3. I totally know how it feels being in a multi religious family. My husband is catholic and I am wiccan. We have never had any major differences with this subject in our relationship until our families get involved, then it's a different story. I am happy to hear there are other families dealing with the same issues of which religion to raise your kids with. My husband and I decided to raise our son Xavier with the values of a bit of both and when he is older he will find his own religious path and be happy with whatever decision he makes.

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  4. Have you ever considered raising them with out religion? Waiting until they are old enough to understand religion before you teach them? I know its a difficult concept and not for everyone, but you may consider it.

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    • Lily, the challenge that I have with that is that sometimes children raised without religion have trouble accepting even the concept of a deity or the conventions of religion on their own. I feel like there are certain cultural conventions that come along with religion that are hard to duplicate without it — but being in a catholic/jewish household, I struggle with what to do with out theoretical children pretty often.

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      • I can second this. I was raised by atheist parents, and while I feel very uncomfortable identifying as an Atheist, and I want to believe in something, I really just can't "believe".

        • i can very much identify with this. i was raised with an atheist mother and a father who changed religions every other week and seems to have formed his own spirituality out of it. i do sometimes find it hard to "believe" but at the same time my beliefs were a choice i made for myself. i did my own spiritual searching when i was ready and have formed my own beliefs based on what makes sense to me. in some ways i wish my parents would have explained any religion to me, or indeed even broached the subject of divinity or spirituality at all. in other ways i'm rather glad that it was left blank for me to do what i wanted with. i do call myself a priestess today and if you talk to most spiritual leaders they will often admit they have questioned their faith at times. if you've never questioned it, how do you know it's the right path for you? uncertainty isn't always a bad thing.

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    • It would have been impossible. After all, religion is enough of a part of both our lives and our families' lives that we would have been hypocrites not to acknowledge and explain it. Kids want to do what they see their parents doing, so I fully expect that when I light sabbath candles my girls are waiting for their chance to do the same. I don't believe that I have the ability to follow my own beliefs and still raise them without sharing them. I know my husband feels the same way about Christmas.

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  5. You (and your babies) look absolutely beautiful in that picture.

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  6. Very interesting to read how you and your husband are approaching the interfaith family. I'm a recovering Southern Baptist and my husband is a Jew from a family with Orthodox tendencies. When we got engaged his parents main concern was for our yet to be born children – that they would be confused.

    We personally think that a little confusion is not a bad thing as long as the kids are given the tools to think and question and decide.

    Funnily enough, my Southern Baptist family has never put any pressure on us regarding religion. Maybe it's because of the inherent nature of the religion – that everyone must at some point make an active choice to believe. We'll see what happens when kids actually enter the picture…

  7. I really loved reading this. My husband was raised Catholic, and while I wouldn't call him "devout", he still identifies as a Catholic and wants to raise our kids that way. I on the other hand, was raised atheist, and am now more agnostic and like to learn from many different religions, particularly the eastern ones, being an aspiring yoga teacher. We have surprisingly similar values on most things, and would like to find a way to incorporate each of our beliefs into how we raise our kids. Many religions aren't as contradictory as you would think. We have both found that many different faiths all have similar core values. I can relate to feeling out numbered though, my husband has 7 kids in his family, one of his sisters is a nun, and one of his brothers is in the seminary to become a priest. Somehow, we all manage to get along great despite our differences though :)

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  8. Thanks for sharing, this was a very thought-provoking piece. Glad you are both healthy and can maintain that all-important perspective. On another note, your post made me think about the slam poem "Hebrew Mamita" – check it out on Youtube if you're interested…

    • Thanks Sabrina for mentioning Hebrew Mamita – I never heard that before, and just watched it. Brought tears to my eyes, so I shared it on my FB page.

  9. My husband is Catholic, and I'm Pagan. There has been some stickiness but more so from other relatives. We decided to raise the kids in a Unitarian Universalist church in addition to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (hubby's only regular visit). Both sides are covered, and we're learning about everything in between, too.

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  10. Darned right saag paneer is a comfort food! <3

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  11. Very inspiring post and congratulations to both of you on your beautiful babies.

    I think its wonderful that you both totally respect the others beleifs and will let your children make their own decisions.

    Oh and P.S Chrismukkah is very in nowadays! :)

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  12. As someone who works with young adults who were raised in interfaith homes (Christian–nominally Protestant, Lutheran, Presbyterian–and Jewish) and who are most of them in interfaith relationships themselves, I say from my experience that it is best to pick one religion and raise your children in that. It means the tough decision for one parent to raise children in a completely foreign religion, and that is not to be taken lightly.

    For the religion they are not raised in, I think the approach I enjoy the best is: when you go to someone else's birthday party, you celebrate their special day with them. But is it *your* birthday party? No. You have your own birthday, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy, celebrate, and respect someone elses'!

  13. It's not really about religion, but relationships. A sincere, truthful and life enhancing relationship. It can be with your Maker or Creator and of course, your loved ones.

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