Interfaith Marriages

Can parents with different religions raise kids successfully?

I spent last week with some close friends and had a good discussion about whether couples with differing religions can successfully raise a family. Their take was it would be difficult for the children.

As a family counselor, I have seen about every constellation of religions and parents imaginable. Those with the same religion, those with differing religions, agnostics with those of faith and on and on.

Here’s what I have learned from parents who state they believe their children have a good foundation of values and morals: The religion the children are raised in is not as important as the values and morals modeled in the home. As long as the parents respect one another’s beliefs, don’t mock or ridicule them to their children, kids figure things out pretty well.

I’m not saying couples contemplating marriage and children won’t find it easier with someone of their own faith; only that it is not a recipe for automatic success.

Can a family have, say, a Christmas tree and a menorah? I have seen many who have both because one parent is Jewish and the other Christian. Does this make the kids have to choose? Not at all; in fact, it allows children the rich experience of being exposed to a variety of faiths and cultures. I see many interfaith marriages raise incredibly well-adjusted and great kids.

It was my experience growing up that most of my friends thought whatever religion their parents believed in was the only true religion and superior to others. This was limiting for some of my friends who thought if they went to worship, did the rituals, everything would be copacetic. What I learned, years later, was the rituals, buildings and vocabulary didn’t form character. The families did that.

It’s weird to use the term “interfaith marriages” for my friends who have married outside their religion. Sounds like mixing a German shepherd with a poodle. I grew up in an era where marrying someone of a different race, culture or religion was very unusual. Today, I see many of these walls coming down.

Marriage counselors study divorce and, more importantly, what makes marriages persevere. What makes this study so complicated is some cultures rarely divorce, no matter what. It doesn’t mean divorce should be a first choice or an expedient way to solve marital woes, only that staying married doesn’t automatically equal happiness.

A better study would be among those couples that stay married, which are content and believe their partnership is enhancing their lives. It’s subjective, sure, but statistics are often misleading. Those couples that stay married may not have as much to teach us as those who stay together because their marriages are satisfying, enhancing and better than being alone.

I am the first to argue divorce is too often used as an expedient cure-all. This is unfortunate since working with another to resolve differences and find compromise helps us grow as people. Ideally, marriage will help us do this. Often, however, being married does not make couples hunker down and try to find common ground. That trait appears to be more a character issue than a legal one.

Article Courtesy Mitchell Rosen

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