In January 2014 my Mixed and Matched column addressed the concerns a Jewish Dad had about his wife’s ‘failure’ to raise the kids Jewish. Many people reacted to the article with some anger at his failure to take responsibility for raising his own children. But some non-Jewish spouses had other thoughts.
One non-Jewish mother had this to say:
I agree that the Dad needs to get more involved but I would not want him to necessarily “lead the way”. I am not Jewish but am raising my children Jewish. I don’t take a back seat to my Jewish family members and would not want them to “lead the way” in my children’s spiritual upbringing. I think instead it is important for the non-Jewish parent (who has agreed to have a Jewish home) to determine how best to embrace Judaism in a way that resonates personally with him/her.
In fact, I chose the Jewish preschool that felt most comfortable to me. I chose our temple. I go to the schools to spin dreidles and host parties for the Jewish holidays. I have one chance to raise my children and their spirituality is important enough to me that I want a central role in guiding my children (rather than deferring that to others). That is why, when I learn of Jewish traditions, I determine which ones are meaningful to me and have the most parallels with my own upbringing. And then I embrace these traditions and weave them into the fabric of the family that my husband and I are building, together.
I would suggest that the husband ask his wife what spiritual traditions were meaningful to her growing up. For instance, did she say a certain prayer? Can she weave elements of this prayer into Shabbat? Make date nights to go to services and let her choose the temple that feels best to her.
As you point out, his wife agreed to raise their children in a religion that is somewhat foreign to her. As much as possible, he should let her take the lead in defining elements of a Jewish life that resonate with her—including choosing a temple and adopting meaningful traditions. I believe this is the surest way for her to embrace Judaism, and therefore their family to embrace Judaism.
Every couple will have their own approach to raising their children. Just be sure that you and your partner are openly discussing both your desires.