I recently heard from a Catholic woman asking for help in navigating her interfaith divorced family. Her ex-husband is Muslim and their two daughters were being raised with both religions until the divorce. Things have reached a very painful state.
I will pause here and ask you to think about this… What do you think is at the heart of this family’s sorrow?
I will tell you the answer. It is the divorce. Dividing a family has a profound impact on everyone, especially the children. Parents can heap a lot of baggage labeled “Religion” onto a divorce, but it’s the divorce that is the real problem.
For that reason my goal in working with couples is to find common ground, throw light on what got you together in the first place and try to work out differences. Parents are responsible for making sacrifices for their children. With religion, often one parent makes the larger sacrifice. That parent deserves many accolades. BUT that parent should also be making a willing sacrifice on behalf of their children, not succumbing to a browbeating.
There are times that can involve a very large sacrifice; the Christian who celebrated Christmas growing up may have decided to give up the holiday. If your partner did something like this you own them words and acts of gratitude. I suggest that you give them an extra gift – a bouquet of flowers, a hand made card, dinner out. And put your gratitude in words. To the non-Jewish parents who are making sacrifices for their families, I want to say, on behalf of the Jewish people, thank you. Thank you for becoming a part of us, for casting your lot with us. We are stronger and better because of you.
So what did I advise this mother? I suggested that she stop fighting from her side. The children will not profit from being the object of a tug-of-war. As the Christian partner she can know that her children will indeed learn about her culture simply by living in America. Additionally, there is tremendous strength in being the gentle parent, the accepting parent. I suggested that she ask the children to teach her what they are learning about Islam and to embrace the shared values. Find ways to act upon common values; I told her, if they talk about charity, go out and do charity together. Find ways to be comfortable with what the children are being raised with. As time goes by and they are not put on the hot seat, they will be able to think, talk, and ask questions about their mother’s background.
Try not to be in a hurry when it comes to this type of situation. You have a lifetime to teach your children but only their childhood years to make them feel strong, supported, and secure.
Is there a different perspective for the Muslim dad? Yes, his is the minority religion, the one his children will not learn about simply by living in the US. Like Jewish parents, this dad has some serious thinking to do about how to portray his faith tradition given that he should support his children’s well being as the first priority. He must find a way to talk with his ex-wife about his concerns and desires for their children. Hopefully, they can come to an agreement. They would profit from some counseling.