From my monthly advice column, Mixed and Matched. I receive a note from a well intended wife/mother/daughter-in-law
I am Jewish and my non-Jewish husband and I had a baby six weeks ago. My mother-in-law is Christian and planning to visit us now that we’ve settled in. She called me and begged me to let her take the baby to be baptized. She said that she knows we intend to raise our daughter as a Jew, but it would make her feel at peace if the baby were baptized.
I told her I’d think about it. I thought maybe it was a nice thing to do for my mother-in-law; I don’t believe that she can do anything to render my baby not Jewish. But when I told my husband, he got upset and said this is just the first step and his mother will find a way to make the baby Christian. I feel caught. I want a good relationship with my mother-in-law, but I am worried about my husband’s feelings. What should I do? — Torn
Dear Torn: I commend you for wanting to have a good relationship with your mother-in-law, but I am concerned that she is not thinking the same way you are. Your husband knows her better than you do. If he feels she intends to impose her opinions and beliefs on how your daughter is raised, I would tend to believe him.
I note that your mother-in-law didn’t talk to her son about this. Is that because he is not responsive to her way of thinking? Do they have bad blood about his own upbringing? Additionally, he seems angry at his mother because he anticipates interference in the future.
This is really something that your husband should discuss with his mother. I think it is quite reasonable for him to call his mother and tell her he is aware of her request. Then he should explain to her that he is part of the duo that decided to raise your daughter as a Jew. The two of them need to clarify boundaries. He should explain to her why he is angry about her request and what he expects her role with his daughter to be. He should also tell her that anything she wants to say to you will be for his ears also.
Does your husband know what his mother will be “at peace” about? Does she fear that her grandchild will not go to heaven without baptism? What does his mother think will happen to you? As a Jew, are you going to hell, according to her theology? I realize these may seem like awkward topics, but it is best to know just how desperate she feels. It is important that both you and your husband remain as calm as possible. Remember that she won’t have much access to your daughter, and what you decide will be the law in your own home. When she leaves at the end of her visit, you will go on with your own way of life.
Do some planning with your husband. It sounds like your mother-in-law lives some distance away. I suggest you put her up at a hotel during her visit so that you and your husband have down time to process whatever comes up.
How will you spend her visit? Having a plan helps a great deal. Plan to not spend long hours alone together. Instead, go to a park, meet a friend for tea and introduce your mother-in-law. Enlist a close friend to drop by on days when you might be home alone for an extended period. Try to make the visit enjoyable so that all of you will have positive memories. If you become stressed, pick up the baby and leave. Go to a friend’s house and stay there until your husband comes home from work.
Be aware that your daughter will not remember this visit, so there is no undue influence taking place. Remind your husband of that, too. If he will be made uncomfortable by his mother’s visit, consider how you can ease it for him. He may need a buffer. Ask a sibling or friend who is close to your husband to spend time with all of you. If your mother-in-law will be with you over Shabbat, consider taking her to synagogue with you. She may be pleasantly surprised at how warm and spiritual a Jewish service can be. Your husband will feel supported by your shared spiritual community.