Which Comes First, the Parent or the Child?


Being an interfaith couple becomes most challenging when children arrive. What could be compromised as a couple cannot always be balanced in a child. Parents can feel torn between doing they see as best for their child and doing what they see as best for themselves and their relationship.

Where to begin?

Every time you take a plane flight the airplane staff demonstrates the safety measures. In the event of loss of air, oxygen masks will be released. The safety instructions always state: Place the oxygen mask over your own face before assisting others. The video shows a masked adult placing a second mask on a child. Why? Because if you are incapacitated, you’ll be useless to your child. The same is true for a parent torn by the myriad of issues in a family with two religious traditions. Before you can calmly and thoughtfully give your child a religious path, you must clarify your own. You have to determine what you personally need, and what you need as a couple. From there you can begin to unravel what you want to give your child. What should you do with your child in the meantime? I suggest nothing. Having no religious practice won’t kill them, it won’t even make them immoral. Focus on yourself without constantly tying your own identity back to your child.

Will this render things completely easy and painless? No. You will still have to ask yourself questions like:

My partner has a clear and singular religious identity and so do I. Do we want to give that to our child?

Is one or both of us willing to sacrifice part of our own happiness in order to give our child something that we find so precious that it’s feels impossible to give up?

Do I want my child to have a sense of acceptance and belonging in a religious/ethnic group?

If one or both of you are lukewarm about religion the process will be easier. But if both of you have strong feelings about your respective faiths your children will intuitively know that. You’ll have to make an effort NOT to create a subtle battlefield for your child’s allegiance. No matter what you decide for your child, that child will know that you have different perspectives and it will matter to them. Children like homogeneousness. They crave harmony among those they love. I recently read an amazing essay by a fifteen year old about his memories of trying to bring together his two best friends when he was ten. How much more so does a child want his parents to present a unified front.

Now don’t despair or beat yourself up if you aren’t already there. Life is a series of efforts, many end in failure. Do you know how many attempts it took Edison to invent the light bulb? Hundreds. We’ll get there. It just takes a bit of effort and a lot of tenacity. A great way to start is to take a couples discussion group. Call me if you’d like to think about doing that. 510-845-6420 x11