Stop Worrying About Your Future Grandchildren That Aren’t
The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Read the discussion and vote below for what you think is the best response to this particular quandary. You can email your own questions, which will remain anonymous, to: [email protected]
But We Might Not Even Have Kids
I’m an Asian American Christian woman and am currently planning my wedding alongside my partner, an American Jew. It will be interfaith and we have worked hard to create a ceremony that is meaningful to both of us. Our parents seem to feel comfortable with the wedding, but truthfully it is hard to tell because all anyone ever wants to ask us about is how we will raise our kids.
We are 25 and 26. We are both in the beginnings of very demanding careers. We believe we want kids, though are not entirely sure. If we do, we agree that they are not in the cards for at least seven years. Overall, at this point kids are very abstract for us, so no, we don’t think it is necessary to plan out their religious lives. This doesn’t scare us because we believe we have a solid relationship that will allow us to work together and come up with the right solution when the time comes. Seesaw, why isn’t this enough for our parents, if it is enough for us? —Trust Us
Marriage is a Single Mountain, Children Are the Alps
JAMES PONET: I have long felt that a wedding in itself constitutes a revolution in the life of a young couple and in the life of their families. To envision the event, design invitations, attend to details of ceremony, music, food, dancing, seating, consider speeches and speakers, deserves and usually requires the intimate collaboration of the couple with family and friends. Additionally wedding preparation almost always precipitates challenges, exposes fault lines. For there is a quality of finality to a wedding — you can see it and feel it in the smashing of the glass — that awakens deep, often buried emotions. For this reason Jewish tradition construed a wedding as a seven day event that ran parallel to but in the obverse direction of the first phase of mourning, sitting shiva, the seven day marker of loss. A wedding celebrates the creation of a world; a funeral commemorates loss of a world.
I invite you to enter your marriage with a sense that you have just enacted your most important life decision, formalized a commitment that joins disparate realties, intersects biographies and genealogies, alters the meanings of the past, and opens a new horizon. Consider that your parents are simply alerting you to the fact that as demanding as career and marriage are, when it comes to children, you’ve not seen anything yet.
Your parents know that hidden from view behind the mountain of marriage there lurks the hidden Alps of parenthood. Since love does not lead inevitably to marriage nor marriage to children, you are right to savor the first revolution knowing that when it is time you will begin to ponder, envision, plan and attend to the next one. Your parents now peer over the mountain of parenthood; it is right for them to conceive of marriage in terms of its fruits. Their presence at your wedding adumbrates what may be your next ascent.
James Ponet is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale where he also is a visiting lecturer at the Law School. Fortunately he has been married over 40 years to Elana Ponet with whom he has 4 children and 5 grandchildren.
What Will Your Religious Life at Home Look Like Right Now?
JANE LARKIN: Many married couples, interfaith or endogamous, share that upon engagement, or at their wedding, family and guests asked about or hinted at procreation. While questions about children are premature, the underlying issue of religion in the home is not.
My husband and I decided to choose a religious identity of our home before marriage because we wanted to establish a foundation from which to make future faith-related choices. What religious symbols would be in our house? What holidays would we celebrate and how? If we had children, what religion would they be? How would we participate in the traditions of our extended family?
To help understand what was important to each of us religiously, we took a class with a priest and a rabbi. It compared and contrasted Judaism and Christianity, discussed religious choices in an interfaith relationship, and offered suggestions for how to communicate with and incorporate our families into our religious life.
After the class, we chose to have a Jewish home but remain an interfaith couple. We explained to our parents that we’d hang a mezuzah and observe Jewish holidays, but participate in the celebrations of my husband’s Christian family. Our parents’ understood that if we had children, we’d raise them as Jews but teach them about their relatives’ Christian background.
Making a decision about religious identity before marriage enabled us to set expectations with our parents and silence their questions about kids. It also gave us a framework for raising children, helping us avoid some of the emotional stress of parenthood that tests even the solidest relationships.
By selecting a religious identity for your home now, you can reframe the conversation with your parents while addressing their kid-related questions. If you need guidance, talk to a professional who works with interfaith couples. The sooner you make a choice about religion in your home, the easier it will be to make future religious decisions.
Jane Larkin is the author of “From Generation to Generation: A Story of Intermarriage and Jewish Continuity.” She writes about interfaith relationships and Jewish living for Interfaithfamily and other outlets. She is a member of the board of directors of Big Tent Judaism. Follow her on Twitter @JaneLarkin6.
Your Jewish In-Laws Are Asking for a Good Reason
RUTH NEMZOFF: First, Mazel tov on your engagement. May you have many rewarding and loving years ahead. The concerns of those who have asked you about how you will raise your children flow from the worry that the Jewish culture will die. There are only about about 14 million Jews worldwide as opposed to I.3 billion Chinese. No personal affront is intended.
At the moment, questions about child-rearing seem premature, maybe even intrusive. Reality is tarnishing the glow of love. Besides, you have no idea how you will feel when you actually have children, so it may seem meaningless to commit to a plan in advance.
However, good communication does not not resolve the fundamental theological differences between Judaism and Christianity. You and your finance should begin talking and learning and becoming comfortable with each other’s traditions so that when you decide to have children, you will be prepared. After all, the celebration of life cycle events magnifies cultural differences since upon the birth of a baby, you will need to decide how to welcome the child into the world.
Your wedding planning can be a good test of how strongly the two of your feel and how well you can negotiate to attain your goal of honoring both sets of parents and their customs. You may find It will be easier for you to blend your cultures than your religions. No matter what you decide I hope you will give your children the opportunity to be trilingual in English, Chinese and Hebrew, since it will give them access to much knowledge.
Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of “Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children” and “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family” is a resident scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She is on the Board of Interfaithfamily.