When you divorce you relinquish whatever power you had in suggesting lifestyle decisions for each other. However, divorce does not free you from making parental decisions together. Religious practice is just one of the many issues that you will need to negotiate with the father of your children even though you are no longer married. No time like the present to begin.
Let your ex-husband know that you are not trying to cause tension with and for him, but hoping together you can continue to educate your children. Let your former spouse know that you understand that now that you are no longer married, you do not have the right to control his decisions. However, you do have a concern about the children that you would like to discuss with him.
Explain that you are worried he may start celebrating Christian holidays with your mutual children and that this will confuse them. Explain your first choice would be that he does not expose the children to Christian celebrations, but if he feels he must or wants to, that you wonder how he will explain his actions and these holidays to the kids. You would like to be united in giving the same message or at least to know the message the other parent is giving.
Then go on to explain your preferred message, which I assume is “We are Jewish and do not celebrate X holiday. It is a Christian holiday.” Ask him to explain to the youngsters why you don’t celebrate and use these holidays as an opportunity to explain Jewish theology to the children. He may or may not agree to this.
Rest assured, however, most American children have enough knowledge of Christian customs not to be completely thrown by the new practices. At 8 and 11 your children probably understand that different people celebrate different holidays. They already know that attending a celebration of another’s religious practice is not a declaration of or a commitment to adhere to another tradition. Encourage your spouse to use this opportunity to teach your children about Judaism rather than to ignore the topic all together.
Your children will be exposed to many influences both secular and religious throughout their lives which will conflict with your values. The parent’s job is to give a countervailing narrative to help your children evaluate and understand the world around them.
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.