The Basics of Raising Interfaith Children
by: Michael Kabel
As the world becomes more culturally diverse and traditions and cultures blend, new challenges arise for even the most open-minded families. The prospect of raising children according to two faiths may seem daunting to some; it may also seem a natural expression of a family's togetherness for others.
For interfaith families, whether by first or second marriage ("blended families"), raising children presents not just challenges but ways for parents to celebrate both faiths while avoiding the awkward choice of having to choose one spirituality over the other. For the children, a dual-faith childhood can present some confusion if inexpertly handled by the parents; it can also be a richly rewarding experience if handled well.
A clear and consistent explanation of both faiths is necessary for the child.
Children thrive on stability and structure, and the presence of two faiths in the household is sometimes a cause for confusion and uncertainty. Parents can avoid such emotional difficulties by presenting a clear and organized explanation for both faiths. Parents should also provide the same explanation consistently, so that if the child asks more than once they will be reassured by the same answer.
It's also important to realize the two faiths will eventually be judged and evaluated by the children themselves. Children's' minds love to organize and prioritize, so one faith will likely become the "favorite" while the other becomes "the second." Parents can be patient and realize that the judging is often simply a phase.
To be fair, even moderately devout members of one faith do not observe and practice all the rituals or holy days of one faith. Attempting to celebrate the days of observance for two faiths may seem at least equally unrealistic.
Parents need to consider what days from each faith they wish to share with their children, and which days can be simply recognized. While parents shouldn't feel free to ignore or neglect the obligations of their faith, they may wish to discuss with themselves and even with the child which days are comparatively more important.
Coming of age rituals and sacraments.
Inevitably, the time will come when children cross the threshold of coming of age rituals, such as the Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs. They will also reach the age of receiving important life events within their church, for example the Catholic and Anglican sacraments.
The child's eligibility for such events will depend on the amount of time they've spent within the faith and also to a great extent on the consent of the church offering the ritual or event. Depending on the faith and on the sect, the eligibility may be open or forbidden if the child doesn't agree to accept the faith above all others.
Parents should discuss the matter with their spiritual leader and explain the child's dual heritage. Many denominations have in recent years become much more open-minded and amenable to sharing their congregations with other faiths.
Living the two faiths.
Finally, it's vital that parents raise the child to understand that their dual faith is something to be celebrated and valued, and not as a source of shame. If the child perceives that his status is a blessing, he or she will have a much easier time reconciling the teachings and practices of both faiths.