Monday, February 4, 2013

Raising Children In A Multi-Faith Family

For the past eight years, I have been a moderator and community host for a website called Beliefnet. If you've never heard of it, Beliefnet is one of the largest spirituality websites out there, with articles, forums and other features for pretty much any faith you can think of. In my time there, I've seen quite a few questions from parents asking for advice about how they can raise children in a family where the parents are not of the same faith. Mostly it comes from couples from two different religions, but sometimes one person is religious while the other isn't or they are from differing groups within a religion. The question I see asked most often is, how do we decide which way to raise our kids? Do we have to pick one faith, or can we teach them both? Do we bring up the subject at all? Here are some ideas I've picked up along the way that you may find helpful.

Above all, you and your partner need to have respect for each other's beliefs. This doesn't mean that you have to believe the same things so much as 'agree to disagree'. Also, you need to be on the same page in terms of which approach you will take. Otherwise one might think the other is 'pushing' things on the kids, being too lax, etc, making for a more stressful situation.

If your religions celebrate different holidays, it might be good to expose your children to both celebrations. I once knew a family where the mother was Jewish and the father was Christian. What they did to expose their children to both beliefs was 'switching-off' holidays. One year they would celebrate Hanukkah, the next they would celebrate Christmas, and back again. When it came to the Jewish observance of Passover, they would have the seder but also let the kids hunt Easter eggs when they were little. Granted, eggs have nothing to do with religion, but the parents wanted their children to be able to do what the other kids were doing while at the same time knowing what the different traditions meant.

If you attend different services, take the kids to both kinds. As time goes on, allow them to choose which one (if any) they want to continue going to. If one parent attends services while the other doesn't, the kids could be brought to services for a time and then allowed to choose whether or not to continue. For instance, one friend was a Christian married to a Muslim. They took their kids to both types of services so that they would get a 'taste' of what each faith believes so they could decide which path they wanted to follow when they got older. As it turns out, one child chose Islam while the other chose Christianity. I've known parents who did this and the kids ended up choosing something completely different or, in one case, nothing at all. Whatever the result, the children were more able to make their own decisions as a result of having been exposed to different beliefs. Being exposed to different faiths also resulted in them being more tolerant of different kinds of people. In a world as diverse as ours, this is a very important lesson.

In some cases, you may be able to find a 'middle ground'. Many larger cities have Unitarian Universalist congregations that seek to provide an environment where people of different spiritual paths can come together. For example, one here in Atlanta has Wiccans, Hindus and Christians under the same roof! By focusing on what they have in common, they are able to worship together while still holding their individual beliefs. If you are from different groups within the same religion, maybe you can find another group that suits you both.

Hopefully now you have some ideas as to how to raise your children in a multi-faith family. Of course, you'll have to do what is best for your particular family. However you proceed, I hope I've given you a good starting point.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad that I read this article! I was just having a conversation the other day with my best friend. She is a Christian and her husband practices Islam. They just had a daughter about 10 months ago, and she was wondering about what she should teach her daughter.