When Tracie Ward's sons were small, she used to put up a Christmas tree every December, even though she and her husband were committed to raising a Jewish family.
“I was doing it for them,” she says. “I thought they needed it. And then one day they came to me themselves and said, ‘You know, Mom, maybe we really don't need
Ward was raised in a Christian family but she and her husband Jeff decided early on that they would raise their kids in the Jewish faith. She has since converted to Judaism and is the outreach/interfaith committee chair at Mount Zion temple in St. Paul.
She now hosts discussions and other events for interfaith and mixed-roots couples who are facing decisions about their family and spiritual lives. (“Mixed-roots” refers to couples in which one member converted to the other's faith.)
So many of those decisions come to a head right after Thanksgiving when the tinsel and lights start to appear around town. Whether they have chosen to raise their kids in a Christian, Jewish, or interfaith home, these couples may sometimes be surprised by the depth of the emotions that come up this time of year.
“I think the people who really struggle are the women in the relationships because they are traditionally the keepers of the culture,” Ward says, adding that even people who are secure in their decision to forgo the Christmas hoopla of their childhood, for example, may face a real void.
She adds that the couples who have the hardest time are those who haven't made a decision yet about how to raise their families or who can't talk about it openly.
Barbara Rudnick, who supervises family life education and outreach at Jewish Family and Children's Service in Minneapolis says that the need to keep an open line of communication extends beyond the immediate family. Grandparents on both sides of an interfaith family may also face some difficult feelings around this time of year. Rudnick says they may be asking questions like, “Is how we lived life in our family going to continue in [our grown child's] family?” “As a grandparent, how do I fit into this child's life?” “Did I do something wrong?”
People who have decided to raise their kids in a different faith should give family members time to get used to the decision, she says. After all, “As a couple, you probably took a long time to arrive at it. You can tell a parent, ‘I made this decision because you did things right. You taught me that a spiritual life is important.'”
And what's right for one for one family may not work for another. “It doesn't have to be black and white,” Rudnick says. “When Jewish children spend holidays with non-Jewish members of their families, that doesn't make them not Jewish.”
Rudnick emphasizes that the “December dilemma” needs to be dealt with all year long.
“Yes, it's a big decision, how you celebrate holidays,” she says. “But it's not the biggest challenge for interfaith families. A bigger challenge is what kind of life philosophy you choose to give your children.”
Barbara Rudnick will host a discussion on
solutions for interfaith families on Dec. 11, 10:45a.m.-12:15p.m. at Mount Zion Temple, 1300 Summit Ave., St. Paul. Contact Carol to RSVP at 651-698-3881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.