Dear Dawn: I hope you remember me; I wanted to tell you what happened after my fiancé and I met with you several years ago. I am Catholic and he is Jewish. We wanted to figure out how to raise children in an interfaith marriage. Your perspective really helped me. I realized that I did not want to compromise on how I raise my children. Gerry didn’t want to compromise either, and we decided to break up. It wasn’t easy, but I knew that my children needed to be Catholic, not sort of Catholic, but all Catholic.
Within a year I met a guy who is also Catholic and we hit it off really well. Recently we got married and I am extremely happy. We were married in a Catholic church, which Gerry refused to do. I want to thank you because meeting with you really helped me understand what I wanted in life. Gerry and I had a great relationship, but we had large life issues that we could not agree on. Breaking up was one of the best things we ever did since both of us found more happiness with someone else. I thought your other couples should know there is life after an interfaith relationship ends. — Spiritually Fulfilled
Dear Spiritually Fulfilled: I am very glad you wrote to me because you are right, it is very important to know that there is life and love even when a relationship ends. What we did together when we met was to clarify the things that each of you held dear, the values that you wanted to express in a home and the elements of each of your traditions that you simply could not part with.
For you, the elements of Catholicism are deeply meaningful and spiritually rewarding. I’m so happy that you were able to be married in a Catholic church as you so very much desired. Bringing Catholic symbols and practices into your home with your husband will be easy and enriching for both of you. There will be no emotional struggle of trying to overcome a spouse’s resistance to images that they can’t accept. It would have been quite hard for Gerry to accept. You would have known that he was resentful and unhappy, which would have made you feel the same.
I compliment you on doing the hard work of looking past the blush of early love and passion to examine the aspects of daily life that every couple traverses: How will we raise our children? What religious symbols will they see? What beliefs will we teach them? What holidays will we observe? How will we explain our differences? Where will we find a spiritual community?
One thing that made it easier for the two of you is that you each had strong, clear feelings about what you believe and want. You were not wishy-washy, nor did you think that you could cut back on your beliefs a little to create a modified middle ground. Many couples are looking for a way to have it all, to have both. They think that if one tradition is good, surely two is even better. Neither of you wanted to water down your way of life. Had you been OK with that, you would have been faced with the task of inventing a new tradition or religion that incorporates not just two historic faiths, but the personal religious viewpoints that each of you represents.
What is hardest for a child in this situation is that their parents do not themselves “join” this new tradition. Rather, they invent it for their children to observe while they themselves remain with the tradition that suits them. A child growing up in a religion all alone has a tough journey. This is especially true when they are supposed to maintain a precarious balance between their parents’ practices so that their parents are validated in their choices.
Had neither of you cared about religion, it could have been easier to raise children. You could have had no religion in the home, not raised the kids with any religion and simply invited them to enjoy the Hallmark holidays in the society around them. I have seen this work out fine. The child grows up with an identity not as part of a religion, but simply as an American.
One caveat to my readers: This is not a guarantee of success. Some children want a religious tradition and press their parents to give them one as they grow up.