Not so many years ago, the idea that two people from different religious backgrounds might marry was shocking to many families. Now, it’s increasingly commonplace. As a result, more and more people are encountering the challenges that raising children in a religiously mixed family can bring. It’s a situation in which relatives are often unhelpful, but the number of people facing it means that you don’t need to feel isolated. Relationship experts have an increasingly clear idea of how you can get it right.
Work out what matters
The first thing to do is to recognise that not everybody incorporates religion into life in the same way. It’s likely that some things are more important to you than others, and this may differ from what’s important to your partner. Think about things such as naming ceremonies, regular visits to your place of worship, prayer carried out at home, celebrating important dates, and formal religious instruction. Look for areas where you can make compromises. Having a clear plan makes it much easier to avoid conflict, but be ready for the plan to change when your children start to articulate their own priorities.
Help children to discover
Taking children along to different places of worship and different religious events is a good way to help them appreciate why these things matter to you and your partner, and identify the core values that exist beyond your differences. It’s important to recognise, however, that children also need space to learn on their own so that they can think about religious issues without feeling obliged to please either of you. Try giving them books such as those in the Bruderhof range, which are designed to introduce important topics in a way that encourages reflection.
Focus on the festive spirit
As far as kids are concerned, when it comes to celebrations, the more the merrier. Most religious celebrations can be approached in a way that isn’t problematic for people with different faiths. For instance, Christmas can be celebrated with a tree and presents, and if one partner also wishes to make religious observances, the other doesn’t have to. Wearing shiny clothes for Diwali shouldn’t compromise most people’s religious principles, and Iftar can be enjoyed by everyone in the household even if only one partner is fasting. Kids will be left with an awareness that these are special times, and they can choose how deeply they want to explore them as they get older.
Make it an opportunity
Having parents with different religions is only a problem for a child if it creates conflict or confusion. When the parents work together, it can be an advantage. Although children like to have clear answers to all life’s questions, it’s important for them to learn that many things remain mysterious, and if they see that adults are comfortable with that, it can help to boost their confidence. It’s also good for them to learn that people see the world in different ways, and that this doesn’t mean that they can’t respect each other.
Even when you and your partner have different faiths, the chances are that you share most of your important moral concerns. This can provide a framework for your children and reassure them that, whatever their choices, they will be loved.