Like many interfaith Jewish and Christian couples, my husband and I began discussing the question of our faith years before our children were born. Because we each felt connected to our religions and wanted to share our traditions with each other, we decided to observe both. That choice has always felt right to us, even though there have been times when others did not understand our decision.
Being part of an interfaith family certainly offers challenges. Each couple ultimately comes up with their own vision or approach. Here are some tips to get started exploring what’s right for you:
1. Think about your own religious beliefs and what is important to you.
2. Make some time (not right before Christmas and Hanukkah or Easter and Passover, because those can be high-stress periods) to talk together about what faith means to each of you.
3. Try to listen to one another with an open mind and an open heart.
4. Share and explore together what you cherish the most about your religion.
5. Start to experiment by incorporating and observing the traditions that are comfortable for each of you, in your home or in a house of worship, or both.
6. Keep circling back to talk about what is working and what you might need to adapt or change.
It is also helpful to find a community for support. A few years ago, we happened upon an interfaith community in Kensington. The Interfaith Family Project (IFFP) was founded in 1995 by four mothers. IFFP describes its mission as “seek[ing] to develop our children, ourselves, and our community in an environment that encourages questions and respects different answers. IFFP provides opportunities for education about Christianity and Judaism, holiday celebrations, fellowship, spiritual gatherings, community service and exploration of interfaith identity.”
IFFP’s spiritual director, the Rev. Julia Jarvis, estimates that there are 25,000 interfaith couples in the community.
Susan Katz Miller has been an IFFP member since 1998. Miller is a former Newsweek reporter who blogs at On Being Both and for Huffington Post Religion. Her book, “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family,” will be published by Beacon Press next fall.
Miller was born to interfaith parents but was raised as a Reform Jew. When she discovered IFFP, Miller says she felt “like I had found the community I had been searching for all of my life.”
“The idea of celebrating two religions may seem confusing to those who were raised in monofaith environments,” Miller said. “For children raised in interfaith communities, though, it's completely normal. Being part of an interfaith family is certainly complex, but if the parents raise the child to believe that complexity is an asset, a source of richness, they make it so. ...
“If a family chooses one religion, it can be very difficult for the ‘out-parent,’ and children will sense that. So choosing one religion is not for everyone. And neither is choosing both religions. But it has been a tremendously rewarding pathway for my family.”
Tara Coles, an emergency room physician and entrepreneur, and her husband John Mills, a software architect and project manager, joined IFFP last month with their four children.
“We hope IFFP will help us communicate and teach our children about our faiths and beliefs, about the importance of tradition, community and service, and we hope that it will strengthen us a family. I want both of us to feel that our faiths are valued.”
IFFP’s annual Interfaith Couples Workshop series starts Oct. 28. For information visit the IFFP Web site at iffp.net/programs/couples.html. IFFP meets from 10 a.m. to noon on Sundays at Albert Einstein High School, 11135 Newport Mill Rd,. Kensington, Md.
Jennifer Kogan is a clinical social worker in Northwest Washington who works with parents.