Interfaith Parenting in the Early Years

If you and your partner come from different faith backgrounds, you may be wondering how you’re going to raise your baby when it comes to religion. Will you incorporate both faiths into family traditions, or will you favor one over the other? How will you tackle some of the more difficult religious differences that may arise? And what should you be discussing with your partner while your kid is still young?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:02
If you and your partner come from different faith backgrounds, you may be wondering how you're going to raise your brand new baby when it comes to religion? Will you incorporate both baits into family traditions? Or would you favor one over the other? How will you tackle some of the more difficult religious differences that may arise? And what should you be discussing with your partner while your kids are still young? Today I'm talking with an expert on interfaith parenting in a group of parents who are navigating this themselves. This is newbies

Speaker 2 0:34
he's gorgeous. It's a girl surprise the whole family's here so

Unknown Speaker 0:40
when you having the next one, it's just poop ready for another? Wow,

Speaker 2 0:45
you look really tired, but it's back to work. Yellow poop. Seriously, did you sterilize this sex now? You got to be joking. You should sleep when the baby sleeps. He doesn't look anything like you. I

Natalie Gross 0:56
thought you already had your baby. I did. Babies don't come with instructions. So there's newbies helping new moms and new babies through the first year. Welcome to newbies newbies is your online on the go support group guiding new moms through their baby's first year. I'm Natalie gross. I have a four year old boy and a baby girl. And we've got a great show today talking about interfaith parenting. And before we get started, I wanted to say that I would love for all of you listening to come join the fun over at our new membership club called Mighty moms. That's where we let you all know about upcoming recordings and other new mommy media events. You can also connect with other moms and your same stage of parenting and continue the discussion of topics that we cover here on the show. And did I mention it is totally free to join. So simply go to our website, new mommy and click become a mighty mom to sign up. We also have a weekly newsletter that you can sign up for on our website. And of course, your best way to stay updated with our content is to hit that subscribe button in your podcast app of choice. We have a great group of parents moms and dads joining us today. So welcome to the show everyone. To get started. Please introduce yourself. Tell us about you, your kids and your families, the backgrounds that have brought you to this discussion on interfaith parenting today. So let's start with our married couple Greg and Alisa Why don't you guys go ahead and start. Hi,

Ilissa Seroka 2:13
I'm Alyssa Soroka.

Greg Seroka 2:15
I'm Greg Seroka.

Ilissa Seroka 2:17
And we've been together for 15 years and married for 10. We have two daughters. The oldest is four and the youngest is almost one.

Greg Seroka 2:26
I was raised devout Catholic and my wife and Reformed Judaism, it was really important to us to figure out what interfaith life and family would look like before we got married.

Ilissa Seroka 2:36
Yeah, so we definitely did our homework. And we had a lot of hard conversations and definitely moments of uncertainty. But we loved each other. And so we were committed to making it work.

Greg Seroka 2:47
So we lead a dual faith life or raising our kids with both religions. We even have a small business where we sell interfaith items to support other families. Thanks.

Ben Schwartz 2:57
Hi, I'm done for I was raised to conservative Jew. My wife Katie Kennedy was raised in Catholicism. And we have a son who's about 20 months old. And we've chosen to raise him with both faith.

Ben Kastan 3:12
Hi, I'm Ben Kastan. And my wife Amanda and I have been married for about five years now we have a two year old daughter, and like some of the other families on on the show today, we come from different faith backgrounds. I was raised conservative Jewish, my wife grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, and so very different backgrounds. And so before we even got engaged, we knew that religion was going to be a major part of our lives. And we'd have to have some of the typical conversations that elicit mentioned, we found the interfaith families project of Greater Washington, which had a young couples course which we took before we decided to get engaged, in part trying to figure out if we can make it work. And we've been raising our daughter and sort of with both faiths, faith traditions. Since then,

Jordan Gray 3:57
My name is Jordan Gray, and my wife Jess and I are married close to nine years now. I was raised in Reformed Judaism, my wife in the Catholic Church. And we have a five year old now, as well, that we've decided to raise within the, as Ben mentioned, the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, so that she can learn about both faiths.

Natalie Gross 4:20
Awesome. Thank you all so much for being here and sharing more about your experiences today. I can't wait to hear more later on in the show. But we're going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we'll be meeting our expert, author and speaker Susan Katz Miller. She's going to share some of the benefits of raising children in multiple religions and tips for parents navigating this stay with us.

Natalie Gross 4:47
Today on Newbies, we're talking about interfaith parenting and our expert is Susan Katz Miller, a renowned speaker and author on this topic. So Susan, welcome to Newbies. Thanks so much for being here.

Susan Katz Miller 4:57
Great to be with you. Awesome.

Natalie Gross 5:00
Susan, what are some of the benefits of raising your kid into religious traditions versus choosing one over the other, and I know that you were raised in an interfaith household, so maybe you can speak from your personal experience here.

Susan Katz Miller 5:12
Yeah, my point of view comes from both my lived experience as an interfaith kid growing up in an interfaith family and raising two kids. And also, as a journalist, the research that I've done the surveys and interviews that I've done on this topic. My first book being both embracing two religions in one interfaith family describes why couples might choose to do both religions and what that looks like. And then my second book, The interfaith family journal, is a workbook to support couples in figuring out whether they want to do one religion or the other, or both, or none. And I write about the fact that any of those pathways can work, it can work to pick one, it can work to pick both, it can work to pick neither. But each of those pathways has specific benefits, and specific challenges. So some of the benefits of choosing both, which is what husband and I did would include the freedom to give your child intellectual literacy in both to sort of speak both of those religious languages. And that can be a real benefit, just like being bilingual can be a benefit. And a lot of people find that it's intellectually stimulating. Another joy is being able to fully celebrate holidays and life cycle ceremonies, with both sides of your family. Another joy is the permission that all of your family members will have to sort of share all of those family rituals and cultural traditions, with your child, without sort of worrying about whether they're supposed to exclude this part of it, or whether it's appropriate. And finally, I would say a big benefit is that parents will feel that sense of equality in their spiritual life as a family that both parents have sort of equal weight.

Natalie Gross 7:15
Okay, and tell us a little bit about your own faith traditions that you were raised with and have raised your kids with.

Susan Katz Miller 7:20
So I have one Jewish parent, one Christian parents, they're both gone now. But they made the decision to choose one religion. So I was raised in Judaism. And I had the benefits and the challenges of having that one religion chosen for me. And so I could talk about that. But my husband and I then made that different decision to raise our kids with both my children are now 29 and 26. So they're adults. So I've lived this experience through all of those lifecycle rituals and years of holidays.

Natalie Gross 7:57
Awesome. Yeah. I love that you can speak you know, both professionally with all this research and from your personal experience as well. Yeah. And we've already talked a little bit about holidays. And I feel like when people think of interfaith relationships, interfaith parenting, one question that often comes up has to do with these holidays, right? What holidays? Are you going to celebrate? But I'm sure interfaith parenting, you know, there's an everyday component to it. What does that look like on an everyday basis?

Susan Katz Miller 8:22
Yeah, well, it really depends on the couple. And that's why I created the workbook because you really have to think about what are your personal practices, your personal beliefs of what are your partner's practices and beliefs? And how are those going to work together? So on an everyday basis, you know, some people meditate, some people pray, people have different spiritual practices. And it's not even dependent on your religious identity necessarily, it's, it's more about what you what you've chosen for yourself. So you may be Christian, but you may or may not pray every day. And the nice thing in an interfaith family that is raising a child with both is that the child can then observe their parents say meditating or praying or, and they can choose to participate or to ask you questions, and you can just be very honest with them about what it is that you're doing.

Natalie Gross 9:18
Yeah, well, most of our listeners are in their first year of parenting. So babies are very little not really understanding these bigger concepts of religion. So if they practice a different religion than their partner, what are some conversations that they need to start having now, you know, long before these kids can comprehend what they're actually observing.

Susan Katz Miller 9:36
So I think one thing it's important to try to map out is, what are the cycle of holidays going to look like? Which of those holidays Do you want to celebrate with one side of the family which are you going to celebrate with the other side of the family? And Which do you want to celebrate together as a intimate family or with chosen family with friends? us. And you have to make all those decisions, whether you choose one religion or the other, or both or not, because your extended family is still going to be celebrating those holidays and still going to be probably pressuring you to come celebrate with them. So you know, you have to have a plan as all families do about how that's going to look. And then, for life cycle ceremonies, it is helpful to talk about what kind of baby welcoming would you want to do, what kind of coming of age ceremony would you want your children to have? And honestly, it's important to talk about rituals relating to death, we don't know when any of us are going to die, when our partners will die, when our parents will die, how we're going to feel about that. And it's important to think about those things, because those are moments of crisis when people turn to their religious backgrounds and cultures. And you have to figure out how your two sets of cultures and religions are going to fit together in those moments of crisis. And I think it's also important early on to talk about finding community, if that's what you want to do, finding allies, finding people who support you and the choices that you're making about your interfaith family. And if you want to have a community, you have to go out and find one that's going to understand the way that you want your family to work. And the way that you want to be an interfaith family. Now you can have those conversations before you're even, you know, engaged. But you're going to have to have them again, and again, because people change through their lifetime. We don't all stick with the same practices, the same beliefs that we were born into, or that we were given by our parents, we changed throughout our lifetimes, and you have to be ready to be fluid and flexible with that.

Natalie Gross 11:57
Yeah, that's a great point, which leads right into my next question, what are some of the biggest obstacles that interfaith parents face?

Susan Katz Miller 12:03
So whenever I have that question, I always emphasize that I'm going to talk about the obstacles. But I'm also going to talk about the Joyce

Natalie Gross 12:11
Oh, please do it. Yeah.

Susan Katz Miller 12:13
Because there has been this narrative in society that interfaith families are going to be challenging and difficult. And those of us who've lived it know that there are also Joyce and then it's important to talk about both. I think one of the biggest obstacles is when you face as an interfaith family, a lack of understanding, and that can come from your extended family members, or from religious institutions, or clergy, or from society at large. So you want to cultivate allies early on, whether that's supportive clergy or supportive family members, or those communities that are going to support you. In terms of the joys I just want to mention. Learning a new culture is a joyous thing. It's intellectually stimulating, and you are going to be learning your partner's culture, no matter what choice you make for your children. And that is a joyous thing. The intimacy of sharing spiritual and cultural experiences with a partner, and with an extended family from another culture that is a joyous thing. And then eventually sharing those experiences with your children, the sounds, the tastes, the smells, the sights of your religious culture, and your partner's religious culture. All of that can be really joyous. Yes.

Natalie Gross 13:38
Thank you so much for sharing. Susan, we're going to take another quick break. And when we come back, we're going to bring our parents back into the conversation. So stay tuned, everyone.

Natalie Gross 13:56
Alright, parents, welcome back to the discussion. You know, as you were listening to Susan, and I talk, I'm curious if you were thinking of has anything changed since having kids because I'm sure you can discuss religion and faith before you have kids. But when you have a baby, when you actually have a kid in front of you, maybe it's different. So did anyone's feelings about interfaith parenting change? After you became a parent? Did you maybe start to reconsider some of those early discussions about baptisms, holidays, things like that, I'd love to hear from you. So I'll turn the floor over to anyone who wants to, to answer.

Ben Schwartz 14:26
This is Ben Schwartz. My wife and I had an interfaith marriage where we were able to weave together the traditions of Christianity and Judaism in a way where we both were kind of still identifying primarily with our own childhood religion. When we knew that we were going to be having a baby, we started having some discussions about what was it gonna be like to live with a child and how are they going to identify with the religions that we were raised with? So we actually went and found iffp The interfaith families project of Greater Washington When we knew that we were having a kid, because we talked about how each of us individually, really connected with our religion, and it would be really hard to to give one up. So when we decided that our child was going to be raised with both religions, we both started exploring each other's tradition, and in more depth, and we're able to kind of identify as an interface, individual interface individuals, ourselves. So that was really important to us.

Speaker 6 15:29
Okay, this is Ben Kastan, I'd say one thing that changed, not necessarily because of having a baby, but over the course of the years since we originally started dating, then got married and then continued after our daughter was born was the fact that we changed our relationship with our own faith traditions changed over time. And so how we then interacted with those traditions, as family also had to evolve. And certainly, it's, it's a very different conversation where you're talking theoretically about, okay, how are you gonna deal with Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Passover or what have you, then when you're talking about, you know, Easter Sunday dresses, and, you know, Christmas Christmas dinners, and the like. So I think the, that was the thing that surprised me the most was how our own in the course of having those conversations, our own relationships, our faith traditions, we came from change to

Jordan Gray 16:23
This is Jordan. And I think also, it's one thing about talking about those traditions and those milestone moments, and then actually, them those moments coming forward, right. So whether it's talking about, you know, baptism or baby naming, and then all of a sudden, oh, we're actually going to be doing this. And it's something outside of the norm, or the comfort and continuing to keep having those conversations as each of those milestones happen. So that you continue to make sure you're still comfortable, but in your partner still comfortable. But also, that you're both moving in the same direction for yourself, but also your family.

Natalie Gross 16:59
I'm curious if anyone dealt with some of that pressure from families or faith traditions, to do certain things that maybe you and your partner had discussed not doing maybe like a baptism or something like that, and how you navigated that?

Ilissa Seroka 17:14
Hi, this is Ilissa Seroka. We definitely had a lot of challenges with our different that's the families and what they kind of expected us to do, based on how we were brought up. So something that my husband was brought up doing, and that was also really important to him as an adult was going to church every Sunday. And that was something that's, you know, expected of him to continue doing by his family. And when we joined interfaith families project of the greater Washington area, there are services every Sunday, and that was a perfect thing for us to do as a family. But that meant he was no longer going to, to get communion and go to Mass every Sunday, because we weren't going to do both. And so that was really hard for us to express to my husband's parents, that, you know, while live was very important to us to continue doing some sort of religious occasion, every weekend, it wasn't going to be mass every weekend. And that was that was difficult for us.

Greg Seroka 18:24
And this is Greg Soroka. Just wanted to chime in and build on that. So I'm wanting to make two points here. One is that, along with all that, that comes up, a lot of things are unexpected. There, there's curveballs, there's inevitable curveballs, so really, making sure you're open and flexible to everything, and you know, eyes wide open, that's only going to help in the long run. And then the second thing I wanted to say is, you know, in my time, you know, in the interfaith communities, interfaith families project, I see the value of being yourself and being myself, you know, I might have been embarrassed or nervous to like portray, you know, my, the important fate that I have in volunteerism. But now I'm seeing that there's a value in the diversity of people being themselves and showing the value of their own faith tradition, and then also for my spouse, Alyssa, so just showing those values to our kids, and then letting them make the realizations asking questions. It's important for us to have all the Jewish lifecycle events and then also all the Catholic sacraments, for example. So just showing that to our kids is important. It's really becoming something that's a priority for us.

Natalie Gross 19:46
Alright, it sounds like a lot of you have benefited from the Interfaith Project of Greater Washington, I think it was. So we'll link to that in the show notes because I think that sounds like a great resource. Any other good resources on this topic that have helped you and your families navigate this that you will like to recommend to our listeners.

Ben Schwartz 20:02
This is Ben Schwartz. I know this was mentioned a little bit earlier. But the interfaith families project also does a couples workshop. And I'd highly recommend it, my wife and I were able to go to that. And we were able to focus on what our shared values and commonalities were, and find out what kind of framework is actually possible for leading interfaith family lifestyle. And just knowing that there are different shapes that that can take, and that it's something you can work on as a team to come to the solution that's right for you, that was really, really helpful for us.

Ilissa Seroka 20:34
And this is a list that, again, just another IFFP related activity that is of incredible value, and I think is available to anyone, anywhere virtually is the Sunday school, something that that was really important to us to figure out before we had kids was what kind of religious education our kids are going to have. I went to Hebrew school for a very long time, my husband went to CCD, and we didn't want to have to choose one or over the other. We didn't want to have to have kids do both, which seems like they're just going to end up rebelling against religion altogether. And so I have a B actually has this Sunday school program that integrates both Jewish and Christian traditions and principles and values and holidays into into the education. And it's available for I'm pretty sure it's available to anyone. And I think that is one of the best resources that kids could have that are growing up in an interfaith household.

Susan Katz Miller 21:43
Great. This is Susan. Yeah, if you're interested in exploring the idea of doing both, there are programs doing that for interfaith families with interfaith families in Chicago in New York, as well as in DC. And the DC program, as others have said, does have online programming now that so that people anywhere in the country, or the world can be part of the interfaith education program there for children as well as the adult programming.

Natalie Gross 22:14
Wonderful, and Susan will also link to your books as well. Any last thoughts on what we've talked about as we close from you?

Susan Katz Miller 22:20
Yeah, I would just say, as somebody who grew up in an interfaith family, I am now part of a large contingent, I mean, one out of every five adults in the US now grew up in an interfaith family. So it's becoming very common. And so I think it's important that people feel the right to claim the kind of interfaith family that they want to have and to speak out and to help create new communities. And I see all of this as a way of bridging cultures and religions and creating peace in the world.

Natalie Gross 22:57
Well, thank you so much to us, Susan, for being here today. And thank you to all of you parents, Greg, Elissa, Ben S, Ben K, and Jordan who joined us for this episode, listeners. You can find out more about Susan's work at Susan Katz And be sure to check out new mommy where we have all of our podcast episodes, plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 23:27
That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggie Pals for expecting parents, Parent Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, the Boob Group for moms who give breast milk to their babies, and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies, your go to source for new moms and new babies.

Disclaimer 23:52
This is New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of new mommy media and should not be considered facts. Will such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health, or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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