After the Wedding
New challenges emerge when the wedding is over and the couple faces life as husband and wife. A crisis can erupt with the birth of the first child if the couple has not come to some decisions about child rearing, education and religion. People who marry within their faith usually make assumptions about these things based on how they were raised and on a commonality of experiences. Jewish couples assume that male children will be circumcised. Christian couples assume that all their children will be baptized. When the young parents come from different religions, none of these assumptions can be made.
In a Jewish/Christian marriage, a common stumbling block can occur at Christmas. The Christian partner may want to place a tree in the house to celebrate the holiday. The Jewish spouse may object to the tree. Something that seems natural to one partner appears foreign to the other. This is the kind of problem that is easily avoided before marriage but must be confronted sometime afterward.
Embracing Both Religions
One solution, which works for some couples, is to follow the rituals and holiday celebrations of both religions. Among these families, children attend church and synagogue services. They learn about the heritage of both of their parents and can decide for themselves, when they are adults, which faith they prefer to follow.
There have been a number of commentators who have stated that the mental health and well-being of children depend upon their having a clear religious and ethnic identity. In addition, the practice of religion has been found to help children avoid the influences of drugs, alcohol and adolescent sexual relations. These commentators miss the point: It is less the presence of a single religious identity in the home and more the parental style of discipline and involvement with the children and with each other that produces well-adjusted children. Research shows that children whose parents were firm, consistent, involved and affectionate did best in school and in their relationships later in life. The particular religious affiliation of one or both parents is less important to good adjustment than the fact that the parents love and support their children.
Help for Those Who Need It
Interfaith marriages can and do succeed. Many couples, however, experience significant and lasting benefits from professional support and counseling both before and during marriage. Fortunately, help is now available from many sources in the mental health and the religious communities to assist young couples facing the emotional challenges of an interfaith marriage.