Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The thing about labels...

Dear Brooke,
I married the most incredible man in the world. He is everything I ever dreamed I would meet and has surpassed every expectation I have ever had of the man & relationship I would one day find.

Everything, that is, except for one tiny thing that seems to not be so tiny as our relationship grows. I am Jewish, and he is Catholic. I come from an Orthodox family and have a rabbi/cantor for a Grandfather. Neither my husband nor I are very religious but both come from families who are. My Husband has somehow won their hearts regardless of their hesitations regarding his religion and we managed to get married under a Chupah (Jewish wedding canopy) with blessings from nearly every member of our families.

We received those blessings only after my Husband-To-Be agreed to raise his unborn children Jewish. Now, as we seriously think about having children, I have an overwhelming sense of guilt. We were in an Orthodox Temple last weekend and as my husband left me to sit on the men's side wearing a kepah on his head, I could see how un-comfortable he was and it entirely broke my heart.

How can I prepare myself to raise my children Jewish without feeling as though I have stripped my Husband of teaching them his faith instead? Furthermore, how can I prepare myself to not break the promise I have made to myself and fail to raise them in a Jewish home in order to make my beloved Husband more comfortable in his own home?

Guilty Jew

Dear you gorgeous guilty love,

I’m just gonna jump right in…My first question is: What does it mean to raise your kids Jewish? What does it mean to you? I hear phrases like this all the time… “I want to raise my kids Jewish” or “My family wants us to raise our kids Jewish” So many people throw around words like this and decide things like how to raise their kids without really thinking about what it actually means. No wonder things can get so confusing...

The thing about labels is that they mean different things to different people. In order to responsibly use a label, we need to know what it means in our own hearts. Raising my kids “successful” for example, is going to mean something different to me as to you. Success is subjective, and so is Religion. Saying you want to raise your kids “Jewish” is more ambiguous than you know… In today’s modern-beautiful-diverse-spiritually-curious society religion has almost more definitions than love.

When you promise to raise your kids with a label that you yourself haven’t even defined yet as a family, as a couple, what does that promise really mean? So, I’m going to ask you to define it…for you.

Sit down with your sweet hubby and each have a piece of paper. On the top of yours, write: “Raising my kids Jewish means…” the paper will have a list that includes or doesn’t include things like, having a bar/bat mitzvah, having a briss, lighting candles on Friday night and having dinner as a family, going to Hebrew school, celebrating high holidays, referring to complaining as “kvetching” and heavy sweating as “schvitzing”… are you thinking orthodox, conservative, reform, kabbalistic/mystical, or Secular Yiddish word using Jew? Ahh, the possibilities. On the top of his write “Raising my kids Catholic means” and have him do the same exercise.

Then, sit down as a family. You and him…and talk about it. Why is that particular tradition or ceremony important to you? Is it to satisfy your grandfather and the ambiguous promise you made to your other relatives…or is it because it makes you cry with joy even thinking about including it in your life? What compromises are each of you willing to make? How can you hold and respect one another’s history…and how can you instill that respect into your children?

Share with your partner, and hear from him. Talk, discuss, and deliberately and responsibly build your foundation as Mr. and Mrs. Not-so-guilty-anymore Jew. If you are the artsy creative type, you can even make a final draft of the family traditions that you want to start with and post it in your home to remind both of you of this conversation and experience, and to have accountability within your partnership.

Just a little PS. If you have something like “go to services every Friday night”… don’t wait until your kids arrive. If it’s that important to you, start now (or continue), with your family of 2.

You can also do this exercise, and I recommend it, with non-religious traditions. This will give you and your man a great opportunity to build an even stronger foundation and family.

No matter how many promises you made to whoever you made them to…when it comes down to it, your kids are going to be a little bit of you, a little bit of the Mr. and a lot a bit of themselves. You can’t pretend that your Catholic husband, who you love through and through, and his family traditions just simply don’t exist-and you know that. You can inspire your kids and give them a foundation but eventually they are going to take the path that feels right in their own hearts.

Your struggle is so beautiful… it shows how much you love and respect your husband as well as yourself. Seeing that will be more valuable to your children than anything else…I promise.


Send your questions to Your identity will be private!!!

1 comment:

  1. What beautiful advice! We can all gain something from this.