Dear Dr. Frankie,
My partner and I have been together for two years now. She is wonderful and we are compatible in every way but one and unfortunately it’s a big one. I was raised as an Orthodox Jew and she was raised as a devout Baptist. Although I don’t go to synagogue as often as I should, I’m deeply attached to my culture and feel strongly that my (future) children be raised Jewish. My partner goes to church on Sunday and is very close to her religion. We both want kids and she wants to raise her child as a Baptist. Aside from this very important but difficult issue of religion we are great together. Can we overcome this? I’m feeling more and more anxiety about it as time goes on.
Dear Hoping to Avoid a Schism,
It sounds as if your relationship would sustain if children were not involved. Unfortunately, since you both feel strongly about having children and raising them in your own faiths, I predict very troubled waters ahead.
When people have kids, they often become more religious regardless of their faith. Often this is driven by the desire to carry on family traditions and instill important beliefs in their children.
Many people also find themselves wanting to replicate their own childhood memories for their kids. How many people have you seen go Christmas tree-less every year until they had children. The baby shows up and all of a sudden there are stockings hanging from the mantle, Christmas tunes playing in the car, and an LED Santa Claus in the front yard.
If, out of the desire to keep an otherwise happy relationship going, you or your partner find yourself saying you’d willingly raise your child in the other’s religion, be very cautious. Regardless of you or your partner’s best intentions, you can’t predict the future. People and priorities change once children are involved. Only after the child is born might you or your partner realize how connected you are to your culture and religion.
Additionally there will be the extended family and their traditions to contend with.
The best chance for success is to either forsake your dream of having children, or find a non-denominational LGBT-friendly sanctuary. It would require both of you to forgo your own traditions and culture in exchange for creating an interfaith family and having a place to worship. One of the most wonderful things about starting your own family is deciding what traditions you value most and how you want to present them to your children. Another option would be to compromise and practice both religions. This might mean they light a menorah and also get to put presents under the tree. Traditions or beliefs viewed by the other as “extreme” would have to be forgotten.
I commend you for asking the tough question before you jump into parenthood. Best of luck to you.