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Raising Children in Family with 2 Religions

QUESTION: What advice do you have for a couple raising their children knowing two religions -- Jewish and Catholic -- especially during the holiday season?

There is no better time to teach children the value of various religious practice and philosophy than during the holidays! And many interfaith families do, in fact, ascribe to dual or integrated celebrations.

The Jewish celebration of Chanukah and the Christmas holiday can be experienced side by side. Many interfaith families light the Chanukah candles, reading the story of the Macabees who survived against great odds. Children learn the qualities of faith, love, goodwill and overcoming incredible odds through this story. In some interfaith homes Christmas decorations of baby Jesus reside across the room. Stories of Jesus' birth teach that the values of love and worthiness lie within. Though born in poverty in a manger of animals, Jesus is recognized as a great spirit. His story, too is one of victimization transformed through the spirituality of faith and love.

But we must never forget that children learn the values of integrity from their family and the examples of the good deeds of people around them. Religious training of any kind does not ensure the development of good character in our children. It can only reinforce the values and spirit found in the family and the living examples present in a child's intimate community. And religious training without parental interpretation can sometimes be experienced as a negative force. Afterall, history is replete with the use of religion as an oppressive force in people's lives. So, families who blend different faiths may be at an advantage in having to take a more-conscious approach than one-faith families do in choosing what role they want religion to play in their children's lives, rather than leaving it to chance or to outside religious authorities.

Choose from the celebrations and rituals of each of your respective religions to support your own family values. Naturally, you will be faced with choices, and perhaps limitations of time (and money!), in pursuing serious religious training. It would be difficult to have full out traditional training and celebration for all of your children's catholic confirmations, including catechism training, and bar or bah mitzvahs with full Hebrew school AND academic and social life to boot! You will, no doubt, need to focus on "knowledge" of religious views rather than religious "training." Customize an integrated religious approach that does not overwhelm you or your children. Much will be decided by your own childhood backgrounds and the extent to which you were involved in and enjoyed or suffered through your own religious rituals!

Talk with your spouse about the meaning that your religion holds for you and what you would like to impart to your children. Share experiences and create a working plan for raising your children with an integration of your two faiths that supports the values and qualities you want to impart to them as parents. Be flexible and open to support whatever paths your children may choose. Your children can benefit from the joy and knowledge that each of you brings to your own faith.

Use the holidays to discover the celebrations of the other! Holiday rituals are a great framework for introducing yourselves to one another's religion, and "trying on" something new. By doing so, you may discover what particular rituals you want to keep over the years, and develop your own ongoing plan for religious education in the family.

Explore each others' worlds and have a fun and loving time doing so. And have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy Chanukah!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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