Raising Interfaith Children

Children with dual heritages - born to parents of different faiths - are increasing in numbers in many American communities.


| November 2013



Interfaith Children

For the members of an interfaith marriage, the question of how to raise children of dual heritage can be daunting.

Photo By Fotolia/chungking

Being Both (Beacon Press, 2013) comes at a time when interfaith marriage is the new norm in many American communities. More than a third of marriages today are between people of different religions, and that number keeps rising. Despite these trends, the idea of raising interfaith children is still controversial to many Americans. Susan Katz Miller chronicles a grassroots phenomenon of families that form progressive communities and support their fellow interfaith families. In this excerpt from the first chapter, Katz recounts her own upbringing in a dual heritage household.

Claiming My Interfaith Identity

When I was a week old, my Episcopalian mother secretly baptized me in the kitchen sink of our walk-up apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston. She had promised to raise Jewish children, and yet there she was, in those first sleep-deprived days of motherhood, dripping water on my forehead. She says she simply wanted to hedge her bets, to give me every possible protection. I also suspect that my baptism comforted her in a last moment of connection to her churchgoing youth, on the cusp of her transformation into being the mother of a Jewish family.

Weeks later, not knowing that my mother had already performed the ritual, my grandmother quietly performed my second baptism in her own kitchen sink. And then my mother’s sister graced me with a third private and unofficial baptism. My mother, aunt, and grandmother did not admit, even to one another, what they had done until years later. As a mother myself, I have nothing but empathy and gratitude for my mother’s brave but covert gesture. These are the sacred duties of a mother: to love and to protect her child and to transmit her history and culture. I think about my parents now, frail in their old age, still fiercely loyal to each other, still deeply in love. Together, my parents have made it impossible for me to view interfaith marriage as a dilemma, a problem. Instead, they bequeathed to me their joy and a sense that in joining together two or more cultures, we share in an act of creativity and inspiration, an act of defiant spirituality and love.

One could theorize that my secret baptisms were the gestures that launched me on a journey beyond the labels and boundaries of religious institutions. Perhaps because I was blessed with tap water and illicit prayer, I was destined for an alternative pathway, drawing from both sides of my religious heritage.

But then, consider the more traditional pathways taken by my three younger siblings, all of them also secretly baptized: one is raising Jewish children, one is raising Catholic children, one prefers Buddhism. The lesson of my family may be that no choice by parents, no set of rituals, can guarantee a particular religious outcome for children or grandchildren, given the inevitability of intermarriage and the increasing religious fluidity of our culture and of our world. Children, whether or not they are interfaith children, go out into this world and make their own religious choices.

NO PATHWAY IS PERFECT: RAISED IN ONE RELIGION