Changing Lives, Making Peace

Illustration from “Painting with Passion,” 1994. Photo-illustration by Carvin Knowles

Losing My Religion

Dear Deborah,

My husband and I have decided to get a divorce, and we have amicably worked everything out — finances, custody, etc. What has become acrimonious and ugly are our religious differences in raising our child, age 5. I am Jewish, and my husband is Christian, but neither of us ever took religion seriously until we had our child. We used to think that when the child got old enough, he would decide for himself.

How do we do this? We are fighting all the time. Can you tell us who, other than our attorneys, can impartially guide us. We each want the child to follow our own faith. Help!


Dear Struggling,

One cannot be a Jew on Saturdays and Yom Kippur, and a Christian on Sundays and Christmas. Yet this is undoubtedly how it will play for your son after the divorce. So, although a mediator, family counselor or both may be able to “impartially” guide you, no matter what is decided, odds are that no one will be satisfied with the outcome because this is a question of fundamental identity and values, which, unlike time or money, may not simply be sliced in half. No one is going to win this one, but if you make this a contest, the biggest loser will be your son.

Place the focus upon your child, who is about to suffer a great loss and be forced to endure some difficult changes. The question is not about whether he will be Jewish or Christian, but, rather, how both parents may provide religious environments that are warm, informative and, above all, respectful enough to not engender turmoil, guilt or confusion.

Perhaps the simple truth is best for now: “Mom is Jewish, and Dad is Christian. You will learn a great deal about both religions as you grow up in each of our homes. When you are an adult, you will decide upon your religion, and we both will respect whatever you choose.” In other words, you probably have no choice but to