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You Make the Call

We all know that our lives can change in a split second—because of an action that we have taken or because of something that has happened to us. That is why it is so important to consider the fragment of time between when an adult child comes home and tells you that their soul mate, the person that they have fallen in love with, the person with whom they want to spend the rest of their life, isn’t Jewish. Or perhaps they don’t say it—you ask the question. In that moment when the subject is broached, you control the tenor of the future relationship you will have with your children, and perhaps even your grandchildren. Any hesitation, any reaction, will be carefully measured and reacted to in turn. This is your chance to shape the future. Don’t blow it.

So what do you say when your adult child introduces you to their partner for the first time? Inside, some parents might feel disappointment, like they failed to instill a strong Jewish identity. Others might even wish their child would marry someone else. In the end, these attitudes won’t make the future spouse feel like they are part of the family – it will make them feel like they are an outsider.

Our suggestion is simple: You welcome them enthusiastically, unabashedly expressing love and excitement. Perhaps if your child’s spouse knows that the Jewish community—as represented by you—is a warm and friendly environment, they may want to spend a long time in it.



29 Comments

  1. It is easier said than done. Explainig the problems and obstacles they face. The difficult choices that two people in love don’t think about- wedding , chupah or church,bris or christening, B’nai Mitzvah or confirmation. The affect on family members - on both sides - . Once these are discussed and your child is made aware and they stil want to get married - then the welcomimg can begin.

    Comment by Ell — March 7, 2008 @ 7:54 am

  2. But the welcoming needs to come before the negotiation

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 7, 2008 @ 9:49 am

  3. Welcome them like you would welcome any other guest in your home. Welcome them like you would want to be welcomed. They are human beings, for crying out loud. You will have ample opportunity for discussion later. Set the foundation for a loving, supportive in-law relationship right away, regardless of who comes home with your son/daughter. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, or whether the relationship will lead to marriage or end next week. Be the bigger person.

    When the negotiations and honest discussions happen, the potential son/daughter-in-law will be much more likely to listen to you and respect you if you did the same to him/her from the very beginning. Being cold and distant is not going to encourage your child and his/her spouse to make Jewish choices.

    Comment by Liz — March 7, 2008 @ 10:33 am

  4. Amen

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 7, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  5. Let’s say this had nothing to do with the potential spouse being Gentile. Suppose the potential spouse had something else that seriously contradicted what the parents wanted in son/daughter in law.

    Would you still say that the parents whould ‘welcome them enthusiastically, unabashedly expressing love and excitement’?

    I can name a long list of characteristics I wouldn’t want in a son/daughter in law. Who couldn’t?

    Comment by Dave — March 9, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  6. It depends - if the trait that contradicted what the parents were hoping for in a son or daughter-in-law was not innately harmful, why shouldn’t the parents be supportive? After all, the bottom line is that parents should seek what’s best for their children, and as long as their children are happy and not in imminent danger (mental, physical, or otherwise), where is the harm in embracing an in-law who may not be precisely what you envisioned?

    Your comment begs the question (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question) “Is marrying a Gentile a bad thing?”

    Comment by Brooke — March 9, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

  7. It is easy to say, but until you walk in those shos it is impossible to know your reaction. There is a ‘cute’ card which we received many years ago when our daughter was younger. Briefly it said “…meet your daughter’s new botfriend ” Spike ” and there was a picture of a biker with tatoo’s, spiked hair, motorcycle jacket, greasy hair, dirty hands etc. Is this what you want for your ” princess” ? It’s the same reaction you have when your daughter brings home “John O’brien” - Nice guy, but not what youwanted for your daughter. he might be the nicest guy in the world - but ……. In time you canaccept it (speaking from experience ) but that initiial reaction is hard to ” fake “.

    Comment by Ell — March 10, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  8. I understand the challenge and the difficulty. We are not suggesting that you “fake” anything. But we are working toward helping to shape an attitude that makes the community welcoming and allows for such a response to be honest.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 10, 2008 @ 6:33 am

  9. one of my cousins married a woman who isn’t Jewish. as much as his parents wished he would have married a Jewish girl, they did the best they could to welcome his wife without faking it. it wasn’t easy by any means. my aunt and uncle are not religious. in-marriage was important to them, yet they also wanted their kids to be happy. even though one of their sons (the other is in-married) made a choice that wasn’t their preference, they knew that acting coldly was the worst thing to do.

    parents can hope and wish all they want for things to be different, but in the end it’s not up to them who their children marry. if intermarriage occurs, it is the parents’ task to retain their son or daughter within the Jewish fold, and to encourage Jewish choices to the couple but without repeatedly pushing conversion onto the non-Jewish partner, especially if they are not ready (or willing) to convert.

    nothing in life is ever easy. we need to remember that. we also need to remember that these are our children, and that we want them in our lives.

    Comment by h. — March 10, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  10. There are many characteristics I would not want in a son/daughter in law that are not ‘innately harmful’ (in fact there are only a few characteristics that are ‘innately harmful’)

    People should do what they can to prevent their children marrying people who would not be the best for them. May not succeed, but still.

    Comment by Dave — March 11, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

  11. Who knows better: the parents, or the children?

    Adults, for better or worse, have free will, and should be allowed to exercise it. I would never want my parents to try to actively prevent me from marrying someone; I’m no psychologist or social worker, but I’m fairly certain the harm caused by such actions would outweigh any perceived positives.

    I’m a little confused by your statement that there are characteristics that are not innately harmful, but that you still would not want in a son or daughter-in-law. If your child isn’t in danger, who are you to judge the person who makes them happy?

    Comment by Brooke — March 11, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  12. I think some of the posts here are confusing two distinct issues:

    (1) The child’s right to do what they believe will make them happy
    (2) The parent’s right to intervene to help their child make the choice that the parents believe is best for them, but which might not make them happy in the short run.

    Any parent wants their children to do what is best for them, even if that does NOT make them happy right now. Parents have more life experience than children, and a civilization like ours that has a long history of repecting our elders, should treat with respect our parents’ views on marriage. After all, they were (probably) married at some point, and might still be. To not take into account their experiences of what helps a marriage work, and what could add further tension to a marriage is like trying to reinvent the wheel…especially in a society with a near 50% divorce rate, and one that is significantly higher among intermarriages.

    This is not to say parents can dictate to their children who to marry, but parents certainly have a right to try to convince their children to do what they believe is in their best long-term interest. What parent wouldn’t? Children should show respect to their parents and seriously consider why they may feel strongly about them marrying another Jew, even if they disagree and ultimately choose to do otherwise.

    People fall in love and people fall out of love. Just because a child is in love with someone today and wants to marry them does not mean it is the best thing for them in the long run. Surely we can all agree on that?

    Comment by marc — March 12, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

  13. Hmmm…if the divorce rate is nearly 50% _now_ should children really feel confident asking their parents for advice on how to ensure a successful marriage? I am opposed to fixing things that aren’t broken, but if couples are already splitting up at such an alarming rate, perhaps it _is_ time to consider some new ideas regarding the way people choose their partners.

    The divorce statistic you provided undermines the argument that those with life experience have privileged information that can facilitate a successful marriage. If anything, it shows that now is definitely the time to discard the “business as usual” approach and re-think some of our assumptions about this issue.

    I would also like to point out a subtle but key semantic issue: you refer to a “child’s right to do what they believe will make them happy” and a “parent’s right to intervene to help their child”. Children generally do not get married; adults do. Framing the debate as parent v. child casts the problem in a different light. Using that wording portrays the conflict as one of experienced, level-headed experts against impulsive, rash neophytes. Let’s be clear: any discussion between a father and son, for example, about a planned marriage is a dialog between two adults, either of whom could present valid arguments. Using the term “child” indicates a parti pris from your perspective.

    The high rate of intermarriage divorces is significant, but it is difficult to ascribe causality to the issue of religion alone. While the reasons for the high failure rate is worth exploring, we should not be quick to assume that it points to intermarriage being a near impossibility. This current generation of Jewish young adults may know something their parents did not about safely navigating their way through the difficulties that can derail a marriage. Perhaps that is why they feel comfortable intermarrying at such an unprecedented rate.

    Comment by Brooke — March 14, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  14. Brooke, I’m sorry if you thought my post was meant to somehow demean the sons or daughters If you prefer “son/daughter” feel free to replace “child” with that term.

    I don’t think the 50% divorce rate undermines the argument that parents have wisdom to share re: marriages. Whether parents have a successful marriage or not, they surely have learned a thing or two about marriage they can pass onto their kids. Sometimes the best lessons learned are from failures.

    If your premise that only those experiencing lower divorce rates would have such wisdom is ture, then since the divorce rate is now higher than it used to be, one could also make a powerful argument that the older generation (parents and, espcially grandparents) who experienced a lower rate of divorce (and married Jewish in much higher numbers), have much wisdom to pass on about how to make a marriage work. Some of those things have to do with how one acts withing a marriage, but some will also have to do with how to choose a spouse in the first place, which is relevent to our discussion.

    The younger generation is inclined (in general) today toward doing what it wants regardless of how parents feel. That inclination does not indicate that they know something their parents don’t, only that their relationship with their parents is not as good as it should be. Parents are here to guide us. Sometimes we will take their advice and sometimes we will not. Sometimes they will be right and sometimes wrong. But they are still our parents and deserve the basic respect of having us listen to them and try to understand why they feel the way they do.

    Imagine if our children treated us with the same degree of disrespect in an area of great importance to us…how hurt we would be! Imagine having a child who thinks slavery is fine or that the poor deserve to live on the street, etc., and live their life accordingly. The issue of marrying Jewish is very important to some parents, and not b/c they know less or are unenlightened. They have good reasons and strong feelings. These reasons and feelings at least deserve the respect of being considered. Why would that be so bad?

    Comment by marc — March 17, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  15. parents can guide their adult children toward the path they feel is best for them. all parents want the best for their kids, even if they don’t always see eye to eye on everything. but for parents to place limitations on who their children can and cannot date or marry is counterproductive, and gives the assumption that parental love is conditional based solely on the future spouse’s religion. if parents- whether observant or not, in-married or intermarried, feel it is important for their children to marry Jews, they should project this message in a better way besides “because we said so” and “if you don’t, we will be very upset”. positive language should be re-enforced and any trace of “intermarriage is bad” should be left out of the conversation. parents are more likely to gain their adult children’s attention this way rather than spouting off all the bad things that will happen if they intermarry. most people who intermarry do usually respect their parents’ feelings even if they ultimately choose someone who is not Jewish. the fact that most intermarried Jews want Rabbinic officiation at their weddings and express a desire to raise their children as Jews is a sign that they haven’t completely ignored their parents’ feelings. parents should take this into account, rather than simply viewing it as “my son or daughter married a non-Jew.”

    Comment by h. — March 18, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  16. I certainly agree that a positive message is generally better and more effective than a negative one. Unfortunately, many parents are left playing catch-up after years of not planting the positive seeds of marrying-in. They are then taken by surprise when their son/daughter wants to marry a non-Jew. I guess you reap what you sow.

    Comment by marc — March 18, 2008 @ 5:54 pm

  17. I think what’s being neglected by the comments arguing that parents have a say is the question of WHEN. The original post is about that moment when an adult child introduces his or her potential spouse. When does that usually happen? It’s at least at age 18 and in the Jewish community it’s a lot closer to age 28 on average. That means the parents had 28 years to try to help mold and guide their children. At a certain point, the parents have to acknowledge that their most influential years are past, and now the hatchlings must fly on their own, so to speak.

    There is a significant number of intermarried Jews who grew up with parents that told them, over and over, they prefer Jewish spouses. Of those, the overwhelming majority did not find their non-Jewish spouses in order to rebel from their parents, or upset them, or flee Judaism, but rather because they simply fell in love. (By age 28 or older, they’re usually able to discern between puppy love and the real deal.) They are fully aware of their parents discomfort and would like to alleviate it, but not at the expense of giving up the love of their life. At that moment, the parents have done all they could. The only relationship they will now damage by voicing dissent is with their own children. That’s just the reality. The most reasoned course of action is to actually try to get to know and like the new family member, and help keep the door to Jewish life open.

    And Ell, I would just like to point out that knowing that someone’s name is “John O’brien” tells you absolutely nothing about that person. I promise you, there’s a Jew named John O’brien somewhere in the world, who you just stereotyped out of our community. I know what you meant, I’d just point out that there are more sensitive ways of saying so. Not all Jews have Jewish-sounding last names, and not everyone named Goldberg is Jewish.

    Comment by Paul Golin — March 19, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  18. I agree, Paul, that by the late twenties the most influential years a parent has has already passed them by, and that they then have to deal with that reality.

    Where I disagree is your point that at that age the only relationship the parent will damage is the one with their own son/daughter. I believe that even at that late time, if a parent feels storngly enough that they are doing what is best for their child by objecting to an intermarriage (or a marriage to any person who they feel is not right for their son/daughter) then as a parent they will still feel compelled to do object…and should. What they should not do is be insulting about it, or raise their objections in front of the nonJew who was brought to meet them. Naturally, their feelings won’t allow them to be enthusiastic or excited as the article suggests, but by being cordial and respectful and then having private conversations with their son/daughter, the parent can try to influence an end to the relationship with the nonJew, and do it without alienating the person who, if they are unsuccessful, might end up as their son/daughter-in-law.

    As an aside, I think that among those who marry younger there is a lower divorce rate (at least among in-marriages in the Jewish community) so it could be that those in their late 20s and 30s marrying for the first time are more in need of that parental advice for what can make a marriage work than their younger counterparts. Not positive, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

    Comment by marc — March 19, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  19. An interesting idea but the data do not support it.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 24, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  20. Does not support which part?

    Comment by marc — March 24, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

  21. Those who marry young are not less likely to be divorced.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 24, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  22. Among “in-marriages” do we even have data one way or the other to say? If so, I would definitely be curious to see it. Perhaps you could point me to a source to review.

    Comment by marc — March 24, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  23. Which data are you specifically looking for? Did you check the NJPS?

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 24, 2008 @ 10:07 pm

  24. I just did a search in the NJPS report and the divorce rate is not parced out among age groups, nor among age at which the respondent married. If there is info on this topic, however, I would be interested to see it.

    Comment by marc — March 26, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

  25. Perhaps you can be in direct touch with the folks at UJC who are handling the research and follow-up.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — March 26, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

  26. I have sent them an email asking if they have such data or if they will collect it in the future.

    Comment by marc — March 31, 2008 @ 10:43 am

  27. As an adult product of an interfaith marriage, I’m not a big fan. Although my Christian father and I are close, there is a rift between us concerning religion. My father and I discussed how he felt after all of us chose Judaism or atheist.He felt very alone and detached from us. There are certain things we don’t understand about each other because of the religious differences.

    While my brother and I chose to practice different forms of Judaism, my older sister’s experience growing up interfaith has inspired her lack of relationship with all things relgious. We had to convince her to raise my nephew as a Jew. It took 3 years to encourage her to trust anyone religious with her child. We claimed a victory this year when she agreed to let my nephew attend Jewish camp this summer.

    Honestly, if one of my future children brought home a non Jew, my heart would skip a beat. I wouldn’t be rude, but I would be lying to say I would automatically accept the relationship. Let’s just say I know too much about intermarriage to encourage it as a choice. Most of my friends who had parents who were intermarried were the only child interested in Judaism or one other sibling had a mild Jewish identity-and this happens sometimes even when the parents convert.

    The reason why some people oppose intermarriage isn’t due to some Neanderthal understanding of the world. Sometimes supporters from both sides need to immerse themselves in the realpolitik of the situation. You can raise these intermarried children Jewish, but some of them may feel like their other “half” is their home, or they many need to convert to another faith like Buddism or Hinduism that let’s you practice elements of both. Some of my friends who are products of intermarriage are Messianic Jews for the same reason. None of these situations bode well for continuity.

    I’m not going to oppose intermarriage, as people have the right to their own choices. However, as an adult product of intermarriage, I can’t give it a ringing endorsement.

    Comment by Sasha — April 2, 2008 @ 10:40 pm

  28. Believe me, I understand. Parents always want better for their children. Those who have successful interfaith marriages recognize the challenges–as we do even as we support personal choices–and they want their children’s lives to be easier.
    Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — April 3, 2008 @ 7:20 am

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