For most interfaith marriages family responses are not so extreme, although dealing with in-laws is proverbial for requiring the exercise of both tact and humour. As in any marriage, the extended family – grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins – are often an important source of identity values and faith nurture for children. Whether their involvement is a source of conflict or blessing depends ultimately on how well you and your partner can learn to communicate and deal with issues of faith and identity yourselves.
A note to parents and families on coping with your child’s interfaith marriage
It can be hard to come to terms with your children’s choices and you will feel a great sense of loss if their choices take them out of the community. You may feel the relationship isn’t good for them, or worry about what that other person may do to your child and future grandchildren. There may be issues of shame or losing face. Nevertheless you are not responsible for your children’s choices, and however painful it is for you, you can play a really important role in helping them achieve stability in their marriage, and in their own children’s future.
Your child’s choice of partner reflects their independence and the fact that they have grown up in a different time and context than you, but people who marry someone of another faith rarely do so in order to reject their parents and culture. The role of grandparents in an interfaith marriage is important – remember that your grandchildren will benefit enormously from learning from you. You are part of their birthright just as they are your future.
Message to a Mother:
My marriage makes me appreciate you more and need you even more as the link to who I am – to my culture and faith that I might lose otherwise. I know it hurt you so much who I fell in love with, but I grew up in such a different world from you…
In many ways what parents have to go through mirrors the learning experience of couples in an interfaith marriage – but the parents didn’t choose it. Yet there are ways of dealing positively with the experience, and of growing through it:
- Rather than see your child as a traitor, can you see them as an envoy and representative of the values you taught them?
- Support from your faith leaders can counteract gossip and help you work through your own feelings.
- Don’t stigmatise your child’s partner for not having lived by your faith’s rules – they are from another community and have therefore done things differently.
- Don’t automatically take your child’s side against the other. If you treat them judiciously you can have an important influence and be respected by both.
- If you are anxious that ‘they’ are not treating your son or daughter right, try not to intervene in ways that make things worse. (‘They don’t treat their women with respect’ is an accusation all cultures make of each other.)
- It’s natural to want to shut out what’s painful but try to keep lines of communication open. Situations and feelings will change.
My parents were very supportive of our marriage but I know that the extended family and community were not, and they have had to cope with a lot of criticism
I usually find that a lot of parents do accept interfaith relationships and marriages, but they can be more concerned about the extended family and community. I’ve seen it first hand and truly understand the difficulties which makes the couple want to break away from the extended family and community to avoid being criticised.
In a previous blog post, I asked my dad to give advice on how to tell your parents about your interfaith relationship to be able to read his views based on his own experience dealing with his children’s interfaith relationships.