134. Intermarriage and Children

There are all kinds of intermarriages, and it could be argued that every marriage is an intermarriage; when two people marry each other, they attempt to find a way to bring along their separate selves, and to some degree, hold on to the parts of themselves they consider most important. Sometimes they don’t learn what is important until they are already married, and for the marriage to survive, they must find ways to deal with the new discoveries. In the best of marriages, there is compromise, and in some of the worst, there is surrender; one partner surrenders what is important, and gets nothing in return. In this article, I’ll focus on what is usually called “intermarriage” – the marriage of two people who have significantly different religious or racial backgrounds. When a man marries a woman, that is not usually considered intermarriage, even though the experience of being male can be quite different from the experience of being female. And marriages of people from different countries or religious denominations, for example Italians and Germans, or Episcopalians and Methodists, are not usually seen as intermarriages. When two people decide to intermarry, they are deciding to find ways to make their lives compatible. When they decide to have children, they test that compatibility. Our connections with our children are strong, and we learn, as we parent, more about what is important to us, and how important it is. We want our children to experience some of what has been meaningful to us. When I was a child, there was a menorah in our house, and no Christmas tree. I loved the flickering of the Hannukah lights, and the songs we sang around the candles. I didn’t know, when my children were young, how important that was to me, and they did not experience Hannukah as young children. I wish they had. They have fond memories of the times we spent by our Christmas tree, and, in fact, so do I. For a long time, I rationalized the absence of Hannukah symbols. I said I’d rather celebrate the birth of a baby than a victory in a war. But I don’t think that’s the bottom line. The bottom line is that I did not work to make sure that my cultural heritage was part of the intermarriage. If you raise children within an intermarriage, I urge you to explore your heritage and make sure you know what’s important to you. It does make things a little more complicated, maybe, but it’s your children’s birthright.

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