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Interfaith Marriage Raises Religious Questions

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I'm a 13-year-old whose mother is a non-practicing Christian and whose stepdad is Jewish. We celebrate both holidays and we practice both religions. When people ask me if I'm Christian or Jewish, I don't know what to say. Help me!

A: You're experiencing the same confusion and indecision that most kids in interfaith families go through at some point. I'm not sure how to interpret your comment that your "mother is a non-practicing Christian" and that you "practice both religions". As you know, "practicing" a religion involves much more than celebrating its popular holidays.

At your age, it's becoming more and more important for you to establish an identity for yourself within your family, outside of your family, and with your peers. You can certainly tell people, "My mom is Christian and my stepfather is Jewish," but I think you're concerned with what to say when they respond, "Yeah, I get that, but what are you?"

You know that, traditionally, a person isn't allowed to be both a practicing Christian and a practicing Jew. So you might be somewhat confused and scared about what you really are in terms of being a member of a religion. You don't seem to have been given enough guidance, direction, and support to feel comfortable and secure in this important area. Maybe your mom and stepfather don't know how much this bothers you. They need to know your concerns. Don't be afraid to discuss this topic with them -- I'm sure that they don't want you to continue suffering because of it.

My guess is that you need to feel that you "are" something concrete when it comes to religion. You may, deep down, even want and need to feel a part of one religion and embrace it rather than not really knowing what you are. I know that you might be afraid of disappointing either your mom or your stepdad by wanting to be considered a member of a religion that is not theirs. You should not have to live with this or any other fear related to this issue.

So, please talk to your parents about your needing real answers to your questions about religious identity. And if you want to pursue a particular religion, let them know. It's their job as loving parents to help you with this very important part of who you are. If you need more help with this, please write me.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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