Co-Parenting When Religious Considerations Are Significant

In addition to faith-based discords created by intermarriage, there are problems when persons within the same faith diverge in their observance particularly as one party becomes more observant and the other does not.
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The incidence of divorce among those of intermarried faiths is higher than the norm. In addition to faith-based discords created by intermarriage, there are problems when persons within the same faith diverge in their observance particularly as one party becomes more observant and the other does not.

Sensitive issues around religion comprise a huge puzzle with multiple moving parts. The potential for misery is truly ironic as it unfolds in the service of the relative universal message of religion which preaches love, tolerance and respect for others. When faith interferes with connubial bliss, and this disconnect leads to divorce, woe to those with significant religious differences.

Conflicts around religion are often one component in a contentious divorce up there among different opinions and values about education, health care, extracurricular activities and of course, how to pay for these things. Conflict is another way to stay in touch, and can be a sign there is desire for contact even if it's counter-productive.

Children are twice as likely to be raised in their mother's faith. While mothers may set the pace of religious practice, what if dad is orthodox, or wants his new wife's faith respected in his home? At the other extreme what if you're an atheist or agnostic parent and would prefer not to interrupt the regular parenting plan for holidays?

There are also dietary laws and other lifestyle issues to consider. Imagine in mom's household consumption of pork, shellfish and the mixing of milk and meat is forbidden (as the laws of kosher proscribe in Judaism and to some extent Muslims and Seventh Day Adventists too) but at your father's he encourages you to eat bacon cheese burgers? And what if that child is taught not to be driven in a car or turn on and off lights or other electronic devices from sundown on Friday until Saturday to observe Sabbath, but the opposite is allowed to at their other parents home? There is the possibility that this same child will be expected to wear a completely different wardrobe in their two homes.

Here are some tips for making the custody street a bit more two-way, thereby lessening the confusion and other negative impacts to children. At the very least refrain from trashing the other parents traditions, or what you see as the lack of them. There are potential silver linings. It's plausible, that hard choices in a marriage are made easier by divorce.

What if each party takes the holiday associated with their religion and hopefully there's not too much overlap of dates? If there is, or if it's the same religion think of the holiday in terms of maximums. It's becoming a tradition to define a holiday in its fullness, for as long as possible. Ramadan lasts for a whole month in summer. Easter has Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday too.

Since Jews inter-marry more than other faiths, let's take an in-depth look at the Jewish holidays to illustrate and hopefully enlighten otherwise nasty co-parenting negotiations over holidays. Take Passover for instance. Traditionally there is first, maybe a second night Seder, when in fact the holiday is a week long and the last night Seder is becoming voguish. Out of necessity, Seder can take place throughout the week instead of breaking the regular routine. Same holds true for Hanukkah which is celebrated eight consecutive nights and usually around Christmas. Lesser known important holidays are Sukkot, a week long festival commemorating the fall harvest around Halloween, ends after eight days with another holiday, Shemini Atzeret.

Luckily there are two High Holidays in the fall, Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which officially starts the night before as do all other Jewish holidays. Occurring earlier in the Roman calendar, this gives a head start on deciding how the conventional New Year can be counterbalanced with Christmas, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa and Eid-al-Adha, the Muslim holiday in winter. Ten days after the Jews celebrate the New Year comes their time for somber reflection. Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement, is not a child-friendly holiday, except for older children and teenagers.

Generally speaking, time shares are meant to maximize a parent's time with children. While spending time with the extended family especially during holiday is important, supervision can be a delicate issue. Observant parents using their holiday time for prayer and study are by definition less available to the child. All religions have fasting holidays from which children are typically exempt. A fasting parent might not be available for cooking or meal time. Should that make a difference in breaking the regular routines, especially if the child does not go to a religious day school and these holidays are not cause for having days off from school?

For more light-hearted holidays like L'Ag B'omer the festival of trees, or Purim, Jewish Mardis Gras and Simchat Torah, restarting reading of the Torah, you'd think there were enough holidays to go around so that everyone gets to include the children in the celebrations that speak to them most, thereby making it meaningful and not a hardship for the children. The parent requesting more religious holidays should consider asking for fewer secular, national holidays, even if both parents have those days off from work. In the spirit of compromise, that's fair, right?

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