We are blessed with a loving relationship with our two sons. When our younger son met the gal he planned to marry, we flew to California to meet her. She was bright, beautiful, funny, and not Jewish.
I was surprised and stunned, because he had only dated Jewish women and was harshly critical of anyone Jewish who didn’t. We had raised our sons with strong Jewish values. They were bar mitzvahed, confirmed and by their own choice, continued their Jewish studies to the high school level.
To keep my sanity, I applied emotional novocaine and tried to think of all of our future daughter-in-law’s positive traits.
When wedding plans were announced, she was sensitive to our feelings and they were married by a superior court judge. During the ceremony, which was free of any religious words, and under a gorgeous California sun overlooking the Pacific, the last thing on my mind was her religion.
When I asked my son about children and religion, he said they would be brought up with both . . . we’ll find a neutral religion . . . the children will decide . . .
But what sounds simple in theory, can be so difficult in actuality.
During one of our first visits after the wedding, I witnessed something that at the time was very telling. Our son was reading the Christian Science manuals to “acquaint himself with his wife’s beliefs”–her suggestion. To this day I wonder why he didn’t do the same and introduce his religion to her. This was a portending of what lay ahead.
Our two grandsons now attend Catholic school. The decision to send them to a religious school was based on quality of education, a cost less than other private schools, proximity to home, etc., etc., etc. When I asked if they were going to be raised Catholic, the answer was “no.” A simple answer to an extremely complex question. Too simple, in fact.
Our daughter-in-law stopped practicing Christian Science when the boys were born and has gone back to the Church. Her parents are Catholics, and I often wonder how they would have felt if our son had been stronger in his religious beliefs and the boys raised in his faith. Then, the loss would have been theirs.
Adjusting to having our grandsons a different religion vacillates between easy and difficult. Not an oxymoron, but a reality.
Our son and family now live 3,000 miles away in an area where he is the token Jew, and while they are greatly missed, it does make this situation easier. When there are religious milestones in our grandson’s lives, we are not put in the delicate situation of coming face to face with how different our religions are.
For example, our oldest grandson had his first Communion. We were not invited because of logistics. He told us about it and we felt we had to acknowledge this milestone in his life–not a celebratory one in ours, though. Sending a check was easy. Selecting a card was not. Going to the card shop and standing in front of Communion cards was daunting for me. I tried to see the humor in this situation, but the cards were just too religious . . . there are no middle-of-the-road Communion cards. The easy solution was a warm, loving personal note on my stationery.
I am sensitive to the needs of my grandsons and believe our feelings should also be addressed. Last Christmas while visiting with my son’s family, our grandsons presented us with our gifts, chosen by them at their school’s holiday fair. Their mom, although not with them at the fair, knew they would be selecting gifts for us. Our youngest gave us bookends with “I love Grandma” and a money clip with “I love Grandpa” on them. Our oldest handed me a large wrapped gift, and as I unwrapped it, I saw a ceramic Madonna and Child.
I was horrified. Our son said nothing, and our daughter-in-law was amused. My husband and I were very upset. The novocaine was wearing off. I certainly didn’t want to upset my grandson. Realizing his sensitivity to us had to be addressed, I took the opportunity when it was presented.
I was alone with my grandson, who was then nine, and told him that I knew he had taken a lot of time selecting our gift, but that it was not appropriate for us, and did he knew what that meant? I explained that since we were Jewish, a Christian religious gift was not something that we would use. He said he was sorry, and I gently told him there was nothing to be sorry about. This was not his fault. He should have been told in advance what would have been a better choice.
I held back tears because he was so sensitive. I asked him if he had any questions and he said “no.” I then took the Madonna and Child and said, “I know that you gave this to us with love, and now I’m giving it back to you with our love.”
I allowed myself another shot of emotional novocaine. I try hard not to think of my grandsons as my Catholic grandsons and love them unconditionally.
Our heritage line has been broken, but not our hearts . . . and who really knows what choices our fully grown grandsons will make in the future . . .