I never know exactly what people mean when they say that a separation is “amicable.” I’m still not sure. But what I do know is that in one of our earliest conversations about splitting up, my soon-to-be-ex-wife said to me, “I’ll need to take a pair of candlesticks and a kiddush cup with me so that I can do Shabbat with the kids on my Friday nights. And I’ll need to get a bread maker so that I can make challah.”
I gulped at that. “I can make you challah until you find one.”
Laura and I no longer worked as a couple. We knew that, but the acknowledgment of our relationship’s end still saddened us deeply (when, say, we weren’t deeply relieved or wildly anxious or just plain angry). In the nearly two decades we’d been together, we’d created so much, not the least of which were our two daughters whom we had pledged to raise as Jewish (my religion) with respect for her background and traditions: Christmas dinners, stockings, Easter eggs and the like.
Splitting up now meant that we’d have to figure out what it meant to be interfaith co-parents, spreading our traditions across two houses. Which ones would we uphold, and how? Would we light Shabbat candles and Hanukkah candles at both houses? We had only one menorah. Would she really make challah? Would I really make it for her? I knew one thing for sure: she’d have the Christmas tree she’d long been coveting at her place, while my home could now stay blissfully free of Christmas ornaments.
Here’s one great thing about interfaith breakups: No one needs to argue about who gets the kids for the holidays. In our draft separation agreement Laura gets the kids on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, every single year. And I’m fine with that: I can go see a movie and have Chinese food. I get first dibs at Passover, which, we agreed, trumps Easter in terms of our children’s cultural and religious upbringing. At the moment, I’m welcome to her place for Christmas dinner and Christmas morning to watch the kids open presents (I may take a pass on one or both of those occasions), and she’s invited to the seders (I have no idea if she’ll come).
We are still working out the details, and I’m sure that those details will change over time, as do all matters involving growing and changing families. But I can tell you that on the first Purim after the break-up, she and the kids met up with me at our tiny synagogue’s annual Purim party to hear the Megillah. As per usual, she’d made hamantaschen—because she’s the one of the two of us who actually knows how to make them, who always has.
Part of the process will be kid-led, too. Recently, our older daughter asked me if they would still light Shabbat candles at her other mom’s house. “You’ll have to talk to Laura about that,” I said, “but she has candlesticks and wine, so she can make Shabbat with you at her house.”
She pondered that for a moment, and then told me she wanted to do Shabbat at my house with me, but not at her other mom’s. “It’s your religion, not hers.”
I told her that we’d figure things out as we went along, that we had lots of different options for traditions in both houses.
And we will figure it out. In the same way—which is to say honestly, imperfectly, with joy and with compromise—that we brought together two faiths into one household, we will figure out how to incorporate those two faiths into two separate households. It won’t always work, and it won’t always be easy, but it’s important. It’s important because the ways in which we negotiate these issues is so very much a microcosm of how we will negotiate going forward, amicably, as a newly configured family. My goal is for our children to see their mothers as role models for compromise and creative problem-solving—not just in terms of religion, but in life.