Talking to your children about dating can be an uncomfortable experience. It seems even more daunting when the subject is interdating–especially if you are intermarried. But there are constructive ways to talk to your children about interdating that will lessen the chances they will tune you out.
Use positive, not negative terminology. We don’t believe that telling your children that you don’t want them to interdate is likely to be effective. It may even have the opposite of the intended effect on them. Instead, explain to them why you hope that they will want to live a Jewish life.
Explain to them that if they’d like to have a Jewish family and a Jewish life, their chances are greater if they marry someone who is Jewish. It’s certainly possible to have a rich Jewish life in an interfaith family, but it can take more work than in an in-married family.
Explain to them that if they’d like to marry someone Jewish, their best chance for doing so is exclusively dating Jews. They may say that dating is only dating, but almost all married relationships begin with a date–and very few of those couples thought that the date was going to lead to marriage when they met.
Tell them that you will love them no matter who their partner is.
Tell them that, in your experience, love does not “conquer all.” If a potential partner currently has a strong conviction about religion that is different than yours, their conviction may grow, not lessen, as time goes on. Change is part of any relationship, but partners are unlikely to change each other’s most deeply-held convictions.
Ask them non-judgmental questions about their date, or boyfriend or girlfriend. Showing genuine interest in all their dates–Jewish or not–will earn you credibility and respect. If you don’t have anything nice to say about one of their partners or dates, don’t say anything at all. If you establish a mature, non-judgmental relationship with them, you are more likely to have an influence on their decisions down the road.
Using negative reinforcement is a big gamble. We’ve heard of parents who don’t forbid their children to interdate but will only pay for their children’s date with Jews. That kind of strategy may work, but it may also lead to resentment, alienation or rebellion.
18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.