When Your Jewish Child is Dating a Non-Jew
by Vanessa Van Petten
This is a tricky article for me to write, but if you will be patient with me, I’m going to give it a shot. There are two reasons I want to write this article—both of which are the reason this topic is delicate. First, my Jewish mother married a non-Jew, my father. Second, I have been dating a non-Jew for 5 years. When I speak to Jewish groups and run Jewish workshops I tip-toe around both subjects, afraid of getting challenged or seeming hypocritical, but I know that my non-Jewish father and my non-Jewish boyfriend in an odd way actually made me more Jewish.
I will address how this actually happened, and how parents going through a similar situation with their own children can encourage this positive outcome in the tips below.
1. Say your piece and leave it.
If you harp on the fact that you are upset your child is dating a non-Jew you might encourage the worst possible reaction:
“I’m going to date this person just because, you mom, don’t like them.”
Sit them down, explain why it is important to you and then leave it.
2. Help them get clear on expectations.
It is hard in a new relationship to have a talk with a non-Jewish partner about wanting to raise kids kosher. However, parents can encourage their kids to have a simple talk with their partner about what the expectation is. Does your son or daughter want them to convert? Do they want to raise kids Jewish. Having a no-pressure conversation early is extremely important and can be easier than waiting three years into the relationship. When I started dating my fiancé, I told him very simply that I wanted to raise my children Jewish. And this meant specifically (because there are lots of different levels) Shabbat dinners on Friday, Hebrew school one day a week, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and High Holidays. He knew this going into the relationship and has not been a problem since.
3. Don’t complain to your friends or family.
It is very hard when kids overhear or get it third-hand that their parents are complaining bitterly about their new romance. I know this is hard but if you are upset about your child’s significant other, try to keep it between you and very close family members and make it clear that this should not get back to your child. It will only make them more resentful towards you and closer with their partner.
4. If you don’t like them, decide why.
It is one thing to not like your child’s significant other, it is another to not like them simply because they are not Jewish. Please try to make this distinction. My Grandma used to say that you can look at things through “cochen” (I believe the Yiddish word for poop) colored lenses. I often hear Jewish parents talk about non-Jewish potential children-in-law through poop colored glasses. Nothing they do is right, everything they do is wrong. Stop and ask yourself if you would feel any different about the person your child is dating if they were Jewish. If you still feel they would be a bad match, talk to your child about that. It is important to explain to your child that you feel they are not right besides the fact that they are not Jewish. (By the way, I feel sometimes parents overlook a bad match simply because a partner is Jewish.)
5. Are they happy?
I believe the most important thing to decide is if your child is happy. If they are happy and feel fulfilled, isn’t that the most we can ask for?
Vanessa writes many articles for her Jewish readers. Please check out the Young and Jewish Series to see her articles. You can also see her speaking engagements, workshops and groups for Jewish Parents around the world. Coming soon: How to build your teen’s Jewish Identity, How to Encourage Hebrew School Without Complaint and What to Do When Your Teen Is Dating A Non-Jew.