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TomKat quandary: How do you make interfaith parenting work?

In less than two weeks, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have announced their separation, graced nearly every tabloid cover on the planet, and signed a divorce agreement according to their lawyers. On Monday, the couple released this joint statement “We are committed to working together as parents to accomplish what is in our daughter Suri’s best interests. We want to keep matters affecting our fa
Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise in happier days.
Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise in happier days.John D. Mchugh / AFP - Getty Images file / Today

In less than two weeks, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have announced their separation, graced nearly every tabloid cover on the planet, and signed a divorce agreement according to their lawyers. 

On Monday, the couple released this joint statement

“We are committed to working together as parents to accomplish what is in our daughter Suri’s best interests. We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each others commitment to each of our respective believes and support each other’s roles as parents.”

According to numerous sources over the past ten days, the TomKat split was about something many Americans can relate to: the tricky business of raising a child in an inter-faith marriage. A 2007 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study found that 27 percent of Americans were in interfaith relationship, and more folks are discussing  the particular challenges that come with interfaith families and parenting.    

In this case, Tom is a pretty active Scientologist. Katie—not so much. According to one TMZ report, he wanted to introduce their seven-year old daughter, Suri, more fully to the Church of Scientology. And reports have surfaced that Katie Holmes had rejoined the Catholic church of her youth.

But wait, you ask. Didn’t they cover this particular juggernaut before they got married? When she got pregnant? Or sometime, in the past seven years, before it all came to a head like this? After all, it’s not like Tom’s religious beliefs came out of left field.

Kristen Goodman is the mother of three children under the age of five in Rye, New York. She describes her upbringing as devoutly Catholic and still identifies strongly with Catholicism today. Her husband, she says, was raised in a “mostly Jewish home.”

“We certainly discussed our religious differences before we married,” Kristen explains. “[But] as you might expect, your opinions can change once children arrive. He wanted the kids to be raised the same way he was. I wanted them to be ritualized Catholic since I perceived myself to be more religious than him.” 

So far, Kristen and her husband have decided to expose their children to both of their beliefs.

“We try to focus on the similarity of our Judeo-Christian values and we attempt not to let the religious wars of our ancestors play out in our home,” she said. 

Kristen’s experience is fairly common among interfaith couples. Even if you talk about something theoretically as a couple, it’s very different when there’s an actual child— especially once they’re old enough to start asking questions about rituals in your home. Giving your partner the freedom to revise his or her position on something that affects the family is key to a successful relationship. Bernie Golden, a psychotherapist and marriage counselor in Toronto, works with many interfaith couples and encourages them to re-evaluate and communicate when they’ve changed their mind about religious issues.

“It’s so important to keep a fluid and open discussion around parenting ideas, beliefs, faiths, and styles,” he advises. “One of the most important things a person can do for their relationship is shift from trying to convince your partner that you are right about an issues to trying to understand your partner’s position on the issue.”

But for some couples, the specific label attached to their family or child or which church or synagogue their son or daughter attends isn’t the heart of the issue—even if they end up choosing one set of religious traditions in their home.  Amy Lipper has been married to her husband for 29 years. They raised both of their now-adult children in an interfaith marriage, though they celebrated Jewish holidays as a family unit and their sons attended Hebrew school.

“The most important thing is family,” She explains. “And almost all religions value family. Sure, traditions are great—because they bring families together— but the reason to have religion is so that your family has a strong ethical base. Whatever it is—Catholic, Jewish, Hindu— the point is to come together and make sure your children know who they are and have a solid moral core.”

Bio: Jacoba Urist is a lawyer, writer and mom in Manhattan. In addition to Today Moms, her articles can be found on Forbes, Newsweek/TheDailyBeast and The Atlantic.  Her website is: www.Jacobaurist.com . Follow her on twitter: @ThehappiestPare. Full disclosure: she’s a huge, huge Top Gun fan and told people she would marry Tom Cruise when she was nine years old.

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