THE BLOG

Why Your Interfaith Wedding May Upset Your Parents

03/13/2012 11:50 am ET | Updated May 08, 2012

Weddings are notorious for stirring up the emotions of the clan. Add the element of intermarriage and even the most loving people might exhibit some of the stereotypical behaviors that have long plagued mixed-culture brides and grooms: the mother who is wounded because the wedding is not in a church, the grandmother who thinks your children will be cursed if you don't marry "your own kind," and the stubbornly conservative father who just can't see beyond his own tradition. It's not easy to deal with these kinds of issues with your parents, but understanding them will help you keep your footing.

Planning a wedding is often the first place couples begin to truly get some experience in the art of compromise. Interfaith couples especially are given many opportunities to work on the balance between "including everyone" and doing certain things to "keep the peace." Couples must also form good boundaries to protect themselves and their relationship when parents do not agree with their choice of mate -- or the break in family tradition that the marriage might bring.

A Hindu bride called me recently to ask for my advice in dealing with her very traditional mother, who was very against her marriage to her non-Hindu (in fact, Jewish) fiancé. This bride was so frustrated she had stopped speaking with her mother. The mom was equally frustrated and was voicing it in a way that made it difficult to have a conversation. I tried to help this bride understand her mom's perspective instead of fearing her mother so much, and ultimately she was able to re-open the lines of communication and listen to her mother's concerns -- and still move forward with the man she loved. She ended up compromising by having both a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony and a Western-style ceremony. The bride and her partner decided that it was more important to maintain a good relationship with the bride's mother than totally fight tradition.

I have had heard similar stories, many times, from couples that come in many different interfaith, intercultural, and interracial combinations. There is no pat solution for parental upset. The best approach to dealing with worried parents is with empathy and trying to understand their points of view and feelings, giving them some space to voice their concerns, and then giving them time to adjust.

Ultimately, you have to decide what is right for you. But attempting to listen and hear their point of view is an important part of the process for all. Being able to verbalize their concerns can be therapeutic for them and being able to ask questions may make them feel less threatened by your non-traditional wedding plans. It is also an exercise in understanding the culture from which your family or in-laws hail and allows you to prepare for married life. The issues that surface during planning a wedding are a microcosm of the issues that may underline your ongoing family relationships, so it is important to pay attention. These are the things that will get exacerbated during family functions, holidays, and if you have children.

Interfaith and intercultural issues usually come with many layers; they may be more complex or serious depending on the culture from which your family hails, their personal religious values, and their attachment to their traditions. Over time I have identified certain issues that repeat themselves. You might encounter one or more of the following:

Your Parents May Be Upset Because:

1. You are marrying outside your religion.

2. You won't be marrying inside their traditional house of worship.

3. You are not having a ceremony according to tradition or following the family traditions.

4. You are downplaying or leaving out God.

5. You are not wearing the expected wedding apparel or going through the expected rituals.

6. You are wearing wedding apparel from your beloved's culture and/​or going through rituals of his or her culture.

7. They fear you may honor your mate's tradition more than your own.

8. Deep down they are prejudiced or suspicious of people from different backgrounds, countries, faiths, and cultures.

9. They are afraid of what relatives, friends, and community will think and worried that they will be judged for your choice of mate and style of wedding.

10. They are so set in their ways, combined with any number of the preceding issues, that they can't deal with or accept your choice in mate or style of marriage.

Your Parents May Worry Because:

1. They think you and your children will suffer or be shunned.

2. They are concerned that your marriage (and hence children) won't be properly blessed by God or the family clergyperson.

3. They realize that if you are not married formally in your religion of birth, it may not be considered an official sacrament by their faith, religious institution, or clergy.

4. It may be an embarrassment to them in front of family and friends.

5. They may feel they have not done their job properly as parents or they have failed.

6. They feel they are betraying their traditions by participating in the marriage and/​or they are concerned they will have to participate in spiritual rituals that are against their own faith.

7. They fear that they -- or you, or both -- will be punished, ostracized, or blamed by relatives and the community.

8. They feel they have lost control of their family and their dreams for you, and they feel threatened.

9. You may not carry on the heritage of which they are proud.

10. Your heritage or faith may be watered down if you blend your life with someone from a different background.

In my ministry it has been a blessing to see that most families who have religious or cultural issues come around eventually, and there can be healing of rifts and cultural disagreements. Yet there are some situations where, despite best efforts, parents will not change their minds about intermarriage or the mate you have chosen. The challenge then becomes knowing when to move forward, without their blessing, while leaving the door open to acceptance someday.

Adapted from " Your Interfaith Wedding."