My husband and I are expecting a baby this August. During the AFC Championship Game in January, we were having a conversation with a friend who decided that if the baby is a boy, we should force him to become a football kicker. Our friend’s reasoning was that even relatively bad professional kickers make $400,000 a year. I told him to stop any such discussion because I hate it when parents force their children to fulfill the parents’ desires. Besides, I added, I want him to become a pastor.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Katherine Rosman had an interesting story about a different kind of relationship between parents and children. When children are more devout than their parents, relationships can get strained, she reports.
The parents of 16-year-old Kevin Ellstrand are self-described secular humanists who shun organized religion. Two years ago, Kevin says, he “started following Christ with all my heart.” He has taken a missionary trip to Mexico and participates in a weekly Bible study group.
In a time when many teens are having sex and taking drugs, his parents mostly consider his piety a blessing. They get upset, however, when Kevin explains that he doesn’t believe in evolution. “To me, this is appalling,” says his mother, Karen Byers, who has a doctorate in strategic management and was raised a Methodist. “We get into arguments, and voices get a little louder than they should.” Kevin says: “I don’t want my parents to go to hell for not believing in God. But that is what’s going to happen, and it really scares me.”
Rosman includes quite a few such stories about Christian, Jewish and Muslim youth. As far as the anecdotes go, the story is compelling. But her attempts to turn the reportage into a trend society are a bit disappointing:
While statistics on the number of devout young people are hard to come by, some groups that minister to the young report big gains. Young Life, an evangelical Christian ministry that focuses on children “disinterested” in religion, says more than 106,000 teens attended its programs on a weekly basis during the 2005-2006 school year, up from 66,362 12 years ago. “Mecca and Main Street,” a new book by Geneive Abdo, a senior analyst at the Gallup Organization’s Center for Muslim Studies, argues that a significant number of young U.S. Muslims are becoming substantially more devoted to Islam than their parents. In the Jewish community, a growing number of formerly secular young people are embracing an Orthodox lifestyle.
Rosman shows how some immigrant parents are particularly reticent to accept their children’s devotion. One Honduran immigrant is upset that her son is forgoing a psychology career for the Christian ministry because he promised her when he was a boy that he would support her. The son of Taiwanese immigrants was sent to Harvard with the expectation that he would become a corporate attorney. When he opted for Christian ministry his mother threatened to kill herself.
Holidays are particularly hard for families with different religious beliefs. Rosman looks at a secular Jewish family where one daughter became a Baal Teshuva (Hebrew for “master of return”). Rosman says that’s the name Orthodox Jews give to secular Jews who become observant:
Last year, Philip Ackerman of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and his wife wanted to take their three children and all of their grandchildren on a cruise to celebrate his 70th birthday. Among Mr. Ackerman’s children is Azriela Jaffe, who is a BT and the author of a book about how newly observant Jews can get along with their less-observant relatives, “What Do You Mean, You Can’t Eat in My Home?” Because the cruise ship didn’t offer kosher food, and the itinerary would require travel on the Jewish Sabbath, Mrs. Jaffe and her family declined the invitation.
The Jaffes celebrate Jewish holidays separately from their extended family because they aren’t observant. Secular holidays such as Thanksgiving are celebrated together when everyone travels to the Jaffes’ kosher home in Highland Park, N.J. “There is no compromise. It’s her way or the highway,” Mr. Ackerman said during a phone interview before abruptly hanging up at his wife’s urging.
Like every Wall Street Journal story I read, Rosman’s article is well written. The stories about Jewish, Christian and Muslim children interacting with their parents were all interesting in their own way. It made me wish that each religion could have had its own story. I know that there are similarities between each, but it would be nice to get an even deeper look into this understandable conflict.