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Avoid Being the Wicked Stepmother

So how can some of these tensions and misunderstandings reasonably and successfully be overcome? I believe that there are two simple and logical answers to this dilemma, and they are unequivocally respect and consistency. Here is a list of things that my husband and I have been working on with a great deal of success.

1. Recruit your partner for support.
As with any relationship issues, your partner should care enough about you and the health of your relationship together to always "get your back." Whether it's dividing up household chores, the need for privacy, curfews, respecting personal belongings, noisy stereos, sharing computer time, back-talking, or any of the other complications of sharing a living environment, your partner should stand united on matters that are important to you and the health of your relationship. Even if your partner's beliefs totally differ from yours, and he or she never tries to understand a single aspect of your beliefs, that's okay. Obviously your love is what counts the most, and not what gods are acknowledged. The stepchildren should be made to understand this as well. Ask for and expect your partner's help in explaining to his/her offspring and other family members that your spiritual practices are important to you, and that interference or disrespect will not be tolerated.

2. Be respectful of their spiritual beliefs.
Never get into an argument with your partner, the stepchildren, or other family members over whose religion is "right" or "wrong." Don't take on this personal crusade of trying to "educate" them on your Neo-Paganism. Let them notice on their own the similarities and differences of your joint practice, beliefs, and holidays, and allow them come to their own conclusions. Participate in the more secular aspects of their holidays in an appropriate and loving manner. Recognize that their beliefs are as important to them as yours are to you. Be respectful when you must attend functions that occur in churches, synagogues, etc., that are a part of their lives, like weddings, funerals, graduations, bar mitzvahs, baptisms, and confirmations.

3. Be specific informing them of the times of your rituals.

If you are hosting a group ritual in your home, let your family know exactly what the dates and times of your events will be. Explain that interruptions will be considered as rude and unacceptable. Ask for their cooperation in allowing you the time to perform your ritual without interference. Give them reminders as the event draws closer so that they can make alternate plans if they are not going to attend. Remind them again on the evening before or on the morning of the celebration, or both if you think it will help. Although some rituals can go later than planned, especially when some of your guests are running on "Pagan Standard Time," give your family the respect of trying to tie things up at the time you had promised. It's their home too, and they need time to unwind at the end of the day and to get settled into bed at a reasonable hour.

If you are solitary and don't have group rituals in your home, these same rules apply for private rituals and meditation time, too.

4. Invite them to your celebrations.
Even if you know the answer is always going to be no, continue to try to include them in your rituals and celebrations, either the rituals that you will be hosting in your home or the ones you will be traveling to. If they won't attend, ask them if they would instead like to prepare a dish that you'll be sharing with your participants, or if they'd like to help you with the decorations, or if they'd like to hear some of the music you've selected for the event and give their opinion. Invite them to gather after the ritual is complete to share in food and drink with the group so that they can bond with them on a social level.

5. And did I mention recruiting your partner for support?
Continue to ask and rely upon your partner for help. Consistency is the key. When requests for privacy and respect are not met, don't feel that you have to be the "bad witch" from a fairy tale. No poison apples from me, thank you very much. Let your partner know that you expect him/her to consistently dish out the appropriate consequences for any disrespectful or rude behavior on the part of your stepchildren. Agree upon these consequences together so that they will be acceptable to both of you. Let this be the chance for the kids to witness for themselves that your beliefs and happiness are important to their biological parent.

Living in an interfaith household doesn't have to be an Us vs. Them crisis. It should be the graceful, respectful merging of ideas that come from a variety of sources. Whether it's the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the company you keep, or the gods you acknowledge, different does not mean wrong. It's just different. And diversity can be a wonderful experience when there's a safe and happy environment to share it in.

4/27/2010 4:00:00 AM