As someone who uses the word ‘blame’ incredibly sparingly, this is one of few occasions I find it justified since parents have done a great job letting themselves off the hook for the issues and problems we see in marriage today when, if you do some deep thinking about it, they carry much more of the responsibility than they’ve led any of us to believe – and that’s probably the way they want to keep it. But this is the hard dose of reality everyone needs to hear: there are reasons so many young people have and continue to struggle with marriage and the pursuit of it and the source of those struggles does not fall solely on the shoulders of those young people.
Now, my generation catches quite a bit of flak from the generations that came before us for an endless list of things when it comes to the way we live our lives. We are criticized to no end for having and making choices that differ from the ones available ten, twenty, thirty years ago – especially when it comes to marriage. And it leaves us in a paradox because no matter what we do, we’re wrong, stubborn, close-minded, impatient, picky, and the list goes on.
When young people say they want to delay marriage until after they pursue higher education, they’re mocked, viewed as pretentious and elitist, and for girls – are told that waiting will only make it harder for them to find a spouse when they’ve passed “their prime” or are too accomplished for many potential suitors. When they say they want to get married young, they’re also mocked, viewed as desperate, and for some guys – aren’t taken seriously as a suitor because they may not have the stability some parents look for in a potential spouse for their daughter.
When a young person says they know what type of person they are looking for when considering a life partner, they’re stubborn, close-minded, and picky. When they say they’re open to different types of people and don’t have particular expectations, they’re accused of not taking the matter seriously, having too many options to know what to do with, and/or are probably just lying because they have a secret significant other they’re hiding from their families anyway.
When a young couple gets divorced or breaks off their engagement, they’re young and reckless, they refused to endure the ups and downs of relationships as tolerantly as those who came before them, and they’re labeled as used goods or as having too much baggage to be viewed as a viable partner to future potential spouses – literally, like a used car, viewed as having depreciated in value (?).
And HEAVEN-FORBID someone my age says they don’t want to get married; it sends parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins into mass frenzy!
Like I said, the criticism never ends. And *shocker* hardly any of it is actually constructive or supportive!
As a semi-unbiased third party (I’m not a parent and I’m not married), I must say, parents have done a wonderful job of eradicating themselves of any of the responsibility in regards to high divorce rates and lack of interest in willingness to pursue marriage by young people today. And not only is it a shame, it’s almost exactly the reason we have the problems we have within our community – some of our elders don’t even model maturity and self-awareness when it comes to ownership over their roles in these issues.
At the risk of offending more than just my own parents, who are already aware of my views and reluctantly agree with some of my points, I’ve had this discussion with plenty of other parents with kids my age who fall into any of the categories of criticized young people I described and I have yet to hear a rebuttal, let alone one that holds water. Since the age of 14, when my older sister was engaged for the first time and subsequently broke off said engagement, I’ve been paying attention – nay, doing my research. And after seeing hundreds of engagements and marriages, dozens of broken engagements and divorces, and the endless pursuits of parents who are trying to marry off their sons and daughters, I’d like to bring awareness to some of the contributing factors to negative marriage trends that fall on their shoulders – not ours.
…Some of our elders don’t even model maturity and self-awareness when it comes to ownership over their roles in these issues.
And before a crusade of parents comes after me with the “you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about – you’re not a parent” speech and creates the #NotAllParents movement with attempts to discredit my purpose here — these don’t apply to ALL parents and I’m not discrediting the efforts of parents who do their best to raise well-rounded individuals. So, please keep in mind there is no harsh, rude, or judgmental tone attached to any of my unbiased observations. It is guided by the intention that if we want to see our community do right and better by one another, we must be willing to change the parts of our history that do not fit the narrative we want to pursue moving forward.
Parents are to blame for expecting their sons and daughters to just man/woman-up and know what duties and responsibilities are his/hers to uphold within their home, with their children, with their parents, with their in-laws, with their extended families, with their community, etc., once they are married instead of actually having conversations and teaching them that life has a different set of circumstances and responsibilities after they cross that threshold.
Parents are to blame for constantly telling their young daughters that certain things can only happen after they get married – i.e. putting on makeup, going to college, getting a job, having and hanging out with friends, purchasing clothing of their choice, etc., for girls who marry men on impulse or out of desperation just to have increased amounts of freedom and liberty within their own lives.
Parents are to blame for, at the first conversation about their son pursuing a girl for marriage, getting so caught up in wedding planning: venues, dresses, floral arrangements, guest list, etc. that they never once stop to talk to their son to determine whether or not he is actually prepared for all that being married entails, so if he’s not prepared, they can support him and instill the values he needs to have in order to successfully fulfill his role and responsibilities as a husband.
Parents are to blame for placing higher value on physical appearance when it comes to potential spouses for their kids, openly encouraging them to be more interested in people with light skin, light hair, blue or green eyes, slender bodies, etc. and not teaching their children to believe that the likelihood of being with a person who gives you genuine, unconditional love and puts your soul at ease does not increase or decrease based on what a person looks like on the outside.
Parents are to blame for teaching their young daughters that getting engaged and married are accomplishments in and of themselves and that unwed individuals, especially those who are older in age, are lesser than for not being married – despite also profusely claiming to believe that marriage is an act of fate or destiny and not the outcome of one’s individual efforts to make it happen.
Parents are to blame for giving their children unrealistic expectations of marriage – both spectrums – fairytale or gloom and doom – ultimately setting them up for failure instead of being honest and open about what maintaining a strong relationship entails, the couple’s responsibility to one another, and putting in their best efforts to make it work.
Parents are to blame for not teaching their children that it is OK to set standards and expectations for a healthy marriage, complete with what problems can and should be worked through and what problems are deal breakers for the couple. Of course, this varies by culture, level of religiosity, the parents’ own marriage, etc., but it’s better to give something than nothing—the latter of which is what most often happens.
Parents are to blame for not modeling healthy relationships for their children to learn from whether that is within their own marriage, with their siblings, parents, in-laws, or with those children themselves, etc., making it difficult for their sons and/or daughters to know how to create and sustain healthy relationships in their own lives and to know what positive qualities to seek in a future spouse.
Parents are to blame for constantly making their sons choose between them and their wives, openly offering negative and harsh criticism of daughters-in-law in front of their sons, extended family, said daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law’s family, and the couple’s own children – to name a few – and driving a large but invisible wedge in the relationship of the married couple.
Parents are to blame for using the infamous phrase “we’ll find him a new wife tomorrow” in an attempt to intimidate their son’s wife and shut her up when she stands up for herself in the relationship instead of recognizing that their son isn’t perfect and needs to own up to the mistakes he makes.
Parents are to blame for mocking love-marriages and labeling them as phony, foolish, and less likely to last, ultimately leaving their children with the false perception that true marriages are long-lasting because the couple stays together out of obligation despite being miserable and unfulfilled by the relationship.
Lastly, and keeping in mind all of the aforementioned things (and more that are not listed) that parents have or have not done to contribute to the marriage problem in our community, parents and in-laws are to blame for making divorce seem so much like an unjustified crime against both families, their reputations, and their bank accounts that many young couples stay in unhealthy, unsafe, unhappy marriages just to save face, reaffirm the belief that they’ve gotten one over on unmarried friends and relatives, and most of all – as a cop out to justify not putting in the effort and work required to make their marriage healthy, safe, happy, and what they want it to be so their children and future generations can learn from and replicate those positive relationships in their own lives.
As with all learning experiences, the sooner people accept their role in making a mess of a situation, the sooner they can equip themselves to clean it up. And it really would behoove parents to ensure they are instilling the right values in their children because, especially for the parents of young men, when you stand with your son or daughter who is agreeing to commit his/her life to someone, you are in a sense standing by as a cosigner – agreeing to take responsibility and support the marriage when it falters. Just some food for thought. This conversation doesn’t have to end here. Certainly, young people aren’t without fault when it comes to this topic, so this is just the beginning of an attempt to turn things around so we can start to make positive changes.