Recently during lunch, my teen daughters and I were reading the newspaper (only on Sundays), and I see an article on young adults' views of marriage. No surprise -- a majority consider their chances of marrying as likely as winning the lottery. Even those who do marry risk increasing unhappiness and divorce rates. Bleak, isn't it?
But I think... not in my family. My daughters live in a stable, two-parent home. My husband and I have been married for many years. Surely, we have been an example that marriage has benefits and can beat the odds. Hoping to prove my point, I decide to share the article with my girls. First, though, I smile (imagining a job well done).
Next, I take the leap and ask them, "Do you believe marriage is obsolete for your generation?" Immediately, they both respond, "Yep, that's right." Then they go back to reading their newspaper sections (one has the comics and the other has the style section). However, I sit there stunned.
Taking a breath, I dive back in. "But what about Dad and me?" I pursue. "Haven't we shown how to have a successful marriage even with ups and downs?" My youngest just rolls her eyes. My oldest responds, "The article shows what people think now. You and Dad aside, most I know don't believe marriage is a certainty in the future."
She says that as a matter of fact. So much so, my mind suddenly jumps to imagine them as a spinster sisters living with twelve cats and no love in their lives. With my daughters' futures at stake, I refuse to give up. I insist, "But don't you want a thriving marriage, a life-long partner? Don't you want what Dad and I have?"
Keep in mind, the only daughter who is open to speaking is the one reading the comics. When she looks up again, I sense a slight look of annoyance in her eyes. "It's not that," she tells me. "Most people my age don't think they need an official marriage to lead a happy life."
Okay, I understand modern life offers many options and people are getting married less and later. But inside I am not smiling now. Did my husband and I do something wrong? Did we not show enough mutual respect and affection? God forbid, did we argue too much in front of them? Or did we not model effective problem solving?
Maybe it's not too late. Maybe some parenting expert on the web has posted effective "teen communication" advice. But in absence of that at this moment, I face reality. I know my daughters have peers with single parents. Not only is it common, but I see many of those parents raising wonderful kids and having fulfilling lives.
I also understand marriages can fail. When I was sixteen, my parents divorced. It wasn't easy, but it was right for their situation. Divorces can require hard adjustments and cause emotional pain for those involved. Yet wise parents strive to build a better family life. Eventually, my own parents became friends and we all spend holidays together.
Yet for those of us continuing the soon antiquated practice of marriage, every union has strengths and flaws. So what do I want for my daughters? Not to view a successful marriage as an unobtainable goal or to rule it out. Like most worthwhile endeavors, marriage is best when partners share, face challenges, and offer continued love and support.
With my mind occupied strategizing my next parenting move, my oldest daughter -- about to recommit to her silent reading -- finishes with, "It's not that I don't want to get married." Yeah, I think I'll leave well enough alone and take that as a positive sign.