Being married requires skills that take a lifetime to perfect. It is something that must be nurtured, toiled for, and mastered over time. Any married person will tell a stunning bride and a proud groom that once the beautiful wedding is over the real work of keeping it together begins. However, even though many try to prepare for marriage in advance by taking classes, reading books, and even taking premarital counseling, in actuality we begin learning how to be married from the time we leave our mother’s womb and are carried in our father’s arms.
Growing up we learn a lot of things especially from those closest to us. We learn how to eat, talk, and walk by closely watching how others do it. We also learn what’s good and bad, what's possible and what's impossible. Through our mothers we learn the role that women usually play in the household and the same when it comes to the role of the father. But, we also learn by watching how they interact with each other how to be married. Through this interaction we should learn how to relate to the opposite sex, how to handle disputes, disappointments, hard times, and how to persevere through them. We should learn that marriage isn’t easy and isn’t always about getting our needs met. We should learn that it takes a level of dedication and strength that is not always immediately gratifying, but reaps its own reward in the end. However, what many children are learning today with the rapid increase of divorce and single parent homes along with expectations, rules, and responsibilities laid down by their parents is actually how NOT to be and stay married.
Today, and in recent years many children are growing up without a true model of marriage to emulate. As a result, marriage itself becomes more of a fantasy than a serious reality of life and choice. Husbands are expected to be nothing more than opinion-less knights in shining armor, and wives; silent and submissive robots. But, when reality strikes and reveals how hard married life really is, too many quickly or eventually throws in the towel. Often, even with the idea that they will find someone better.
While people are mostly thinking of their own happiness and new found freedom in these matters, what they often fail to recognize is that their children are watching and imbibing everything they say and do. Even in single parent homes where the mother or father has never been married; those that allow their children to witness serial monogamous relationships, or less than kind and respectful interactions between their parents are doing just as much damage―if not worse. These parents don’t truly consider that their children will grow up and do the same things in their own relationships and marriage and thus begins the ever-growing cycle of single parent and divorced homes. It's a well documented statistic that the children of those who have lifelong marriages, usually grow up and have lifelong marriages themselves. And it’s also well documented that children benefit much more from having both their parents in the home than just one.
In single parent homes girls learn by watching their mother how to handle everything by themselves. This is fine if they do not marry or have children, but works against them if they do. (Contrary to some single mom's beliefs, even a great mother can't replace a father.) Mostly, because when a man comes into the picture, that same little girl now a grown woman will feel like a man is encroaching upon her territory and will struggle to allow him space to be a man in the relationship. Some girls will even learn by watching their mothers that they “don’t need a man,” and feel the need to remind men of this every opportunity they can. Most importantly girls will learn that a man doesn’t need to marry her in order to show his commitment and loyalty, and that shacking up is just as fine as anything else. These are but a few of the kinds of mentalities I have seen in women that if it is not tearing their relationships and marriages apart, it already has. They don’t know how to talk to men, relate to men, share their lives with men, or how to compromise with them.
The even sadder part about it is that these women usually have no idea of the part that they have played in the collapse of their own families because by all accounts what they have done in their eyes is a normal aspect of being a woman, being married, or being in a relationship. Unfortunately, many men are doing things not much better.
As boys, men learn that it’s ok to have children with women they are not interested in marrying. They learn that if they eliminate themselves from the picture, the woman might struggle but will manage to raise the child alone just like his own mother did. They learn that their place within a family is not essential as they managed to turn out ok when their own father left. They don’t know how to be patient, compromising, or loving toward a woman and that if she becomes too much of a headache they believe they are well within their right to leave. They see marriage as a restriction on their lives as opposed to a welcomed commitment, and even abuse as a mean to manage that commitment as opposed to loving authority and wisdom.
The even sadder part is they will usually and eventually go off to marry another woman when they are older and more mature and leave their first family or several families by the wayside. Most often times they fail to recognize the scars and hurt they left have behind in the life, hearts, and minds of those children or those children’s mother.
These kinds of lessons about relationships that we inevitably pass on to our children can range from simply unfortunate to outright devastating. They can leave a trail of scarred hearts and confusion so overwhelming that it takes that child a lifetime to overcome, if they overcome it at all. If we looked at and realized the responsibility that comes with not just marriage, but bringing children into the world maybe we can stop these destructive habits from being passed down in our own children's lives. While I understand the circumstances or divorce and single parent homes can vary, it still doesn’t negate the kind of damage it can cause to the child and thereby their future relationships. If a parent can accept and understand this, it will increase the likelihood of them being more intentional and proactive about curbing the negative influences of it.
Men and woman alike are not learning, as evident in the decline of two parent homes, about the love, patience, long suffering, commitment, and nurturing it takes to keep a family and marriage together. They are not learning that what defines a person’s strength is not the decision to walk away, but the determination to stay and make it work. Even in single parent homes that are not the result of a divorce, parents must be especially careful about how they project marriage and relationships to their children. While it may be a bit more difficult to teach them the responsibility, seriousness, and tools they will need without them seeing these things actively demonstrated by the two most important people in their world, with wisdom it is still very possible.
If both men and women came into marriage with this understanding, not only would they take marriage more seriously before jumping into it, they would also be more careful about producing children outside of it. Unfortunately, this single parent scenario is becoming all too common in the black community, and seems to be doing a great job at driving a bigger wedge between men and women in the United States as a whole. While I understand that some issues might require someone to take a step back, or that all single parent homes are not the result of divorce and unwedded parents, we must still understand that even special circumstances are opportunities to teach our children lessons to equip them for challenges they will also face. Let’s never forget that we must not simply teach our children how to struggle through the harsh realities of life alone, but also with a partner. It’s not just good for their future marriage and children, but for society as a whole.
Stephanie Kekeocha was born and raised in Chicago, IL. She has a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Read more
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