Several things have occurred in the last month that move me to make some observations about love, marriage, and the responsibilities that go along with marriage, children, and parenthood. These are simply my observations based on my own marriage and the marriages of my friends and family. These are not very scientific observations but they could easily be more realistic and accurate than those of the various pundits and psychologists who may be divorced themselves, study dysfunctional marriages, or view marriage in terms of groups and statistics. I’m not sure this is the way to study marriage or what makes it succeed or fail, but then my observations cannot be viewed as anything other than anecdotal and far from a universal view, nevertheless, these are my opinions based on experience.
Most people get married in their twenties, when the partners are young, healthy, and vigorous. It is an adventure filled with fun and frolic. But the excitement fades – usually after about a year – and life takes over. Things become routine, life assumes a pattern, and day-to-day responsibilities begin to intrude on the excitement. For those couples who expected life to continue much like it was before marriage the first signs of dissatisfaction begin to appear. There is a feeling of entrapment, of not being able to go clubbing with friends, of being obligated to pay bills, wash dishes, make beds, and in general act like their parents. Sometimes these marriages correct themselves but just as often the dissatisfaction grows and then divorce ends the adventure. Frequently, this begins a lifelong pattern of dissatisfaction because the individuals never get past the idea that life should be fun and that their personal happiness is all that matters – and this brings us to what I think is the very foundation of a solid marriage.
The cornerstone of a successful marriage begins with “liking”, not with love. Certainly love enters into it but the love that exists at the beginning tends to be passion rather than true love. Those who expect that feeling of exhilaration to last forever are in for a disappointment that usually culminates in affairs and ultimately divorce. Certainly this passion exists to a greater or lesser extent in all marriages but as it fades – and it always does – what is left is “liking” or friendship. Most happily married couples describe their partner as their best friend. If the partners truly like each other, this liking evolves into real love – something enduring and sustaining through all of life’s challenges. In these marriages the partners would rather be with each other than anyone else because they have more fun together than with others.
The second foundation stone in a solid marriage is unselfishness. The idea that a marriage is a fifty fifty proposition is totally false and anyone who thinks that it is doesn’t understand what a marriage is. The idea that each partner is obligated to carry half of the burden all of the time is unrealistic. The fact is that a marriage requires each partner to give 100% all of the time. Ironically when each partner is willing to give up everything for the other then neither partner must give up anything. A solid marriage requires that you give yourself 100% to the other person. When this happens then everything becomes equal and the partners have created a bond that grows in strength with each passing year. When you view marriage from this perspective you begin to see how arranged marriages might work, especially in societies where divorce is frowned upon.
It is worth noting that the purpose of marriage is not to have fun but to have children. Obviously some people cannot have children and others choose not to, but most people do and this brings one of life’s greatest blessings and greatest challenges – raising children. Although it is politically correct today to accept that there is no difference between women and men the reality is that they are different and different at a very fundamental level. If you doubt this watch very young children at play and which toys they select – boys and girls are different and all of the politically correct studies in the world will not change that and it is this difference that is carried over into marriage and parenthood.
Women are the child bearers and it is their role to love and nurture the young but their role is truly much larger. It is the women of the world who make a house a home. It is they who create the warmth and comfort that we all associate with home. They do this in many subtle and indirect ways and they do it while maintaining the home, preparing the food, and raising the children. Now I can hear the screeches now accusing me of being old fashioned, of sexism, of male chauvinism, and a lack of understanding of the current reality of marriage. However, I am talking about successful marriages and child rearing based on personal observations not the reality of the contemporary state of marriage or the politically correct view of gender roles. Nowhere did I say that women could not or should not work outside of the home. No where have I said that they should not have careers. What I did say is that it is the woman who makes a house a home and that it is the woman who feeds, loves, and nurtures the family. This does not mean that the male half cannot or does not contribute but this is not his primary role. The man’s part is to protect, defend, to provide shelter, food, and clothing but also to train and introduce risk. Not all men are up to this challenge, especially if they did not have good role models themselves, but the man plays a very important role in child rearing. While it is possible for a single parent to successfully raise a child, it is better if both parents are present.
Obviously this is a very simplistic view but not all people who get married and have children are prepared for these responsibilities. Some people become overwhelmed by these responsibilities for many reasons. Sometimes they are not financially capable of supporting the children, sometimes they are not emotionally prepared for the sacrifices that come with children, while others view the children as an impediment to their fun. These are the parents that leave their children alone and unattended, the ones that become abusive, the ones that neglect their children emotionally as well as physically. Many times these are the people who sink into alcoholism and drug abuse. These are the ones who lack the emotional strength to deal with life’s problems much less the responsibility of children. Ironically it is these parents who after a lifetime of neglect expect their children to love, respect, and care for them once the children are grown. A parent is a parent first and a successful parent may be friends with their children once they are grown but no parent has a right to expect anything from his adult children. Whatever they give should be from the heart and not from obligation.
And this brings me to the point and that is what responsibility does an adult child have toward his parents? In my opinion no child owes his parents anything and anything that they do offer should be done willingly and from the heart. If the parent was abusive, neglectful, or abandoned the child then why should the child feel guilty for being neglectful and abandoning the parent? Being a parent is a lifetime commitment and should not be undertaken lightly. The child has no control and is totally dependent on the parent but if the parent fails the child, then the child is absolved of any commitment to the parent. This is not to say that the child should abandon the parent but that they should do what they wish to do, not what society or others think they should do.