If Marriage Doesn’t Work, What Do We Tell Our Children?
Black and Married with Kids recently published the article “I’ve never seen a marriage work” in response to a quote from Nia Long in a recent interview with Essence Magazine. I love the thoughtful manner in which writer Tiya Cunningham-Sumter discussed Ms. Long’s thinking and respected people’s right to choose to marry or not.
I needed to further comment on this because I feel that though the decision to marry or not is a personal one, basically claiming that marriage doesn’t really work can have a very negative affect on our children’s ability to view and approach relationships in a healthy way. Ms. Long has two boys – two boys of color – and maybe this is why I feel so pushed to say something.
In 2010, the National Kids Count Program found that in the United States, single parent homes, divided by race, was as follows: 66% African American or Black, 52% American Indian, 41% Latino.
Those are sad numbers and a sign that something is happening and lacking in our community, whether it be sex education, or relationship counseling, or even conversations on both long before our children get involved in either.
I am not going to get on some golden pedestal and profess that marriage should be nor is for everyone. As someone who saw marriages fail for so many in my family, and even for myself, I am a believer that it is best to be single than in an abusive or unhappy marriage anytime.
But to state that marriage isn’t an option “because you’ve never seen it work” for others is never a message you want to send to your children. It’s sad enough that this would be an ideology anyone would embrace, because it tends to shut off the possibilities that may be out there. To pass this on to your children, your male children especially, is something I don’t understand. It also seems like the easiest way out of a marriage experiencing trouble, by claiming “it just doesn’t work”.
As a former single mother I understand it is often difficult to not show the anger and disappointment in our failed relationships and ex-partners. Often times we are caught up in our emotions and pay little mind to how these can paint the world that our children live in. It is one of the most difficult balances to sustain as a single parent, especially one maybe going through a divorce or who has a bad relationship with the ex. Even as a married couple, it takes a lot of self-control to not loose it in front of the kids and to maintain disagreements in control (guilty as charged). But, when all else fails, our children still deserve to have the hope that maybe we no longer have for ourselves.
They deserve to believe that if they choose to open themselves to love, and commit their lives to a person, and then take it to that next level of getting married, that it could work out. That there is a chance it will last.
We owe it to our children to take the lessons we’ve learned from our own mistakes and failure to guide them in a way that will help them not repeat them - be it in making better choices, having the self confidence to stand up to abuse and walk away from it, and the tools needed to nurture and build a loving, healthy relationship.
Regardless of what our own failures, heartbreaks and disappointments have been in love or in marriage, we have no right to strip our children of the hope to attain these for themselves.
I don’t know Nia Long’s story, nor what she tells her children about marriage, about men – they are so young that these conversations are probably not even taking place right now. But as a mother who has been there and done that, I have learned that even with words unspoken, our children are always learning from us, observing us, and shaping their own impressions of the world and people around them based on our own cues and behaviors – whether we are married or not.
If Ms. Long truly believes that marriage doesn’t work, because she hasn’t seen it work for anyone, what will she tell her sons when they are men about love and relationships? Commitment and yes, even marriage for themselves?
Even if we don’t believe in marriage, there is no reason our children should be raised to feel the same. And there is certainly no reason to use the experiences of others as a basis for our own personal choices. That, my friend, is lacking accountability and courage, and one that will definitely serve as a barrier to a more positive outlook in life.