I was listening to the radio the other day, and a question was posed to the audience that made my ears perk up: “Is marriage still relevant and desirable?” As an advocate for healthy relationships, marriage and stable families, I thought someone was simply playing devil’s advocate. Marriage isn’t for everyone, however, with regard to family structure and functioning, a healthy marriage serves as an asset for family members and a defense against many social and health ills that plague our society. Let me be clear before I move on – this article isn’t meant to bash diverse family structures. With all my heart, I believe that we all want our children to flourish – irrespective of our marital status. The heart and intent behind this piece is to uplift the beauty of God’s design for families, provide encouragement for marriage and challenge individuals to examine their heart toward marriage, in general, and within the context of family formation.
Current research highlights the protective nature of healthy marriages for children’s well-being. The Center for Disease Control (2010) conducted a study on the impact of family structure on children’s health, and found that married families have the most optimal child health outcomes on a number of indices. We have to take an introspective look into our hearts when we say that marriage is no longer relevant or desirable. Marriage is so much bigger than the two individuals involved; so much bigger than the family in which it is embedded; and so much bigger than the community in which it impacts. Marriages of today, or the lack thereof, are shaping the current well-being of children and the well-being of families that have yet to be formed. Oftentimes, we equate change to progress – contemporary changes in family structure, for example. However, change may not always indicate progress. For example, the Census Bureau finds that over 7 out of 10 African American children are born to unmarried mothers. Now we know that marital structure does not equal non-involvement of the non-residential parent, and in many cases unmarried households are cohabiting. However, these cohabiting relationships are more likely to dissolve in comparison to marital relationships. Additionally, for single parents whose co-parent resides outside of the home, we see that, on average, this structure has a negative effect on the non-residential parent’s involvement with his/her child. Granted, there is a host of social factors that impact entry into marriage; however, let’s make sure that the condition of our hearts toward marriage doesn’t serve as a barrier.
It’s important to consider marriage and family formation through the eyes of a child – what do your children want? Childbearing will never become irrelevant or undesirable, yet the important protection and structure of marriage is slowly becoming an exception and not the rule for families, especially for African American families. We have to take our eyes off our current generation – there is a young generation looking to our examples for relational and familial functioning. What are the messages we are sending? Does our narrative for relationships only highlight pain and disappointment? Do our messages instill a sense of hope or hopelessness? Our children are watching, and they are internalizing these messages – even the ones that we don’t speak with our mouths but express through our behaviors. So I pose the question, is marriage relevant or desirable? It will always be relevant through the eyes of a child.
I completely understand the hurt and pain that many individuals have experienced in intimate relationships. However, we cannot allow our hurt and pain to hold us back from the idea of experiencing healthy relationships that culminate into marriage. Hopelessness is driving the dynamics of many relationships today. To attract better, we must first believe that better exists. I especially feel that African American women have been indoctrinated to believe that their probability for marriage is low. You don’t have to accept the narrative that all the good men are taken, or African American men are either in jail, dead, or don’t want to be with you. You don’t have to accept this script. The positive edition of your love life is waiting to be conceived in your mind first. God wants you to have a successful marriage and family life. He has a vested interest in your love life because the success of marriage and family life supports His agenda of bringing health and healing to our dying world. God views marriage as honorable, and it is the only family relationship that he uses to describe Jesus’ relationship with the church. Believe what God said about marriage. Let your faith and hope in Him be used to shape your heart toward marriage. So that when someone asks you if marriage is relevant and desirable, your answer will always be an emphatic YES!