Marriage has gone through profound changes over the last six decades, but we continue to speak about it as though it's the same old familiar pattern. Today's young people can listen to their grandparents tell how they fell in love, or what their first apartment was like, and feel that nothing is different. Yet marriage has changed dramatically. Today's children must marry under circumstances neither I, nor my parents, ever knew. It's sobering to contrast generations passed circumstances with what young people can expect now.
- In 1946, the vast majority of marriages were "till death do us part." Now it's a coin flip—as many as half of all first marriages end in divorce.
- Most women were virgins when they married then—and a lot of men were, too. Now, only a small percentage of partners lack sexual experience prior to their wedding day.
- Then, husbands earned money while wives stayed home to raise the kids. Today's roles are much more fluid, since most women work for pay and many work full-time even when their kids are small.
- Then, most people had grown up with a mother and dad, a pattern of family life they expected to reproduce. Now, about half of all children grow up without a full-time father because of divorce. As young adults, they enter marriage with little experience of a strong two-parent family.
- Then, the idea of a man marrying another man (or a woman another woman) would have provoked amazement, incredulity or hilarity. Now, any sixth grader can tell you what a gay marriage is.
The world is profoundly different for those who marry today, but we can do some things to help the next generation prepare for marriage.
4 ways to help the next generation
As parents, we can feel helpless to do anything to reverse the social trends our children must contend with. All social change, however, begins with one person. As individuals, therefore, we can buck destructive trends. Here are some starting points.
1. Rediscover the church.
We must make church a priority for our children. That means sports, family activities, Scouts and anything else that competes must be put firmly in second place. If kids say church is boring, so what? We don't give them an option about attending school, do we? Furthermore, if we expect our kids to make sacrifices to go to church, we should be willing to make sacrifices to make their church experience a positive one. If your church isn't reaching kids, demand change. If the change isn't coming, consider another church. We have only a few years to influence our kids to love Jesus and to catch the habit of enjoying his people. A strong faith and a strong Christian peer group are powerful influences for helping our kids buck social trends.
2. Get a reality check.
We need to talk to our kids about the realities of marriage. Let me suggest on your next car trip you make marriage the topic of conversation. Ask your kids: "What qualities will you look for in a partner? How will you tell whether those qualities are there? What would be warning signs that someone wasn't likely to be a good partner? What do you think a person should do when he or she sees such warning signs?" You don't have to provide all the answers; the greatest advantage of such a conversation is that the kids can start thinking about real issues before they have to confront them.
Another approach is to ask your kids what marriages they admire, why they admire them, and what kind of person they should marry to have a marriage that others will admire. (By the way, your marriage doesn't have to be perfect to have this discussion.)