It is with great interest that I read that the nuclear family is in a state of decay. It seems that marriage is an outdated institution, unnecessary and undesirable for future generations. Evidence for this comes from the declarations proclaimed in the latte-soaked lounge rooms of embittered baby-boomers. “We do not wish to marry… (again),” you might hear a disenchanted businessman or intellectual say, “and therefore nobody else wishes to. Let’s print that”.
In the playground, it is a different story entirely. Girls from the age of 8 are planning their weddings - but of course, that is nothing new, they always have. The interesting thing is that this anticipation of marriage does not seem to waver with age and experience. Fast-forward 9 or 10 years, and you see these girls on the cusp of adulthood. School has just finished, and work, TAFE, university, apprenticeships, whatever, are soon to become a reality. And yet, the ideas of wife and motherhood are still strong. “I’d like to become a barrister … and have 7 kids,” one of my girlfriends asserted recently. Yes, the rest of my friends did recoil in horror, but only to reply that they personally would prefer 2 or 3 kids. And this is at a selective, academically-minded, all-girls school.
There are concerns among my peers that a balance between a high-profile career and traditional motherhood will be difficult to maintain. And so perhaps the era of post post-modernist motherhood will be different to that of its predecessors. Men will be expected to take a much more active role with housework and spend more time with their children. Women will pursue more challenging careers, but not be ashamed, or feel stigmatised, to drop these careers for the sake of their children.
Among boys there appears to be a clear difference emerging between those who are more religious and/or conservative and those who are more liberal and/or agnostic. It has been my observation that those deeply committed to a faith seem to stay in relationships and desire marriage earlier in life. For example I know of at least three 19-year-old males who have proposed to their girlfriends in the last few years … and no, the girls weren’t pregnant. In contrast, the more liberally minded are more likely to have shorter relationships, and will not actively seek to marry until at least their late 20s, but there goal is still to marry. “I can’t wait to be a dad,” is not that far from most boys’ lips.
The problem today is that social commentators, usually embittered by their own bad relationships or at least their observations of them, try to tell my generation that marriage is bad, or at least, superfluous. The men and women we look up to tell us it is a good idea to move in with someone without committing to marriage, to just “kind of feel the air”, but not to get tied down.
Boys grow inured to this and eventually most couples see cohabitation as merely the next progressive step in a relationship. So what on earth could possibly induce a man to propose to a woman when there is free sex and the housework gets done without any commitment necessary in return? A guy has it so good in this situation: all the entitlements of marriage, but safe in the knowledge that if something “better” comes along he doesn’t have to “lose half of his stuff” to make the exchange. Although the boys by now, cannot see anything wrong with this, the girls are stuck in the situation of desperately crying out for a wedding ring, with little hope of procuring one. (I know a woman who proposed three times to a man she was living with, yet stayed with him after he said "No" three times.)
Researchers tell us that intimacy and commitment are among the biggest fears of adolescents. True. We have sex from a very young age and unlike our grandparents, we don’t wait for our “soul-mates” or spouses or whoever else, but basically sleep with whoever happens to be there and at least seems kind of “into us” at the time. But this physical, almost bestial, act does not satisfy the soul as it does (albeit momentarily) the body.
It might seem strange to admit it, but traditional marriage is what most young people seek. Females are more in tune to it, or at least more vocal about it, than males. They say history repeats in cycles; one generation will be a repeat of the grandparent’s generation, but perhaps with the added knowledge of the parent’s generation. My generation has seen the deep-set lines of sadness and perhaps unfulfilment in the faces of those women with the shoulder-padded business-suits, and the faces of those bored housewives with the floral dresses.
So we want a compromise, one that is both progressive and regressive (in a cycle, it is always both) for our generation. We want careers, yes, but more we want children, and we want the dads to hang around for them. We want a university degree and a parent of the year award, not in that order, but we do want both. We want sex with someone that means something to us, and we want to mean something to them. In short, we seek what is best offered in marriage and in a nuclear family. The desire for this is so high among females and at least initially, among males, that we might actually have the chance of achieving it - if the 40-somethings can stop telling the 20-somethings how to live their lives.