Christmas break my senior year of college I finally told my parents that my post-student teaching plans in the fall included a December wedding. One of my mother's many arguments against my getting married included "you're too young" to which my father responded "they are the same age we were." Jeff and I have been happily married for over ten years, but those words from my mother took on new meaning this weekend when we watched my husband's cousin and new bride, who are the same age we were when we got married, exchange their vows and join their lives together. I watched the happy couple and their wedding party and one thought kept running in my mind: "They are too young." While I've had other younger cousins, sisters and siblings-in-law, and former students post pictures of their weddings and (gulp!) babies, this hit harder than those events. And maybe it's because I have known Jeff's cousin since he was 8 or 9. He's the same age as my still unmarried baby sister. In my mind, they both are still kids. I remember when Jeff was able to pick his cousins up and I would watch my boyfriend, in the early stages of our relationship, long before I ever decided I could indeed marry him, play football with his younger cousins and know that he would be a great father someday.
We've all heard the statistics; the older you are when you first get married, the more likely you are to have a successful and lasting marriage. It shouldn't be much of a surprise. As we get older we become more established in our careers, become more financially stable, and get to make mistakes figuring out who we are and what we want with our lives without it having a significant impact on a spouse. Doing all of these things with a spouse often complicates or hinders our ability to establish ourselves. Add early kids into the mix and you have a perfect storm of problems that can destroy a young marriage. But it doesn't have to. I know plenty of people (my grandparents included) who have had successful marriages after getting married at a young age, having children young, and then struggling for years financially. They were and are committed to their marriages and have made it through the storms closer and stronger than ever. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen, but I don't believe statistics tell the whole story. Does it have to be about age? Can it instead be about knowing who and what you are (for me that would be a child of God, a wife, a mother, and a teacher, in that particular, albeit very close, order)? Can it also be about having a spouse who understands that for you to grow as a couple you also need to grow as a person, and be given the freedom (with some personal restraint) to do so?
One of my favorite novels is Kate Chopin's The Awakening, a novel about a woman who leaves her husband and small children to find herself, takes on a lover, and then (SPOILER ALERT!!!) finally commits suicide by walking out into the Gulf of Mexico. It is a book that I believe every young woman should read before she gets married, and book I am teaching to my AP students this year. Those who question why a Christian woman who believes in the institution of marriage would ever consider recommending such a novel are missing the point of the book. Unlike many of her feminist contemporaries, Kate Chopin was a happy wife and mother. She relished her role, but she also had a husband who gave her the latitude to write about women who were unhappy in their roles as wives, mothers, or both. She understood the difficulties women in the late 19th and early 20th century faced, and I believe that her message is still important today. Chopin's protagonist is a woman unhappy in her roles because she was never given the opportunity to find herself. Instead, she goes straight from her father's home to her husband's home. When she finally discovers that this is not making her happy, she decides to leave, live on her own, and she finds herself. She doesn't end the novel happy, but at least she tried. Chopin's point was that women needed the opportunity to figure out who and what they were in order for them to be happy in their roles as wives and mothers. And 100 years later, her novel still rings true for men AND women. For us to be satisfied in our roles, we need the freedom to be what God intends us to be. I love my role as wife and mother, but my husband knows (and as the summer winds down this once again has become painfully obvious to us) that for me to be the sane and loving wife and mother I want and need to be, I need to also keep my role as teacher. I treasure the time at home with my children during breaks, but at some point I get restless. I want adult conversation and I want to talk about reading and writing. I don't just want it, I NEED it. Which might be why I decided to start a blog halfway through my summer break. I do not have the balance down to a science, but we keep working on it, believing that it benefits all of us to do so.
My husband and I did not have a typical courtship. We spent the vast majority of our relationship separated by two time zones and three states. Seward, NE to Grand Rapids, MI is a long drive, but we made it work, and we got married immediately after I finished student teaching because we simply could not handle being separated anymore. We missed each other like crazy, but were thankful for the recent explosion of email and then the mainstreaming of cell phones which allowed us to communicate easily. In the meantime, we had time to grow on our own. We had our own friends and activities and I even made the decision to spend a semester in London, three and a half months that convinced me that I actually wanted to marry him. So yes, we were young, but we gave each other the room to at least start figuring out who we were and what we wanted. And while that continues to change as we get older, we are able to support each other through those changes because we understand how important our personal happiness is for the success of our family.
And all this takes me back to this last weekend. Were we really that young? The answer is yes, we were. We were kids embarking on a tremendous adventure that more often resembles the world's largest roller coaster than a lazy river. But were we stupid? No. We've made some stupid mistakes along the way, and we will probably continue to make stupid mistakes along the way, but we are committed to growing together. And my prayer for my newly married cousin-in-law and his bride, as well as my unmarried baby sister, cousins, students and former students, and especially my very young son and daughter, is that they will get married when they are ready for marriage, not just a wedding. That they will trust that God's plans are better than ours and that they don't have to rush it. That they will start figuring out who they are and what they want before they join their lives with another, but that once they have become "one flesh" they will grow together and that their spouse will give them the latitude to grow even when the future is uncertain and scary for the whole family. So God's richest blessings to the newlyweds and all who have recently begun the adventure. It's a fantastic, thrilling, and terrifying ride. Enjoy!