On children having children
MAY 17 — Next time you go to a city mall or any of the swanky places in Bangsar, Bandar Utama or Damansara, check out the couples with children. Very often, these days you will find that the ones pushing the pram or strollers are extremely young and look as if they just checked out of secondary school.
It’s quite troubling, to me at least. There is a strange trend that is prevalent among middle-class Malaysian Malays, particularly those living in the cities.
In stark contrast to what one would expect to occur with improved access and quality of education, economic progress and better opportunities for employment, more urban young Malays in their very early 20s or even late teens are making the decision to tie the knot. It seems to be that whether they are capable, ready or mature enough for the responsibility, itu belakang kira and the least of the considerations. I don’t get it. Marriage is a huge responsibility. The burden is as heavy if not more than during our parents’ day. Huge. It’s not to be undertaken lightly or without serious thought.
You can’t study about it in school or university and the only way for you to be prepared and ready for a lifetime with someone is for you to live life by yourself first. You need to experience the hardships of living independently, earning a wage (usually barely enough to feed yourself), paying bills, in short, learning to take care of yourself and living life to the fullest and as best as possible.
How can you expect to take care of and be with someone else when you can barely manage to feed, clothe and put a roof over your own head? The years of experience gained from singlehood prepares a person for marriage. There is no shortcut or easy way to go about it. You have got to do the time.
I have often heard people say that an early marriage is better as it is to “mengelakkan maksiat” (avoid sinful activities). That has got to be the worst possible reason to get married. Imagine, marrying someone just so that you can have sex. Imagine what that says about your self-esteem and of the person who you are going to be hitched to. Not a great way to start a relationship much less a marriage. But it does happen in Malaysia. Often.
What’s the hurry anyway? So, you are not yet married at 24? Big deal. Don’t you want to be married to someone who you actually want to spend time and do stuff with, to share in the ups and downs of life, to actually enjoy each other’s company? Or do you want to say the akad nikah (marriage vows) with someone who you dated for like, 30 minutes. Just because the idea of marriage is exciting?
In many societies, co-habitation has become a way to test drive relationships before the big decision. However, because in Malaysia the Malay way of life is bound by cultural norms and religion, this is neither an acceptable nor sanctioned option (at least officially). So, it is even more of a gamble for those wanting to get married at such an early age.
Consider how such a decision can be reached: assuming that a young couple goes out for four dates a week (that’s a little tough especially if both work or study but let’s give this a try). Each date lasts three to four hours (that’s a long date) and the couple have been dating for six months. Altogether, you would have spent 384 hours in each other’s company. Sounds a lot until you realise that that translates to a grand total of 16 days. Many marriages have begun with less. Do you know who you are marrying? Not just the nice bits, but the not-so-nice parts as well.
It often seems that marriage is the simplistic solution to so many things.
The boys and girls are not doing well in school. Kahwinkan aja! Just marry them off! (Yes, this still happens in our country.)
The 24-year-old religious teacher is interested in his 14-year-old student. Kahwinkan aja!
Very often, we get caught up with the idea of the wedding day itself. The glitz, the excitement, the hantaran and the costumes. But the wedding is just a few days. Marriage involves a great many years if not a lifetime.
And then, there is the decision to have a baby. Most young Malay couples who marry between the ages of 19 and 24 years will have a child within the first year of marriage. Sure, the plumbing and all the odds and ends necessary to make a baby work but do you have what it takes to take care of and bring up a child?
These young women and men who are just minutes after graduating from secondary school or university can barely communicate to get a job and survive in the real world, yet are expected or pressured to get married and have children.
Part of the blame falls on the parents.
Parents are great enablers when it comes to these early marriages. They provide the funding support, the religious rationale and the artificial environment which shields a young couple from the brutality of life. Allow me to explain.
Increasingly, more parents are welcoming their children back into their homes. In the past, those married would live separately from their in-laws and parents. But, the cost of living has increased tremendously and more young couples are finding it difficult to cope, especially if there is a single source of income. Defying all logic and practicality, there are also many a Malay man out there who upon marriage insists that his wife no longer works despite the reality that dual incomes have become a necessity for those living in the city.
Once safely ensconced in the protective shelter of the parental home, the young married couple often are spared the burden of bills, maintaining a household, buying furniture, forks and spoons, and a thousand other things. It’s an artificial environment.
Parents can be quite selfish in pushing a young couple to have children in their first year of marriage. They love the idea of grandchildren. And when the couple is living with a set of parents, they will probably be spared the burden of looking for a babysitter or helper and very often the costs of bringing up an infant child. How many of us have seen grandparents becoming substitute parents?
But really, how can a young couple, who are between ages 19 and 24 and just entering the workforce, be ready for marriage, manage a household and have a baby? How many of them are mentally, emotionally and financially prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of a marriage, a household and children?
Isn’t this a recipe for domestic violence, child abandonment, abuse and neglect?
Being unmarried is not a bad thing. Don’t get married for the wrong reasons. If you haven’t found anyone, don’t do it. If you don’t have enough money, don’t do it. If you are just not ready, don’t do it.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.