by Pamela Maringa

Family values usually refer to positive traits such as honesty, forgiveness, respect, responsibility, patience, empathy, and generosity. How these manifest, and which are prioritized, varies from family to family.

Not so long ago I went to one of my family’s gatherings. These usually take place on the last Sunday of the month, and each month at a different relatives’ home. I haven’t been attending these gatherings regularly. My dad or my brothers normally go to them. When I do attend, I meet with the aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and many other relatives.

In a black community, if you are over  the age of 26 without a child, they automatically assume that there must be something wrong with you. Aunties suddenly hear your clock ticking. I was asked when I am going to have a child. I realised that it didn’t surprise me why I wasn’t asked when I will get married. Firstly, because they have become accustomed to the idea of people having children out of wedlock. Secondly, the idea of getting married seems far-fetched, too expensive and unnecessary. Most of my cousins are not married but they each have couple of kids.

Attitudes towards marriage as a way of life, have changed a lot over the years. Many young people believe that being single is a perfectly appropriate way to live. The incidence of single-parent families has increased drastically, and the number of marriages has decreased in proportion. Many people with divorced parents, or who have been divorced themselves, have, understandably, a negative view of marriage which is also contributing to the decline.

Perhaps we can look closely at the goals of young people today. As the times have changed, could marriage perhaps have lost its value to them? Young people today are more career oriented and women are becoming more independent. Women are more financially stable which gives them greater control of their lives. Men are scared of commitment and their dreams don’t involve marriage anymore, but do, often, involve children.

More and more couples cohabitate without getting married. It used to be unacceptable and called “living in sin”, but now this disapproval has weakened. Some cohabitating relationships do lead to marriage. Today, around 60 percent of all marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in having children within marriage. I believe that marriage is still incredibly relevant to the life we live today. Families keep people together. They support us and they help to keep us grounded and focused on priorities. If possible, children need to grow up with both their parents. Children who come from backgrounds where there is little or no family structure frequently suffer from isolation, and often struggle to maintain relationships. I believe that some of the social problems we have in our community are caused by a lack of committed parents, who teach and live family values themselves.

The truth is, if we continue to be the generation that overlooks or devalues marriage, we will pass this attitude on to our children. Career women can also be married and raise children with good family values. If we want to have a positive influence on our kids, we have to start with ourselves.

Pope Francis extends “an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience.” (Amoris Laetitia, #5). Do we accept this challenge and start to change the way we look at and talk about marriage?