Sheila Wray Gregoire is an author, blogger
and inspirational speaker. Find more of her
columns at www.faithtoday.ca/MessyFaith.
One Saturday this summer I donned an ankle-length blue gown, fastened my husband’s cufflinks and
passed my father-in-law a box of
tissues. So began a magical day as
we witnessed my oldest daughter
pledge her heart and her life to a
wonderful young man.
At the wedding the joy seemed
universal. Earlier this year when we
told others of her upcoming nuptials, though, the response was often
quite different. It veered more
toward incredulity, even among
Christians. Rebecca is only 20. Her
groom is 21.
It seems many Christians lean
toward the “Finish your education
and get a good job before you start
to date because you can’t afford to
get distracted” mentality.
But is that really feasible?
After all, one of the few explicit
reasons for marriage given in
Scripture is Paul’s famous “It is
better to marry than to burn with
passion” (1 Corinthians 7: 9).
Plenty of twentysomethings are
burning right now – even while
their degrees are piling up.
And part of that burning is due
to biological changes. According to
a study by Marcia Herman-Gid-dens, published in the American
journal Pediatrics, the average age
of onset of puberty for girls was 16. 6
in 1860, 13.1 in 1950, 12. 5 in 1980
and 10. 5 today. And the downward
trajectory is similar for boys.
But it’s not just that puberty is
coming earlier – marriage is coming later. Today the average age at
first marriage is around 29 for
women and 31 for men. In the
1960s it was only 23 and 25 re-
spectively. And in the 1800s it was
even earlier. A century and a half
ago, couples had roughly five years
between puberty and marriage.
Now we have almost 20.
Of course economic reality has
pushed the marriage age up because
as our society has become more
driven by skills, a middle-class life
requires postsecondary education.
We want to know our kids can
support themselves before they have
to support someone else. So we give
them the message, “Don’t marry
until you can buy a house, become a
partner at the firm, get a great job.”
While we’re saying that, we’re also
implying that money is more important than relationships – hardly a
healthy message if we want our kids
to prioritize family over self later.
I am not arguing that everyone
should marry young. God has different plans for each of us. Many of
us won’t meet a potential mate in
our 20s. But let’s not dismiss the
idea of marrying young.
I walked down the aisle at 21. Instead of having to combine two ways
of doing things, my husband and I
figured things out as we went along.
We cobbled together hand-me-
down furniture and garage sale finds
to furnish our apartment. We fig-
ured out how to budget and create a
savings plan together. We developed
our first cleaning schedule. And we
became parents when we were still
fairly young. I am only in my mid-
40s, yet I have spent over half my life
with someone who supports me,
loves me and makes me laugh.
However, many people aren’t
ready to marry at 21 – especially
young men. Part of that is biological
– the brain isn’t finished developing, and the adolescent preoccupation with self is hardly conducive
to marital bliss. But I wonder if that
is partly our own doing.
Most of our grandparents and
great-grandparents were parents in
their early 20s. Seventy years ago
the free world was saved mostly by
young men and women in their late
teens and 20s. It is not that young
people are incapable of acting responsibly. Maybe it is that we no
longer expect it of them, and so we
don’t raise them to handle such
responsibilities at young ages.
Not everyone needs to marry
young. But the Christian community should do more to raise our
youth so they are ready to do so.
After all, learning to serve others,
budget and support themselves,
care for their own home – these are
all important life skills, whether or
not they tie the knot.
Our communities would be much
healthier if we gave the message,
“You are grown up at 20,” rather
than, “Don’t worry about settling
down yet. Just find yourself.”
Responsibility is not a bad thing.
It is a blessing. /FT
right now –
are piling up.
SHEILA WRAY GREGOIRE
Do you support young marriage?
Marrying young can solve more problems than it causes. It is a blessing.
AVERAGE AGE OF
MARRIAGE IN CANADA