Friday, August 24, 2007

So what makes a marriage work

I MARRIED my husband when he was only 22 years old and three months after he had
completed his National Service. I was 25 then and several relatives even discreetly asked if it was a shotgun wedding.

According to the Singapore Department of Statistics, which recently released the figures for marriages and divorces in 2006, marriages with at least one person aged 20 to 24 are most likely to fail. For every 1,000 married men in this age group last year, slightly more than 50 bailed out of their marriages. The number of divorces hit a high with 7,061 divorces and annulments.

Based on the above figures, the odds should have been against us staying married. Yet, we are looking forward to celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary next year.

On the eve of my friend’s wedding recently, he spent the afternoon in our house. He was aware of the trends andhoped that his marriage would last as long as ours. Yet, he was not very hopeful as he was aware of the distractions he could encounter once he plunged into mid-life. He was worried about the sweet secretary sashaying seductively in his office or the charming foreign lady ever ready to ensnare an honest and hardworking Singaporean. He wondered if we had ever considered living together.

While my husband and I did seriously consider it, we realised that this kind of experiential, pseudo marriage was not the real McCoy.

Many have argued that the high rate of divorce and other problems that are encountered in marriages suggest that a trial marriage or living together before tying the knot would make sense.

However, many do not realise that this would not be feasible as a real marriage is secure, while an experimental one is only temporary. The security in a proper marriage makes it easier for honest and authentic dialogue to help one another grow.

Before we got married, my husband and I agreed that divorce was not an option. We were committed to the lasting quality of committed love. Of course, we have had our own seven-year itches and both of us have been tempted more than once to walk away from each other. Temptation is not a problem until we give in to it. Instead of suppressing temptation, we faced it together as a couple.

A marriage should not be entered into in a light-hearted or frivolous manner. Often in Singapore, a couple might be pressured into marriage so as to buy a flat. This could well be one reason why marriages with a person aged 20 to 24 in the relationship sometimes fail.

One friend walked away from his “HDB marriage” when he realised that he was not compatible with the girl he had been going out with for the past seven years. In the end, he married someone else although everyone was telling him that it was a waste to throw away a seven-year relationship.

Ultimately, a marriage is a sign that one has made a commitment to each other. This commitment should not be easily shaken by problems with the in-laws, finances, work or children. It is a long-term decision that should not be based on feelings alone.

Another friend divorced her husband of four months because she believed she had lost all feelings for him. It might be difficult for her to establish a long-term relationship with anyone if it is based on emotions alone.

More than just depending on chronological age, it is the maturity of the individual that determines if a marriage will last.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our eldest son Angus 18 with our youngest son Anicius 2.

MY ELDEST son will turn 18 this week. He will be old enough to drink legally
and his college mates have been waiting to take him to a pub. He can buy beer,
cigarettes and even condoms legally. As his birthday approaches, I wonder
if my husband and I have brought him up well.

Will he give in to peer pressure and live a life that we consider decadent? Will
he consider alternative lifestyles which we are not yet ready to accept? What happens
if he chooses to marry someone who is of a different race or religion from us?

Given that he is our eldest son, we had to learn by trial and error as parents
and realise our mistakes along the way.

In reflection, we realise that it is now easier to bring up the rest of our children
because of him. In a way, children are like dogs, we discovered. They can be trained when they are young but once they hit their teens, it is as good as trying to teach an old dog new tricks. To teach our son responsibility, we used to put a reasonable
amount of money in the moneybox for him to take for recess. If he spent it before
the next allowance was due, he had to remain hungry.

He learned to obey the rules that we established. For example, when he played in the park, we expected him to set the time limit and to return home on time.

So, when he became a teenager, he was already used to a curfew and tried to return
by 10pm. And if he needed to return later, he was expected to call.

Now, we will have to continue this process with our youngest child who will
be turning two in August. Already the little tyke is testing our will, just like his
older brother 16 years ago.

He is learning to establish his identity and is exploring how far he can push
his boundaries.

We realised that if we teach our youngest son now, we should be able to avoid some of the problems that parents encounter with their teenagers.

One of the problems with many families in Singapore is the dual-income situation,
ie both parents work to bring home the bacon. Ours is a typical family with the maid
being the main provider of household services.

Many parents take the easy way out and expect the maid to be a surrogate parent.
Kids sometimes end up being used to giving orders to the maid and expect
adults to obey their every whim and fancy.

It is no wonder that such children tend to find it difficult to listen to their parents.

Our children have learnt to obey us as they know that the authority lies with
us, the parents.

We are the final arbiters of privileges, punishments and penalties. When
our children break the house rules, we have to ensure they bear the consequences
of their actions.

Now that my son is close to being an adult, we have to learn to cut the apron
strings too.

All too often, we are tempted to provide him with a solution when he encounters

But now we have to learn to listen to him more for him to work out his difficulties
himself. As parents, we always proclaim that we want the best for our child. But is the best really for him or for ourselves? When we help him to make a career choice, is it based on sound judgment or based on our unfulfilled dreams? When we give
him opinions about his girlfriends, did we base our views on the kind of daughter-
in-law we want or on the one he can love?

Ultimately the best birthday gift we can give our son is not another guitar or
hand phone but a pair of wings to fly and explore his brave new world.