Children, choice or necessity in marriage?
Ever dared to tell your African parents you don’t want children? Or that you think having children in marriage is a matter of choice not as important as the first intention of God for the institution — having great companionship with your partner? Maybe that’s too extreme. Alright, ever dared to say you want just a child? Need I guess their reaction? If your parents are like the typical African parents, then, your guess is as good as mine.
Growing up, I watched people get tied down just for the mistake of an unplanned pregnancy. A girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, totally unplanned and most of the time, not by her ideal man. Regardless of her age and emotional capacity, African parents ship her off to be wedded with the father of her unplanned child. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are both ready to handle the responsibilities that come with marriage and childbirth. Thank God for these days; with proper awareness and civilization, we see men and women co-parenting, taking responsibility for their actions, without necessarily making another mistake of taking up marriage as a penance for their mistakes.
Unfortunately, though times are changing, it seems to me that one of the few areas that change is yet to touch is that of the mentality that children should automatically be the focus of marriage. Marriage is mostly considered fruitful if the couple can bear children, whether or not they want them, the more children they have, the more fruitful they are. Due to the relapse in the economy, fruitfulness is termed as having three-four kids, when times were better, you could have as many as you wanted. A couple who can bear children within this range, whether happily married or not is termed ‘fruitful or ‘blessed’. Children are termed the ‘fruit’ of a marriage.
I told my African mother I don’t plan on having kids until I’m two-three years into my marriage and her first reaction was ‘God forbid!’. It was so funny, I laughed hard. Then she asked why I would say such. “The earlier, the better, that’s how things should be done”, she said. “Mummy, why do you think I’m getting married in the first place? Just to have kids? If I’m desperate about having kids, I would have them outside of wedlock or adopt, there are many options these days”, I had said. “Adopt ke? God forbid! I gave birth to you, you will give birth to your children by God’s grace” my dear mother had screamed.
I was discussing with an older friend who is married with three kids. I asked if she could imagine a good life with her partner even without kids. She thought for a while and said “Not really. I guess at some point, I would always feel something is missing. Like we can have more”. I understood. I mean, I have my standpoint but I also understood her perspective. I was about to ask why she thought so, but she beat me to it. “Girl, honestly, I believe it shouldn’t be like that. I mean as much as I believe that is not all that marriage is about, but it is a part of it. I mean, when I was getting married to Stephen, I never imagined that we wouldn’t have kids or be unable to have them. Take my mum, for instance, she has seven of us, so I have never imagined not wanting kids or even the possibility of not having them, but I was never very excited at the thought of having them until they came. I just saw them as a natural part of this institution called marriage. I never really had an opinion. Also, I feel very blessed and fulfilled having them now”. That statement again provoked some thoughts. Is fulfillment possible in a childless marriage? Can people feel blessed and fulfilled in a childless marriage, whether being childless was their decision or not?
“And Stephen? Have you ever asked him?”, I wanted to know. “Well Stephen has always wanted kids, he is an only child so he lacked companionship of siblings. He says his parents couldn’t have more and wouldn’t consider adoption. So he had always dreamed of a large family. We are currently on number three, left to him, we’d have two more” she laughed. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s very obvious she’s content with her life and decisions. Knowing her, I knew I could dig deeper. She has always known me to be very factual and logical. She always says I am the type that causes trouble by needling at what other people would rather not talk about. Knowing I was in a safe place and could ask as much as I wanted to without offending, I continued; “What if you guys couldn’t have kids due to medical reasons, would you be this happy? How would that affect your marriage? Do you think nothing would have changed still?”. She paused awhile, obviously in deep thought. “Hmm, to be sincere, I think things wouldn’t be the same. I believe Stephen wouldn’t be this content. Like I said earlier, he had always craved a big family. As for me, even though I had no opinion, I would still be happy. I loved Stephen enough to marry him, but I’m happier and more content now”.
I have come to realize contentment and happiness mean different things to different people. I recently read an article that talked about some Nigerian women who shared why they do not want children and couldn’t help but relate with them. Though they all had their different reasons for not wanting kids, one thing they had in common is their firm belief that happiness is just as possible in a childless marriage as it is in a marriage blessed with children. Being the logical person that I am, I believe it is very important that we count our costs before we take any stand on the view. Do you want children? Great. They are huge blessings as long as you have the means to provide for them and you don’t use them as a retirement backup plan or have them because that is what is expected by society. It would be a terrible thing for your kids to see themselves as a mere necessity, borne out of the need to meet up with societal standards. Also bear in mind that the number of kids you want should be determined by your financial, emotional, and even mental capacity and not society. Can you afford to raise five kids? Carry on! Do you want just a kid? Carry on. Just do you.
One time, my girl, Omobolanle, and I were having a discussion centered around the number of kids we would love to have, and if at all, children are a must. My girl’s grandmother, who is such a sweet soul was seated with us in the living room, picking beans while pretending not to listen in on our conversation had sharply jerked her head at the sound of ‘I‘d love to have just one child’. The tray of unpicked beans lay forgotten beside her while she looked down at us from her glassed perched on the bridge of her nose. “Children of nowadays, you people don’t know the value of having many kids and being surrounded by them. A dinner table filled with children is better than having all the money in this world or climbing the highest point of your career ladder”. “Grandma, I wouldn’t mind the money and career o. Times are changing” my friend said. Grandma had looked at her like she had grown an extra head, then she turned to me, “Ngbo, you, her friend, do you agree with her?”. Trying to be diplomatic, I smiled and said “I agree that children are a huge blessing and are definitely worth all the trouble, however, it is important, that parents also live their lives, go as far as they want to without the restraint of the responsibilities of many children. Grandma, children will eventually grow up and start their own lives and if parents put their lives on hold just for their children, by the time the children begin their own lives, it would be too late for the parents. What I mean is, we can all find a balance, have the number of children we can adequately cater for, raise them to be independent while also focusing on our own lives”, I responded, hoping I was able to convince her. Grandma chuckled. “Back in our days, we lived for our children. Now you guys only want to live for yourselves. You may not know the importance of being surrounded by your children now until you are old and frail”. My girl and I had simply looked at each other and shook our heads. We were thinking the same thing; you can never win an African elder in a conversation.
As a child, I had thought the natural process of life was to get married and have children, probably that’s why there’s a lot of fuss when a couple is having issues with getting pregnant. I would have thought it abnormal if I ever heard someone said they didn’t want children. Now, due to enlightenment through formal education and exposure, I have come to view life issues and people’s perspectives with an open mind. The more exposure I get, the more liberal I become in my thinking. This has helped me to critically review this topic and spur me to ask some questions people would rather shy away from. As my friend would say, I find pleasure needling at those areas people would rather look away from or are too scared to talk about. Let’s be honest, shall we?
Dear reader, is your partner enough for you? Are you in that marriage because you are very fulfilled doing life with your partner with or without the promise of children? In cases where couples experience a delay in childbirth or even childlessness, what keeps the couple who can remain is the fact that their partners are enough. I believe Africans are the most religious people that exist in this world (I don’t need statistics to prove that). I already imagine a lot of readers rebuking it. As much as I wish you well, I also know that there are great and godly people who are childless, and not of their own volition. When the pressure from family members, friends, and even acquaintances comes, would you be able to stand? You know those pitiful stares, whispers, the subtle questions, the direct ones, jests, and even threats, when they come your way would your partner be enough for you?
For those superstitious people who would always urge couples with a child to hurry and birth another, saying having a child is risky, is the second child a backup plan? Is his existence an understudy, in case something happens to the main lead? African parents would say there is little difference between a childless person and that who has a child. Such a statement makes me wonder if a whole being created by God has that little meaning. Ever heard someone say “You know you should begin the process of giving XYZ a brother or sister. God forbid something happens to XYZ, what would you do then?”. My response to such a question is usually “Haven’t you heard of unfortunate situations where all four children of a particular family perished in an accident? What then do we say to that? The faith you have over the protection of two or more children is more than sufficient to sustain a child. The fear of illness, death, retirement, and old age shouldn’t be the reason we keep bearing children. There are cases where parents with two or more children are left to fend for themselves in their old age while an only child singlehandedly took care of his parents”.
For clarity, this article is not to coerce you into taking a standpoint any different from the one you have taken. However, it is important to know that for every decision, there is a consequence. If you have decided that kids are not for you, be double sure your partner is on the same page with you, so when the battles come, you can fight as one as come out victorious. If you cannot imagine a life without kids, have them solely for the love of them, not for any of human’s selfish reasons and your children will be grateful for it.