What works for one won’t necessarily work for all. I’ve been following the comments on Hawkgrrrl’s recent post about dating with interest, particularly in light of Elder Holland’s recent address to the CES folk. The relevant portions of his speech, in which he raises a number of reasons why our young people may be delaying or avoiding marriage, together with my observations, follow.

Let me list some specific things that I think you should teach your students to be glad about and over which they should cease being fearful. I note, for example, getting married, having families, and welcoming children into the world. We in the presiding councils of the Church hear far too often—and perhaps you do as well—that many of our youth and young adults are terrified to get married. In extreme cases they are fearful that the world is about to end in blood and disaster—something they don’t want to take a spouse or child into.” (Elder Holland)

Now let me see, just who is it preaching all that last days, fear-inducing, increasingly evil world, pre-millennial doom? I think I’ve been hearing that at church most of my life. It might be an idea to bear in mind that some people hearing that rhetoric are going to believe it, will take you absolutely literally on that. It will worry them. And it’s a surprise that their resulting anxiety renders them incapable of seeing any possibility of living a normal happy family life? Maybe this is Elder Holland’s way of telling the CES folks they’ve overdone it, and he’s asking them to dial it down a bit. In trying to scare the laid back, don’t care segment of the youthful population into good behaviour, they’ve simply terrified the anxious types.

In less severe, more common cases, they are fearful that the world will just get more difficult, that jobs will be too hard to find, and that one should be out of school, out of debt, have a career, and own a home before considering marriage.

Good grief! On that formula Sister Holland and I still wouldn’t be married! Seriously, when we got married we were both still undergraduates at BYU, with neither set of parents able to help us at all financially, no way to imagine all the graduate education we had yet ahead of us, and this with $300 dollars between us on our wedding day! Now that may not be the ideal way to start a marriage, but what a marriage it has been and what we would have missed if we had waited even one day longer than we did once we knew that that marriage was right. Sure, there was sacrifice; certainly there were restless days and weeks and months; certainly there was some burning of the midnight oil. But I tremble to think what we would have lost if we had taken “counsel from our fears,” as President James E. Faust would later tell me over and over and over that I and no one else should ever do. What if we had delayed inordinately? What would we have missed?” (Elder Holland)

If inflation in the US was anything like we’ve experienced in Britain over the past decades, I’m thinking that $300 could have been a lot more than it sounds now. Today’s university graduates are knee-deep in student debt, for an increasingly costly education. In England, university tuition fees have tripled from the level of only 10 years ago. Nevertheless, the closest I’ve seen that matches Elder Holland’s description of those who feel they should be out of school, out of debt, have a career, and own a home before considering marriage”, is what seems to me the somewhat sensible idea that at least one party in the couple should have completed their education, and be in a position to find paid employment. Currently, student loans in Britain are repaid once earnings reach a minimum level, and are deducted from a salary. The repayment period is 25 years. I don’t know anyone who feels they should be free of debt before marrying. No-one plans to wait 25 years. Likewise, I haven’t met anyone who believes they need to qualify for a mortgage, never mind to own their home, before considering marriage. Rising house prices (which have more than tripled here over the last 20 years), have led to increasingly lengthy mortgage terms, and most people are entering the housing market quite a lot older than in the past. This looks like a straw man to me. What are your observations?

I really liked rah’s relevant comment on Hawkgrrrl’s dating post:

I think we tend to underplay the impact that economic prospects are having on our youth. The fact is that family supporting jobs are becoming rarer and rarer. Add to that the pressure to start families early and to have a stay at home parent and it can look kind of crushing. Hanging out is by far the logical option if you are staring down years of school and exclusive relationships where you are attracted to the person carry all kinds of spiritual dangers. The world just isn’t like was in the 50s through 70s. Family sustaining jobs and career paths on a single income aren’t plausible, even here in the richest country the world has ever known, just because you are willing to work hard. Getting there requires careful planning, lots of education etc. In some sense, we as Mormons need to lay off preaching/saying that our kids can “have it all”. Most people can’t get married at 22, have 6 kids by your 30s, be financially stable (if not prosperous), have a single income, be EQ president etc. etc. Yet to me that seems to be the ideal we put out there for them. As a guy that can just appear crushing.

“… I completely empathize with college kids staring into the face of all this and thinking…maybe I should play it cool a bit. And for people whose economic prospects are much dimmer even more so. I just can’t imagine that all this doesn’t impact our dating age kids behavior, self evaluations, confidence etc. All Mormons can’t be 90th percentile and sadly the ideal we put out there for our youth kind of requires it (and then it is a stretch). If dating means charging down this path head on…dude I would totally just hang.” (rah) [emphasis mine]

This is a very different world. And yes, I have heard those stories about the Great Depression in the 1930s. Still, today’s young people are competing for jobs in a global market place, where wages at the low end are being pushed forever down. I wish our leaders could recognise that they’re where they are because they likely are upper percentile folks. It’s unfair to say you can do what we did, and get to be where we are, because that’s not the case for most folks.

Elder Holland continues:

I still think the best definition of marital love is James Thurber’s, who said simply that love is what you go through together. I will be eternally grateful for what Pat was willing to go through with me—that she did not feel I had to have my degree and a car and a home and a career all in hand before we could marry.

And we wanted children as soon as we could get them, which in our case did not turn out to be as easy as we thought. In fact, if we hadn’t determined to have our family as promptly as we could, we might well have been a childless couple, as some of our friends and some of you, through no fault of your own, have found it your lot in life to be. It took us three years to have our first child, another three to get a second, and four to get a third. And then that was it. A full-term miscarriage for a fourth closed that door to us forever, so we have rejoiced in the three children we have been able to raise. But what would our lives have been like if we had waited or delayed or worried unduly about the economics of it all? Which of our children would we give back? With what memories or love or lessons with each of them would we ever part? I shudder to think of it.” (Elder Holland)

This is of course Elder Holland’s own personal experience. It’s okay to feel you did the right thing for you, not so okay to believe that what was the right thing for you is going to work out so well for everyone else. We are all entitled to our own personal revelation on that point. I might also suggest, that while it may not have been what they wished, and likely was a source of sorrow, the timing and spacing of their children was nevertheless, would have had some benefit.

Brethren and sisters, I think we have to start earlier to teach our students the place of marriage and family in the great plan of happiness. Waiting until they are of marriageable age puts us way behind the curve. And I don’t have to tell you that social trends, declining moral standards, and the “vain imagination” of popular entertainment will regularly be in opposition to that teaching.”

I’m not sure that ever more emphasis on marriage will be helpful. At. All. As it is, the heavier emphasis on marriage and parenthood at the last General Conference had my 17 year old son in tears.

For example, it is alarming to us that in the last 50 years the natural median age for men to marry has risen from age 22 to age 28! That is the world’s figure, not the Church’s, but we eventually follow the world in some way in much of its social trending. Add to this such diverse influences on the young as the increased availability of birth control, the morally destructive rise of pornography, an increased disaffiliation with institutional religion, the pervasive quest for material goods generally, the rise of postmodern thought with its skepticism and subjectivity and you see the context for anxiety and fear that a rising generation can feel. With these kinds of winds blowing in their lives, they can be damaged almost before mature, married life has begun.

Furthermore, so many young people I talk to fear that if they do marry they will be just another divorce statistic; they will be another individual who dove foolishly into marriage only to find there was no water in that pool. Couple that leeriness about the success of marriage with the tawdry, foul, often devilish mocking of chastity and fidelity and family life so regularly portrayed in movies and on television and you see the problem.” (Elder Holland)

So, here I’ll first refer to Jack Hughes’ comment over on Hawkgrrrl’s post:

… [Millenials] are also more likely to have grown up seeing divorce and failed marriages, much more than their parents did. It’s counterproductive for the older generations to keep blaming the younger for not living up to the older cultural expectations in a different world. And for many it can be absolutely crushing.” (Jack Hughes)

That bit about having seen more divorce. That. The divorce that many have seen is the divorce of their own parents, or aunts and uncles. The divorce they have seen is the divorce of close family members who were raised in the church. Close family members who absolutely followed the advice to marry young, and start a family immediately. And it didn’t work out. The divorce they have seen, is for many of them not divorce viewed from a distance, but divorce up close and personal. It’s all very well to blame post-modernism for scepticism, but real scepticism comes from hearing the very same rhetoric about marriage that failed those in their own families, who followed that advice. I’m in my mid-40s, and I when I look at the cohort I grew up with at church in YM/YW it’s a sobering thing. All of them married before I did. All of them subsequently divorced and later remarried.* What are your own observations on the prevalence of divorce?

We have our work cut out for us to preserve and perpetuate both the holiness and the happiness of marriage. You can begin by showing the blessing, the reward, and the reality of a happy marriage in your own lives. That doesn’t mean you should be Pollyannaish about marriage; every marriage takes work, and yours will too. But, as always, your first and most penetrating lessons to your students will be the lessons of your own life. You show them in word and deed that your marriage and your family mean everything to you because they should—they must. Help your students “be not afraid, only believe” in marriage and family in these last days. Lucifer will make that harder and harder to do even as it becomes more and more important to do.” (Elder Holland)

My first thought is, how will students feel when they realise divorce spells the end of employment for a CES employee? That’s certainly one incentive to keep a marriage going. That aside, yes please. Let’s put an end to Pollyannaish rhetoric. I heard a lot of talks, GA quotes and the like growing up about how folk had never heard their parents say a cross word to each other, and it was all painted sweetness and light. How parents need to make sure they never argue in front of the children, and only put on their best faces etc. Got to wonder how many people hearing that, then got into their own marriages and discovered against all expectation that it wasn’t like that for them. Let’s get real.

My own parents married young, and had 7 children within 12 years. My father had no qualifications, and whilst always employed, it was generally in jobs he hated. It was stressful. I saw them argue from time to time. I also saw them apologise, and work things out. Yes, it was hard. Very hard. They succeeded. Personally, I think it was beneficial to see that yes, sometimes you will argue with your spouse, and hey, that’s not the end of the world. You can still work things out. It didn’t put any of us off marriage. All seven of us are happily married. We didn’t all follow the prescription however.

Maybe it was my position as the eldest, or more a quirk of my personality, or my particular sensitivity to the stresses, but having lived the early marriage lots of kids thing as a child, there was no way I could face living it again in my adulthood, simply on the basis of an injunction from high church leadership to marry young and have lots of children. I’d have been suicidal. Thankfully, that wasn’t the Lord’s plan for me. I was able to attend university at a time when that was still fully funded in Britain, and I made the most of the opportunity. I married when I was ready to marry, at 25, having completed my graduate education. I have the 2 children I was meant to have, but no more. My sister, a much more relaxed, happy-go-lucky individual, apparently oblivious from her position as the second child, to the stresses my parent’s experienced, took the route the church preaches. She married at 22, had her 1st child within a year, and had her 5th and final child the year her husband finished his graduate education. It was tough. But it worked for her.

My point is, we are all different. And the Lord doesn’t have the same plan for each of us. What we need to be teaching our youth is to be seeking the Lord’s guidance for their individual lives, and to follow that guidance. If they can learn to do that successfully, everything else will fall into place.

Discuss.

 

*A small group, in the same academic year cohort; 3 girls, 2 boys, none of whom married each other. That’s 4 out of the 5 of us who divorced. 80%.