I teach English online and offline, but sometimes I do a little more than just teaching English. One evening I was teaching a GE (General English) class and we were discussing about characteristics vocabulary, focusing on a short article in the course book entitled “Finding Mr. Right.” In that article, researcher Reva Seth, author of the book First Comes Marriage, writes that she prefers arranged marriage to dating around first before deciding to tie the knot. Reva is now married and has a son, but that’s not what I’m not going to talk here.
One of the questions related to the topic discussion is whether Reva has a successful marriage or not. As predicted, most of my students answered “yes.” When I asked their reason, one guy said: “Because they now have a child.”
I had to take a deep breath first before addressing the issue calmly. The last thing I ever wanted was to cause an unnecessary tension in class and stir up a heated argument. That was not the point. Still, I felt that I had to educate them.
“Okay,” I said slowly. “Then what about couples who still haven’t got any children – or those who can’t?” I was careful enough not to add “couples who choose not to have any children” – the idea might just blew my grownup students’ mind.
When the class fell silent, I quietly added, “And…what about couples who are divorced even after having kids?”
Thankfully, I’d gotten them to think about other points of view. Then I went on with a story I heard from Ma about our distant relatives. The husband was an ER doctor, the wife a housewife. They did not have any children of their own, choosing to adopt six instead. How come? In a hospital where he worked, he would see babies abandoned at the nursery room, sometimes hours after delivery.
It was evident from the start that none of the six children looked like each other. Some came from different racial backgrounds, some were just six months apart from each other. There was no way they were biological siblings.
When the children were teenagers, a fight broke out, resulting in two of the kids calling each other names.
"You’re not Mom and Dad’s real kid. You’re adopted!” one said.
“No, you’re adopted!” the other barked back.
Their parents heard the fight and decided to break it off. Realizing what must be done, they sat the children down and broke the news to them as gently as they could.
“Actually, all of you are adopted.”
Shocked, all the six children started crying. They asked the same question: “Why did our parents leave us?”
The couple gently told them: “Honestly, we don’t know. All we’ve ever known is that all of you needed a home. If you would like to find your birth parents someday, we will help you. But please remember that we raise you because we love you.”
Ma said it was never known whether the six children had finally found their birth parents or not. But, apparently, the six adopted siblings have gotten along better with each other since then.
In Indonesia, much of society is still conservative, especially regarding marriage and raising children. Whatever you choose, people seem to always have something to say. They accuse you of being selfish if you choose to have a childless marriage, yet, at the same time they turn a blind eye on domestic violence cases, like poor family with too many children than they can handle, or an angry father hitting a toddler with a stroller at the mall.
If you have so many children, they would comment: “Wow, you must be overwhelmed!” without really bothering to offer any help. But if you only have one, they remark that you should have more so the little one will have a playmate and not be so lonely.
If you haven’t got any kids after years of marriage, they automatically think something is wrong with you. I have a friend whose marriage of six years fell apart because of the in-laws. They accused her of not trying hard enough, leading to endless fights she would have with her husband.
My friend thought her in-law’s insistence that they had kids contradicted their own sense of religiosity. If they truly are religious, she mused, then why don’t they believe that children exist out of God’s will? No matter how hard you try, you won’t get any if God says it’s not the time yet.
What if you choose to adopt? Well, be prepared to hear comments like this: “It’s different than having your own.”
So what makes a successful marriage, really? If it’s the existence of your biological children at home, then what about couples who fight over their own children in divorce court. And what about parents who abuse their own flesh and blood. What about incestuous rape? You can’t pretend such horror does not occur. It’s been around for ages.
The truth is it’s up to each couple out to define their idea of a “successful marriage.” If it’s not yours to begin with, then you’re not qualified a marriage.
That evening in my class I almost made one of my students cry with my story, but I hope they all got my message.