When I was three years old, my parents decided it was time for me to learn to swim, because in our family, we swim. They decided it was time for me to learn in December of ’87, so they took me to the lake to learn to swim. The air was a brisk 40 degrees as we approached the dock. As a three year old, I was excited about the opportunity to impress everybody. So, with my family looking on, my parents took me to edge of the dock and dropped me into the frigid water. As I floundered in the water I remember looking up and seeing my parents smiling down at me as I learned to swim. But I didn’t. I was drowning. They all sat there and watched me as I failed in this most important rite of passage. I drowned. And I died.
So, obviously, that is not a true story. The part about my family’s love for water and my parents desire for me to learn to swim was all very true. But the way they taught me to swim was very different than what I described above. The reason why is simple to ascertain. My parents love me, and they don’t want me to drown.
Whenever you bring up the idea of encouraging people to marry young, parents picture themselves carrying their child to the edge of the water and dropping their kid into the water unprepared. They rightly reject that idea, and take issue with those defending early marriage.
I read what I thought was a great blog post written by an old college buddy, Matt Svoboda. I am fairly certain he was responding to this viral post floating around in Facebook land. The responses to Matt’s post, which were sudden and usually gentle but dismissive highlighted the fundamental misunderstanding that always pops up in this debate. Those who advocate for early marriage do not want parents to shove their children into marriage unprepared just because they reach a certain age; we instead think parents should be preparing their kids from an early age for what will be the most important earthly endeavor they will undertake – the creation of a family.
As one who strongly believes in the value of marrying young, I want to frame this debate a little bit, using the metaphor of helping our kids learn to swim.
- No one who advocates for young marriage is advocating that you carry your children to an all important rite of passage and drop them unprepared into the water of matrimony. Instead, we advocate that parents should be slowly and intentionally training their children for the day when they will take the leap into matrimony as prepared as they can be.
- Most of us advocating for early marriage do not think there is a specific age at which someone is ready to be married. We do not believe 18 to be any more magical of a number than 28. Both measure time, not maturity.
- The intentional training of personal maturity is what we are advocating, and one big step along that process of maturity is marriage. Boys should be taught to make decisions well, to sacrificially serve others, to lead for the good of more than just himself, and to take on responsibility joyfully. Girls should be taught to think for themselves, to follow God with all their hearts, and to reject those who do not treat them with the worth and dignity they have been given from God. Both boys and girls should learn to value the greater joy of commitment over the fleeting thrill of a feeling. Training your children in these things before marriage is much better than releasing them to college and then a career assuming kids will pick them up along the way.
- Whether you learn to swim at age 3 or age 13, you still have to know what to do once you are in the water. Whether you get married at 18 or age 28, you still have to be a person worthy of marrying and committed to marriage once you’re married. I say, get the floaties, life jackets, and swimming lessons out of the way as soon as is possible. Train your kids for marriage early in life.
- Most young marriage advocates do not think dating more people, having sex with more people, or experiencing more bad relationships are effective training tools for a committed marriage. I think Voddie Baucham nailed it in his book Family Driven Faith when he said:
Modern American dating is no more than glorified divorce practice. Young people are learning how to give themselves away in exclusive, romantic, highly committed (at times sexual) relationships, only to break up and do it all over again..
So, hopefully this frames the debate a little bit. When we advocate marrying young, we are not necessarily saying the twenty year old boy who has never had a job, plays video games all day, barely makes it through classes, and cannot imagine giving up his “bros” for his “hoes” needs to get married. Nor are we advocating that the young woman who follows any guy who gives her attention, who has fallen for the absurd idea that becoming a sex object is empowerment, and who plans to spend three years after college travelling to “find herself” is ready to be a responsible marital partner. Those kids need to start becoming adults. Fast.
And part of that maturation process is devoting yourself to something and someone other than yourself. I agree with Matt. I don’t know I have ever heard an argument against early marriage as a general plan that does not stem from self indulgence or selfishness.
So, be good parents. Train your children to swim in the water of marriage. And I say, do that training early. An 18 year old is no safer in the water than a 28 year old when neither have been taught to swim.