By Harriette Onyalla
BELIEVE me; you have never felt this way about a guy. You would do anything for him. Finally, he pops the question and oops! Your parents are not amused. â€œI can never allow my daughter to marry into that tribe,â€ your mother may blubber, or: â€œWhat is his religion?â€ your Muslim father may ask. â€œWhat do his parents do for a living?â€ your mother may counter.
Parents! Before you know it, your heart has been bundled onto a tractor that is speeding on a rocky path. Could it get worse, you wonder as you have to choose between your parents and your love.
The debate about parentâ€™s involvement in the relationships and marriages of their children is not a new one. Every parent nurtures dreams of the kind of partner they want their children to marry. It has been there since the time of Abraham and Isaac, when it was the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children marry from the right tribe or family.
Africa has had its own tales. But times have changed; parents are changing too. Many are withdrawing, saying they do not want to meddle in their childrenâ€™s adult decisions.
Hurray! The rest of us may shout, but should we be celebrating? According to Ugandaâ€™s law, marriage can take place so long as there are two consenting adults.
Pastor Franco Onaga of Kampala Pentecostal Church (KPC) says: â€œYes, according to the law, the parentsâ€™ consent is not a requirement for marriage. It is actually a courtesy that the children extend to their parents in consulting them about their marriage plans. This is what is socially accepted.
â€œAs a church, we recognise the importance of family and the fact that marriage brings families together. The Bible says the law breaks, but love binds together. Many problems arise because of poor communication. But when you counsel both parties, the problems are ironed out quickly,â€ he says.
Onaga thinks the problem of misunderstandings between parents and children on issues pertaining to marriage occur when the two are not friends.
â€œParents need to make their children their friends,â€ the pastor says. â€œThis will enable them play the role of guide, mentor, tutor and model better. If you teach your child to make valued decisions when they are young, you will not have to worry about the choices they make when they are old.â€
Mzee Simon Okiring agrees. â€œMy Job is shaping the values of my children when they are still young. If they bring partners from whatever tribe or religion or background, I will go by their decision so long as they can handle the consequences of their choices,â€ says the father of six children.
Okiring says some people have ended up in unhappy marriages because their parents dictated on who was to be their marriage partner. Families have even broken up. He says these kinds of relationships also make the spouses of the children insecure.
Onaga says KPC teaches parents during their married fellowships.
â€œToday you have a five-year-old boy, tomorrow he will be a grown-up man with his own family. We teach parents to grow along with children so they donâ€™t treat adults like teenagers. It is good for parents to counsel children whatever their age,â€ he says.
But above all, Onaga says children should listen to their parents concerns.
Renown U.S psychologist Rabbi Shmuley Boteach believes the responsibility of parents towards their children does not end when the child turns 18 or leaves home. Parents should get involved in their childrenâ€™s relationships, dating and even in the choice of a marriage partner. He says too many parents today believe that they have no right to â€œinterfereâ€ in their childrenâ€™s adult decisions.
â€œI am discouraged by all the parents who think it isnâ€™t their place to assist their children in finding proper marriage partners,â€ Boteach says.
â€œEven if our children resist our â€˜meddlingâ€™ when it comes to dating partners, we must still try and find an inspirational and respectful means by which to influence them to make the right decisions when it comes to this, the most central aspect of their lives.
â€œWe parents are more experienced, and usually wiser, than our children. We must bring that wisdom to bear in steering our kids to find the right marital partner,â€ Boteach says.
Florence Oduman of Alpha Counselling Services, Ntinda, says parents should only stop at advising children, not match-making because marriage is a life-long commitment.
â€œPerhaps they can get involved at the advanced stages with the practical preparations of the marriage ceremony. Love should be the determining factor in marriage. You cannot cherish someone who was picked for you or whom you settled for because of your parents. Children should be left to choose their partners, after all, they are adults,â€ she opines.
Oduman, who is a teacher, says if a parent has negative information about their childâ€™s prospective partner, they should also have evidence to back that information.
She says religion, culture or age difference should not be a basis for parents not to accept their childrenâ€™s partners because these are superficial and can be worked around during pre-marital counselling.
Should children heed?
Henry Ssemakula says that if his parents disapproved of the girl he wants to marry, he would go ahead and marry her.
â€œI know my mother will put her feet down if I brought home a girl from Rwanda or Burundi. It is probably because of that talk about them being promiscuous,â€ he says.
However, Ssemakula believes people are better off marrying from within their tribes because of shared norms, culture and similar upbringing.
And yet Miriam Nsubuga cannot stop looking at her parents with a new-found awe. They stopped her from marrying Alfred.
â€œI had completed school and had already begun working. I didnâ€™t see any reason why I should stick to their decision yet it was my life,â€ she says.
Seven years later, Nsubuga knows she would perhaps be dead. Alfred died from AIDS years ago.
So what should parents do?
Boteach says: â€œRemember, you are the parent. Sit with your children. Speak to them. Give them a real vision of whatâ€™s important in life. Talk to them about the blessings of marriage, of family life, of the intimate companionship that comes from a soul-mate. Talk to them about what a good woman or man is and how they should look for partners with big hearts, rather than big wallets or flashy looks.â€
He goes on: â€œBe gentle, diplomatic and loving, but be determined. When we have children, our responsibility to them does not end when they leave home.â€
Unfortunately, our Ugandan parents wait until their children are about to walk down the aisle and then throw a tantrum with threats of disowning the children or, worse still, undressing in front of the wedding guests.
Maybe we could all be spared the heartache!