What Makes Marriages & Families Endure?

Ten thousand miles away in a remote village in Lundazi rural district of Zambia in a grass-roofed house, the cell phone rang a couple of times. The distinct voice of my younger brother said: “Here is Adada.” I said hello in my mother Tumbuka  African tongue. When Dad responded, I needed not shout as his voice was as clear as though he was calling from my neighbor’s house. After exchanging a few words, I asked to talk to my mother. Dad said she was busy in the kitchen cooking one of her delicious meals for supper. I forgot it was noon Eastern American time but about 6:00pm in Zambia. I asked that she come to the  phone. Her unmistakable sweet voice said she was cooking my favorite traditional zumba or chekwechekwe delele vegetable cooked with fresh peanut powder. I asked if she could send me some. She paused and  laughed. It might get bad before it got there in America she said. We laughed.

The phone call was over and I was floating in the stratosphere feeling high on cloud nine with sheer joy all afternoon. Although hearing their voices lasted perhaps about 2 minutes, the new just installed cell phone tower 4 miles away from the village made it all so much easier. All afternoon I began to contemplate the sheer mystery of such wonderful lives of my dad who is 89 and my mother who is 85. I will marvel forever where they got the strength and endurance to be married for 67 years raising nine children and now in the twilight of their blessed lives glowing in the collective love of numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

After the struggle of raising my own few children and the monumental problems that seem to explode into divorce today when couples may have at the most two children, what did it take in those past generations to raise nine children with grace, resilience and joy which is difficult to see anywhere to day?

I am certain my parents faced monumental challenges in their marriage; 2 siblings died, there were intractable difficulties in providing food and educating all the children. There were serious illnesses. My parents probably didn’t have that sparkling romantic love for each all the time. They were not rich. But they sure adored each other.  But what kept them together such that they could raise nine children and have their children be descent human beings?

The answers are not in our present women’s liberation Betty Friedan “Feminine Mystique” based  rational thought that says if you and your spouse love each other and each bring closely monitored  50% to the relationship, then you can be married and raise children until death do us part. These may not be enough as shown by high rates of divorce of 50% for first marriages, 67% for second and 74%  for third marriages in the “me” centered marriages  to day.

The best analogy I could find that may best help us understand how marriages and families may endure is to think of both of them sharing the same swimming pool. When the two say their vows they jump into the pool and begin the life long process of swimming continuously to stay afloat alive. Expressing love and sacrifice means, when one is in danger of drowning the other has to help. As the children are born and growing the parents together  have to help keep the children’s heads above water. Sometimes as the parents  go through the ups and downs of the ferocious waves of life, they may swim and drift apart but they are always in sight of each other ready to help or just make sure the other is alright. It is that crucial sense of deep love for each other and the unflinching parental collective sacrifice for everyone in the family that makes it possible for marriages to endure and for parents to raise children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. This brings unspeakable joy to all the people in the entire family. I felt that joy from talking to my parents who were ten thousand miles away.

This article was also published in the Forum of The Daily News-Record Newspaper on September 14, 2013

September 17, 2013 — by  Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

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