“Marriage is a public separation from family” Esther Perel.

With culture and tradition being predominant in Africa, marriages are tailored more to the parents’ expectations as opposed to that of the bride and groom. Most couples plan simple and quiet (within budget) ceremonies surrounded by intimate loved ones and friends; but their parents interfere by either refusing the union, or hijacking the planning, preparation and arrangement process without the couples consent or regard for their budget.

Is it right for parents to arrange marriages for their children and enforce rules and regulations that have to be met? Parents ought to respect their children’s decisions and allow them experience life independently irrespective of their opinion of the child’s decision. Being independent involves making mature decisions without constantly relying on one’s parents for input.

Within the Nigerian context, parents have to approve of the man/woman (including the family and tribe) their child intends to marry, or else that marriage would not hold. Some go as far as threatening to disown their child or writing them off if they decide to overlook their wishes – forced to abandon true love in the face of pleasing one’s family. Most marriage selections are made based on alliances, wealth and well-being, social status etc. This amount of parental influence over an adult child can have a detrimental effect on the persons psyche, their welfare, progress and rights.

Growing up involves learning to trust our gut when making decisions, and learning from the outcome – be it good or bad. If the marriage was a mistake; they will learn from it, and will be mature enough to handle the consequences. When a man and woman unite in marriage, they form a new bond, and are separated from their individual families. Interference from immediate families or relatives may cause serious conflict between the couple. Ultimately, the choice of whom they spend the rest of their lives with should be their own.

Parents are so involved in the activities and development of their children from conception to the point that when it comes to marriage, they refuse to let go and are determined to influence the children’s choices. How far should parents go in making matrimonial decisions for their kids? It is hard enough to build a relationship we hope will last through the years without the added pressure of ensuring that person is from a certain tribe, age bracket and family approved by their parents.

Often times, we discover that when children are forced to do things in a certain way, they rebel, and take it as a challenge to act in the opposite way. They become resentful and make efforts to go against their parents’ wishes. So many families are broken up, or are fighting amongst themselves, because of issues relating to matrimonial choices. Having said that, I am not opposed to parents advising their children; but blatantly refusing your adult child to marry from another family with no proper reasoning is just wrong and archaic.

I have seen instances where people totally refuse to marry because their intended spouse was disliked by their family. Instances also of people bowing under pressure and ending relationships in a bid to please their parents – the resulting consequence of which is living an unhappy life filled with regrets. Parents should talk things over with their children, tell them about relevant past experiences hoping that their son/daughter can understand their point of view, as opposed to issuing threats. They can give their opinion or suggestions about their child’s intended spouse after investigating into his/her family background but not making judgments at first sight.

Should parents dictate the marriage selection of their children?

No, but that doesn’t mean the child should disregard such advice. It is understandable when very young children (under the age of 20) decide to marry and their parents put a stop to it – as it is a mature decision. However, if the child in question is an adult, mature and responsible; the parents owe it to them to give reasons for their refusal; putting across the import of their opinion in a proper manner.

Having the consent of both parents is very important when taking such a major step as marriage; however, the final decision should be made by the couple. The parents’ role should not be disregarded or taken lightly. Parents should trust the child to make good decisions especially one relating to choosing a partner with similar beliefs, and one that will inherently fit in with their own family.

If your child is mature enough for marriage, they should also be mature enough to bear the consequences if the union fails. The parents can do some background check into the family, their culture, religious beliefs etc., but ultimately, the final decision lies with the couple.

Children should have a say in who they marry. Parents can give their blessings and offer guidance on the matter but not make the final decision for their children. If your child succumbs to pressure and interference and breaks up their current relationship to marry your selection and it does not work out… they will not only end up hating and excluding you from their lives, but may take decisions that make you both unhappy.

In Africa, arranged marriages have for a long time been the practice, but times have changed, and we should be prepared to embrace it. Parents should not force their children into arranged marriages, but rather leave the children to come up with their choices, and then counsel them accordingly.