Historically, most Russians married in their teens, and almost always with the consent and blessing of their parents. Modern experts in Russia are coming to understand the wisdom in this approach . . .
Are teenage marriages a good thing? Or is it usually better to wait? When American author and clergy-wife Fredricka Mathewes-Green discussed the question, she famously concluded, "Let's Have More Teen Pregnancy". Dr. Svetlana Nazina, a teacher and psychologist from the Tula region of Russia, offers similar advice.
Children grow quickly, just a few more years and they will become moms and dads. Parents of adolescents are worried in advance: When are their children better off marrying and getting married — early, or at a more mature age? What marriages are considered "early" today? And which families are the most viable?
Dr. Nazina responded with these words of traditional wisdom:
I cannot agree with those who say that young people are not ready for an early marriage. Everything depends on the individual . . . . I am in solidarity with many, recognizing that the modern generation has serious problems in their thoughts about marriage. Indeed, psychologists and sociologists today are concerned about the abnormal immaturity of young people, and their lack of motivation to create a family.
In Russia, how was it historically? The girl was prepared for family life from birth. The parents collected her dowry for a long time: they put bed linens, dishes, various household items, and ornaments into special chests for safe keeping. Beginning around the age of 10 or 11, the girl began to actively participate as well.
By doing this, they were not only preparing for the girl's success materially — they were also instilling the proper spirit and attitude within her. They were properly setting her expectations, mentally preparing her for a good marriage, a happy family, and the birth of future children.
Russian people also had good experience with how to raise a family man. A young man in the 17th century was not allowed to marry until he was ready to provide for his family.
But what happens today? Sadly, a lot of people just do not believe it is possible to get married, stay married, and live happily together until old age. And, it seems to me, the root of the problem is in modern society, because it implants false and dangerous attitudes within our children.
For example, consider the principle of "success and recognition" that is almost universally implemented in families today. From childhood our children are being taught to focus on certain types of outward achievement, which are not necessarily family oriented. Starting from kindergarten, they are taught to be the best, to extol their smallest successes, to collect a portfolio, to keep a diary of achievements, to be proud of their grades, and to hang medals and certificates in a prominent place. But with these little things, goal-setting begins.
And if the emphasis in the children's value system is shifted to career, money, recognition and success, then why are we surprised when our children begin to implement the same principles in their adult years? They decide to "take everything they can get from life", they demand everything that is expensive and the "best", and they are driven to achieve their materialistic goals by whatever means necessary. Meanwhile, the difficulties of raising a family will only be considered a "hindrance" to their ambitions, so they put off marriage until later. Alas, it is our own fault that they have such ambitions, because of how we raised them.
And yet, even today, young people under the age of 25 do create families. And they are not exceptional. So we should not overly criticize the new generation. Among today's youth, there are wonderful boys and girls. There are young people who have thoughtful, deep, rich inner lives. These are young people who are quite mature individuals, ready to take responsibility for themselves. They are willing to cooperate with others, to show patience, and to sacrifice. Of course, this especially applies to those who are actively involved in Church life.
It seems to me, for those who are brought up in Orthodox Christian traditions, early marriage is a lifesaver. A couple who marries early and cherishes their relationship, will live clean and free, not weighed down with the emotional baggage that results from years of wayward thoughts and deeds. But there are fewer such people today. Sadly, the rust of permissiveness has penetrated into many aspects of modern culture.
It is unfortunate that many modern youth are avoiding early marriages. But in my opinion, this is not the most serious problem.
A much bigger problem is the trend towards abnormally late marriage. When a person is 30-40 years old, he finally understands — it is time to come to his senses, settle down, and start a family. But by that age, it is very difficult to find any good marriage partners — the best men and women have already gotten married, and are no longer available.
As a psychologist, as a wife, and as a mother of children, I am convinced that a young boy or girl is primarily brought up by a family, not primarily by society. So preparing them for marriage is not the school's job — it is a job for their own home environment. To protect them from the ills of society, good immunity is important — they need a good example set by parents, relatives, and older siblings.
As a rule, when the parents' attention is focused on the upbringing of future fathers and mothers, then the children will be ready for early marriage. Marriage readiness is not determined by a person's outward age. What matters is the inner age of an individual.
And who is able to determine whether a young couple is ready to get married? Traditionally, regardless of the age of the children, the consent and blessing of the parents was decisive.
Of course, what the modern culture calls an "early" marriage (age 18 to 25), did not used to be considered "early". In the eighteenth century, Russian brides were as young as 13, and bridegrooms could be age 15. Then in the year 1830, by decree of the emperor, the marriage age was increased to 16 and 18 years, respectively.
Interestingly, parents often appealed to the authorities for permission to let younger girls marry. In such cases, a priest would examine the future bride, to see if she was properly prepared to be a wife and mother. If the priest gave his blessing, then the wedding was allowed to take place.
During this period of time, a 23-25 year old bride was considered "old" and undesirable. By the time they were in their mid-twenties, most women were already married, with several children.
Yet today some women wait to have children until they are 28, or even 30 — nearing the time when the female reproductive system is beginning to fail. This results in miscarriages, infertility, children with Downs Syndrome, and other pathologies.
One cannot help considering the fact that our ancestors knew more about life, and delved deeper into the nature of things, than most modern people do.