Whose Choice?

When I was in high school, my father told me he wouldn’t be in the business of finding a husband for me. He knew other men did it, he told me, but he wouldn’t. Why? For two reasons: First, because I, not he, was the one who would have to live with the guy, and second, because if things turned out badly he didn’t want to have to live with the guilt of having chosen wrongly for me. He told me that I would need to find a husband myself.

That said, my father also gave me a list of requirements and told me that any man who did not meet them would not receive his blessing. In other words, if I found a guy who wasn’t up to snuff, dad wouldn’t okay him. That, though, was the only role he would play. Rather than finding a young man and bringing him to me, my father would be the gatekeeper, essentially, through which any man must pass to gain my hand.

I was actually a bit saddened by this, I have to admit. I loved and trusted my dad so much that I would have said yes to him arranging a marriage for me, and I told him as much. I figured that any man my father chose would have to be good for me, because my father was such a wise, discerning, and godly man. I daydreamed about the day my dad would bring a young man to me and tell me that he had found someone who was my match even as I knew it was not to be. In retrospect, I am of course very glad that my dad refused to think of such a thing. At the time, though, an arranged marriage seemed so safe and romantic.

I digress, though, from the point of my post. I think my dad had a point when he said that he wouldn’t choose a husband for me because I, not he, was the one who would have to live with him. It seems strange that my dad would espouse such an idea and then not take it to its logical conclusion – that I should be allowed to marry the man I chose, regardless of any list. I, after all, would be the one living with the results of my choice. It seems to me that there was a disconnect there, that my father was willing to take this idea only part of the way. He trusted me, but not enough.

I think this raises an important point. Who will be the one to live with the prospective husband, the father or his daughter? The answer is obvious. If the daughter is willing to take the risk and marry a guy, shouldn’t the father okay the match? It’s not his life we’re talking about here – it’s hers. If the guy turns out to be a shitty husband, it is the daughter who will have to live with it, not her father. Ever heard of the phrase “you made your bed, now lie in it?”

I’m not saying parents shouldn’t give input when their children are choosing a spouse. What I am saying is that that input should be limited to advice that can be accepted or not and that the daughter should be allowed to make her own choice and then live with the consequences of that choice. A daughter is wise to ask her parents’ judgment of a prospective suitor, but she is foolish to allow them to control a choice that should be hers.

This practice of the father choosing a man for his daughter, either through an actual arranged marriage or, more likely, a highly guided courtship, seems to me to betray a lack of trust. It strikes me that these fathers do not trust their adult daughters to make intelligent decisions. But I ask you, if a father has had his daughter for eighteen, twenty, or even twenty-five years and yet failed to help her become a trustworthy adult, who does that reflect badly on? I’ll give you a hint: not the daughter.

In our society, parents have eighteen years to guide and shape their children, with the goal being to make them into trustworthy, independent adults. That’s it, just eighteen years, and then all bets are off. At age eighteen, young adults are allowed to make their own decisions and either fly or fall. Parents step in only to give advice, which they know may be either accepted or rejected. Young adults may make mistakes, but ideally they learn through these mistakes and become better people and more stable and healthy adults. This is the world Christian Patriarchy seeks to reject, primarily for its daughters but also to some extent for its sons.

In place of independence, Christian Patriarchy seeks to impose permanent infancy on its children, especially its daughters. In many cases these daughters are never even trained to be independent people in the first place, for that is not seen to be their role. Women, Christian Patriarchy teaches, are to be dependent, not independent. Women must have their decisions made for them, first by their fathers and then by their husbands. This is why fathers of Christian Patriarchy so often feel the need to make decisions for their adult daughters regarding their future husbands, decisions no ordinary American would even think of making.

But I say, what about trust? What about growing up? What about living with the consequences of your own decisions and learning through mistakes? What about life? Fathers, please don’t do this to your daughters. Once she turns eighteen, take a step back and let her make her own decisions, whether about marriage or about their future life goals. Trust her – after all, you’ve spent the last eighteen years training her. If you cannot trust your adult daughter to make her own choices in life, the problem is with you, not with her. Yes, she will sometimes make decisions that you disagree with and even decisions that hurt her. But she is the one who will have to live with them, not you! Stepping in and trying to save her from pain by making her decisions for her only makes things worse, because ultimately, it’s her life, and she needs to be able to make her own decisions like any other adult. It’s called growing up.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    My Dad always said the same exact thing. "You're the one who has to live with him". And he had all the reasons that a guy wouldn't qualify.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04028379007914167257 DelightinginHim

    I am saving this list paragraph because it explains so well what I've been thinking lately.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    "If you cannot trust your adult daughter to make her own choices in life, the problem is with you, not with her."Yes! I wish I had this article to hand to my parents 15 years ago!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15528465833214550644 Katy-Anne

    People look at me weird when I tell them that I don't need to make my kids do the courtship thing because if I can't trust them when they are old enough to be dating, that *I* have failed as a parent. I actually thought that was a pretty simple concept lol.

  • http://www.greenegem.wordpress.com Claire in Tasmania

    Something in your blog post made me curious – what's supposed to happen to these artificially-dependent women if/when they become widows? eg what if a woman had 4 or 5 kids and her husband died, would she be expected to go back to her father's house, taking all those kids with her? What about an older woman with adult children, is she supposed to go to a son's house and submit to his authority or is she supposed to suddenly grow up and learn to think for herself?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Claire – The short answer is that yes, she would either revert to being under her father's authority or move to being under her son's authority. I was taught that if my dad died I would be under the authority of my younger brother, having to submit to him, etc. My parents set up their will so that if my dad died, my mom couldn't do anything without my brother's say-so. It's all harnessed in the language of "protecting" the woman from exploitation by unprincipled males, but it's really about a lack of trust in the woman's ability to stand on her own two feet. The long answer is that I've never seen this happen in practice, as no one I knew when I was in ever lost a husband.

  • Disillusioned ex-Homeschooler

    "My parents set up their will so that if my dad died, my mom couldn't do anything without my brother's say-so."Wow. I'm so sorry for you and for your mom. :(

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me of the three female virtues espoused by Confucianism:"When a girl, obey your father. When a woman, obey your husband. When a widow, obey your son."Looks like patriarchy transcends culture :/

  • Anonymous

    But WHY wouldn’t you want your parents to love your future spouse? Why wouldn’t you want their advice? There is no harm in that. And I VALUE my parents advice, friendship and they value mine. I respect them and they respect me. It works out really well because we are open and honest with each other. They trust me and I trust them.
    And I would NEVER marry someone who my parents didn’t at least like.

    • victoria

      I think there’s a big difference between hoping your parents approve of your future spouse and automatically discounting anyone your parents don’t approve of.

      My sister married someone that my parents had issues with (mostly because he’s from a very different religious tradition). I know it bothered her that my parents didn’t really approve; she’s the most family-oriented of our siblings and we talked about that. At the same time, she was just about 40 and had spent more of her life living out of their house then in it — all but a few of those years not even in the same region of the country. Why would they have been a better judge of who she would be compatible with than she was?

  • Lucky Girl

    After I introduced my better half to my father, I asked my father what he thought of him. My dad replied, “All that matters to me is what YOU think of him.” That was it. No matter who I had brought into that house, if I loved him and he made me happy, then he would be good enough for my dad. This blog makes me ashamed of the fact that I was a little disappointed that my dad declined to pass judgment (he actually loves my better half, just fyi).


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X