There is a slight but definite shift in perceptions of early marriage in the Bangladeshi society. The norm used to be that it would be the woman who would marry an older, more “established” man, whereas now, more and more couples of the same age range are getting married. And that too while pretty young, around the age range of 21-27. Taboos have lessened, but new questions have surfaced, the question of having kids for instance; inevitably one of the biggest questions in South Asian cultures.
Completing the family circle
The transition from acquiring a degree, to getting married and then having children who would become someone else’s grandchildren holds enormous weight in the Bangladeshi culture. Thus, young couples who enter wedlock, voluntarily or through family arrangement, inevitably face the question of children early on. Many young couples are excited to embark on this journey, especially women, who are more likely to feel unfulfilled maternal pangs earlier into adulthood. However, many young South Asian couples feel immense pressure to have children immediately after they get married.
Is now a good time?
After four years of courtship, Reaz and Sara got married right after completing their bachelor’s degrees. Reaz is a 24-year old while Sara is a few months younger. After a year into their marriage, Sara became happily pregnant. While both of their families were thrilled, it was something Reaz’s older brother mentioned to him in passing that stuck to him, telling Reaz that it was time to figure out how he will afford another person with an undergraduate-level job.
Although Reaz knew his parents would be perfectly happy to help financially as well as in the very rearing of the child, societal implications and personal ego complicated choosing that solution. If he was old enough to marry, he should be old enough to care for his own family. He looked at his pregnant wife and knew the honeymoon phase was over.
Reaz’s case is a testimony to so many young couples entering wedlock and graduating to parenthood. Pregnancy, planned or unplanned, calls forth financial implications that often soil the glee of looking forward to the journey of young parenthood. “Is it too soon?” is the first question that reflexively surface for these young couples still in the process of building their careers. And let’s face it; this applies mostly to the men.
With the remarkable improvement of women’s participation in the workplace, their concerns over their embryonic career also deter the decision to have a child early into their marriage. Sara decided to drop her plans to join a corporate job and decided to teach as it would allow her to balance all the new changes of her life. Instead of dropping career plans, the new norm among young, educated Bangladeshi women seeking a career outside home, is to seek a balance and learn to excel in multitasking between home-making and having a career. Factors that influence their career moves come from a combination of peers, family and in-laws. While peers are likely to encourage continuing their pursuits of a career, families and in-laws encourage delaying or compartmentalising careers and homemaking.
Other factors also affect the decision to have a child early in their young marriages. That a child would obviously curtail their freedom and frivolity is one. Like Reaz, anybody who has a baby must go beyond the responsibilities of securing finance for the tiny tot — they must make lifestyle changes and become adults. Many first time parents are not aware of how large a sacrifice having a child is. For some parents, it requires sacrificing time from friends, work or hobbies which can be jarring and unpleasant if not addressed prior to the baby’s arrival. The dynamic between the couple also changes as differences in parental values surface. A couple, or one of the spouses, may want to move out — and that entails sufficient melodrama in close-knit joint families in the Bengali culture.
“Do you even want children?”
Sara spoke of sensing Reaz’s anxiety grow over the course of her pregnancy. After confrontation, his overemphasis on finance and career was misconstrued by Sara as she took Reaz’s focus on his career to mean his disinterest in having children. This is a common problem between spouses and even between career-oriented couples and their families, as ambition is taken to necessarily signify coldness or disinterest in completing the family circle.
If one of the spouses is ready for/wants a child and the other doesn’t, who decides? When the woman feels ready, she is usually not opposed as taking children is considered positive in the culture. However, with rising careerism, husbands too have a say in the decision. Talking about children is a very sensitive topic that many couples are surprised can be so difficult. It can be the source of significant conflict if both partners are not on the same page about when and if to have children, how many to have and how to raise them.
In order to make the decision, it is important to communicate early in the marriage as having a child is a joint decision made by both partners. This is especially important so that there is no build-up of resentment that a major decision was influenced primarily by one partner. It is just as important to know how to make the decision of when/if to have children as it is to actually decide that a child is in the couples’ future.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Razaan and Rezayeh