Gender roles, Education and Life Experiences
Soon after I was out of my teenage years and before I joined college for my bachelor’s degree studies I got married. Among my peers my case could be considered early marriage as the majority of those who pass end of secondary school examination and proceed to pursue university education marry after their graduation. However, the same cannot be said of girls who drop from school in primary and secondary or who fail the university entrance examination. In this paper I discuss some of the challenges and wonderful opportunities I have encountered having comparatively married earlier.
I assumed a huge responsibility the moment I married, became a wife, entered my house and got a child. It meant I had dependents and a place to take care of. My household has increased because I have added two more children and I stay with a house-help who is also under my care. Juggling home responsibilities with my academic work has been the greatest challenge of my married life. My home and academics have competed for my attention and time. This has meant that I have had to be more disciplined, I have had to plan my time better, and I have had to put more effort for success both at home and at the university. Often this has meant that I create more time so that give my family the best of me while I still achieve good grades in my academics. This is unlike my peers whose only responsibility is to their studies.
Related to the huge responsibility I carry is the challenge of missed opportunities. The university offers facilities, services and opportunities which can best be utilized by a student who has plenty of time and who stays in the university halls of residence. Adequate use of the university facilities and resources such as the library, satisfactory participation in university student activities and events, sufficient interaction with fellow students and the utilization of the social and physical university environment needs plenty of time and less responsibility elsewhere. So, my status as a married woman with home responsibilities restrain me from fully utilizing the opportunities that the university offers. I have had to forego long and extended late meetings, participation in certain events and even some trips because my attention has been required in my house. The missed opportunities have in a way meant that I have not fully felt like a student, and by extension have negatively affected my studies.
Since I have been busy at home I have also missed the opportunity to participate in work study programmes, try business ventures like some fellow students do, and find work that can earn me money. I have been either busy with studies in college or involved with my family at home, without much time for other things. For that matter I have had to be almost fully dependent on my husband for financial support.
I have also had to grapple with the stigma associated with early marriage. Often people jump to the conclusion that I made a mistake to marry young. The majority of the students appear not to understand why I married young. In their mind one should be students first, be free of responsibilities, “enjoy” life before settling. People have time and again judged me and asked why I chose to get married at an early age. I have been asked many questions, for example why I did not wait to explore life before committing myself into a serious relationship. My peers expected me to go party with them, have fun just like other girls of my age and also to engage in alcohol drinking which comes as a common pastime activity among students. So, my case has often drawn misunderstanding, judgments, disapproval and negativity from my fellow students. What this has meant is that I have had less people who have understood my situation and, consequently, fewer friends.
The other challenge has to do with enhanced expectations from both my family and fellow students. Being married with children means I cannot behave like some irresponsible student with nothing to lose. My unmarried friends expect me to be wiser, to exercise good judgment, be controlled and moderate in my dealings, to advise them on relationship issues and to perform better in academics. To them my status as a married person elevates me to the position of an elder sister. My husband also has high expectations of me. To the people around me, being married means that I am out of the childishness and irresponsibility often associated with those who are not married. By that very fact alone I should value education and pursue it with considerable success. Besides, I should be devoid of the behavior and relationships which consume the time of unmarried students and distract them. The high expectations can be stressful and can mean putting more effort.
Often conflicts and misunderstandings at home may affect a married student’s academic life. Because challenges in marriage are inevitable, such challenges when they occur they may negatively affect academic performance. So, a marriage that has more than a fair share of challenges is in itself a challenge to other affairs of man, including academics. On the other hand a pleasing, enjoyable and supportive marriage is a valuable asset in the enterprise of education. Though all marriages have their challenges, I have been lucky to have a good marriage. My husband has not only provided the support I have needed but he has also helped me to grow both socially and academically. He has been my dependable ally in the face of life’s trials as well as my helpful consultant and trainer. I not only share with him the rough side of life, I as well share with him my academic experiences for he is fairly well learned and pretty familiar with education trends and academia. He is my residential writing trainer, number on reader of my writing and editor, and chief academic advisor. As he fully understands my situation, he has tried his best to minimize my work at home so that my back does not crack under the burden of home chores and responsibilities. With his support it is almost easy to disregard the challenges being married has brought to my academic life and focus on the positives that being married has accorded me.
My friends, though few, are special and valuable. They are friends who understand me and my status. They respect me and offer me help whenever I need it. They are willing to go the extra distance for my sake. They can come to my house for an academic discussion or just to know about my family. True, being married has limited my interaction with fellow students and my participation in student activities, but overall the few friends I have acquired have more than compensated for the disadvantages. Being married appears to allow only the mature and caring friends into my life. My friends provide me with strength and support both at home and in college.
Being married has made me a more responsible being. In all that I do I am always aware that I owe my family a responsibility. This has made me more productive, more valuable, more resourceful and more focused. Because of my family my studies have more meaning and, therefore, more important. I not only study for myself, I study too for my family. My family inspires me to put more effort in my academic work.
Being married makes me more selective in the activities I engage myself in as well as in picking my friends. I prefer more mature students who exhibit focus, control and carry a sense of responsibility in their lives. Of course being married saves me from indulging in risky lifestyles like senseless and reckless alcohol consumption and drug abuse. It also saves me from engaging in risky short term relationships. I also attribute stability in my life to the fact that I am in a stable relationship: marriage. So, I am more in control of my emotions and desires. This sense of being in control helps with focusing on my studies and academic performance.
The other advantage that my being married has afforded me is that I have had my babies at the best child conception point. Conception in the immediate post-teenage years is easiest, unlike when it is later. Post-partum recovery is also at its optimum. Marrying early has given me children without much sweat. The relative success I have had in my marriage positively influences my academic work too. My husband once told me the story of a student who got straight As in the semester when she was expectant. There is some scientific explanation of the apparent correlation between pregnancy and high academic performance. For my case too, I had the best grades in the two semesters when I was expectant with my second and third child. The contentment that arises from being a mother and a wife has also helped me to perform well in my studies.
In conclusion, it is true being married and being a university student is a challenge, yet it can very well be a blessing in disguise. Married life has really shaped my life and made me more responsible, focused and productive. The control, support and stability I have gotten from my marriage has positively influenced my academic performance. When an adult, young lady or man of sound mind finds a good spouse and decides to marry, like I did, such a marriage though it has challenges can also prove to be worthwhile.
Margaret Akinyi Atieno