The second of my two sons got married last week, and it prompted me to consider the question: What brings parents more joy: their child getting into a prestigious college or their child getting married (presumably to a good person)?
Three things prompted this question: my joy and pride, the joy of those who attended the wedding and the number of people who attended.
First, my joy and pride.
From a very early age, using a happiness scale of one to 10, I have never aimed to be a 10. I always assumed that those who experience 10s are also likely to experience threes. So, I have hoped and aimed to be a constant 7.5. That I have achieved this has been an enormous source of emotional stability in my life — and much appreciated by my wife, friends and colleagues. Someone who is a consistent 7.5 is generally a pleasure to be around.
So, it was with some surprise when I realized, on the day of my son’s wedding, that I was as close to a 10 as I’ve ever experienced.
It prompted me to review the epic days of my life.
With regard to one’s children, for most people those days are:
The birth of one’s child(ren).
The marriage of one’s child(ren).
The birth of one’s grandchild(ren).
As a traditional Jew, two days should be added to the list:
The bris (ritual circumcision of a baby boy on his eighth day of life) — a day of unique religious and communal significance in Jewish life — and the bar/bat mitzvah of one’s son or daughter.
For me — and many people I have since spoken to — the marriage of one’s child is the happiest of all these days. And I have experienced all of them.
As for pride, that, too, was extraordinary. I was never as proud of my two boys as I was on the days they were married. They chose to be men. They chose not to remain what most single men remain — boys.
Second, the joy of the guests.
I am quite certain that the guests — most of whom I knew well — were also experiencing more joy than they would at any of the other milestone events of someone other than their own child. For example, many, perhaps even most, of those who attend a bar- or bat-mitzvah celebration of a friend or relative’s child do so more out of obligation than out of joy.
Third, the number of attendees.
With the possible exception of one’s funeral (which is not on the milestones list because it doesn’t happen during one’s lifetime), more people attend weddings than any other event in life. In other words, one will likely spend the wedding day with more friends and relatives than on any other day of one’s life. That alone provides ample evidence of the unique significance of marriage.
These observations are what prompted me to ask the question of this essay. Given how uniquely important people consider marriage to be, as illustrated by the unique significance of weddings, would most parents derive more joy from their child’s wedding or from their child’s acceptance to (or graduation from) Harvard or some other prestigious college? Or, to put the question another way, do most parents deem their child getting married or getting into a good (or perhaps even any) college more significant?
Every parent should ask themselves these questions. But I suspect few do because far more parents, in raising their children, emphasize college over marriage.
Even parents who answer that they think both are equally important and would provide them with equal joy have to answer this question: Did (or do) you make it clear to your child that you consider getting married as important as getting into a good college?
I have no doubt that few parents — whether they consider the two equally important or even if they consider marriage more important — emphasize marriage nearly as much as they emphasize getting into a good college.
The proof is the number of young people who think career is more important than marriage and the relatively low number of Americans getting married — the lowest percentage in American history.
Therefore, for your sake as well that of your children, you might want to regularly tell your children that as much as you value their getting into a good college, you value their getting married even more (or, if you prefer, just as much). Tell them that as happy and proud as you will be on the day they graduate college, you will be even happier and more proud of them on the day they marry. For most people, that is a fact.