On May 1, 2010, AGBU Hye Geen organized a lively public forum about the challenges of marriage and family relations at AGBU Manoogian Center in Pasadena, California. The event featured three speakers with expertise in social psychology, as well as a short play about marriage, with over 100 people in attendance.
The first speaker was Houri Keshishian, member of Hye Geen, a specialist in family studies and author of “Armenian Adolescents in America and their Struggle for Identity.” She discussed significant changes in Armenian family life as traditional patterns of homemakers and breadwinners give way to Armenian women opting for education and a career with “increasing visibility.”
Faced with career demands as well as household chores and childcare, Keshishian said women “expect their husbands to help with some of the chores or driving the kids back and forth. However, that doesn’t seem to be happening in many families and therefore more tensions and frictions arise.” As women are expected to be the purveyors of Armenian cultural values, this is another added responsibility. In view of these challenges, Keshishian said that both Armenian men and woman accuse one another of “wanting the luxuries of the traditional Armenian family and community life while not wanting the responsibilities and politics that accompany it.”
The second speaker, Shakeh Yegavian, is the director of training for marriage and family therapy interns at the Glen Roberts Child Center in Glendale. She dwelt on the stress generated by the duty of maintaining the Armenian national identity while living in different cultures. Whereas mainstream American culture tends to be individualistic, Yegavian said the national identity stresses the age-old values of duty, sacrifice, and family solidarity, including care for aging parents. She said the duality of expectations can affect family relations, and stressed the need for family members to respect individuality and nurture communications skills to strengthen family solidarity.
Following the two lectures, the audience watched a short play called “Who to Marry,” by H. Bekiarian, adapted and produced by actors Sossy Varjabedian and Maral Varjabedian. The comedy dealt with the expectations of a spinster on the eve of her marriage to a widower, and the suspicions instilled in her by a schoolmate married in her late teens.
The third speaker, Rachel Goukassian, is a marriage and family therapist with a master’s degree from Pepperdine University. “We have come a long way in the past 100 years as a culture, we have endured a lot of hardships that have shaped who we have become,” she said. “Up until recently the focus was on survival.” Today’s women are more educated, said Goukassian; they get married at an older age, and value relationships where “love plays a bigger role.” Like all mainstream independent-minded women, she said Armenian women today strive to “reach their individual potential and become successful.”
Goukassian advocated equal rights in marriage and a scenario where women are able to go out into the world, have a fulfilling career and have friends, but also know they can come back and be part of a family based on mutual love, respect and trust.
A general discussion followed, when many questions were raised about the role of the traditional wife, equal divisions of marital responsibilities, mixed marriages, the danger of interfering in-laws, and the realities of biculturalism.
AGBU Hye Geen President Sona Yacoubian concluded the ceremony. She lauded Armenian mothers who, mindful of the turbulent history of their nation, are committed to raising strong families and transmitting the national values to their children and grandchildren.
Finally, a complimentary buffet lunch was served while attendees exchanged viewpoints about achieving a successful marriage.