Earlier this month, in a piece for The Atlantic, Joshua Coleman described an epidemic that’s not COVID but that’s also afflicting America: family estrangement. As a psychologist who specializes in family therapy, Coleman reports that his practice is flooded with older parents mourning the loss of contact with their grown children and with grown children angry and hurt by conflict with parents. “The rules of family life have changed,” he said.
The more recent changes in family structures and dynamics he described have only added to the pressure already felt by earlier stressors. For example, the Industrial Revolution, which moved work from inside the home to out, completely upended family life in all kinds of ways. The more recent forces of family estrangement, on the other hand, don’t come so much from the outside as from the inside.
Coleman quotes Stephanie Coontz, the Director of Research at the Council on Contemporary Families, to clarify this point:
“Never before have family relationships been seen as so interwoven with the search for personal growth, the pursuit of happiness, and the need to confront and overcome psychological obstacles.”
This shift is bigger than we might suspect. Coontz continues,
“For most of history family relationships were based on mutual obligations rather than on mutual understanding. Parents or children might reproach the other for failing to honor/acknowledge their duty, but the idea that a relative could be faulted for failing to honor/acknowledge one’s ‘identity’ would have been incomprehensible” (emphasis added).
In other words, we used to understand our families in light of our duties to them. Now we are increasingly understanding our families in light of their duty to us. What’s more, we increasingly think that their primary duty is to make us happy.
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SOURCE: Breakpoint.org, John Stonestreet and Maria Baer
From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. “BreakPoint®” and “The Colson Center for Christian Worldview®” are registered trademarks of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
John Stonestreet is the President of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and co-host with Eric Metaxas of Breakpoint, the Christian worldview radio program founded by the late Chuck Colson. He is co-author of A Practical Guide to Culture, A Student’s Guide to Culture and Restoring All Things.