“Family life just isn’t for me.”
“Having this baby on my own is just something that I have to do.”
“I feel like my marriage is holding me back from being truly happy.”
A common philosophy exists behind these statements; individual needs and desires trump those of the collective, in this case, the family. Today more women approaching the end of their child-bearing years are opting to have a child without a biological father (with a donor’s sperm) because a child is “something they’ve always wanted.” It’s not just women, either: mothers and fathers both will leave their families because of a lack of fulfillment or happiness that they believe they can find in a different mate, a new city or another family. The divorce rate reached unprecedented levels in 1987 when, according to Statistics Canada, the proportion of marriages expected to end in divorce reached 50.6 per cent.1 In 2002, one in four Canadian families with children was headed by a lone parent, which represents a 58 per cent increase from 1986.2 How do we explain the mass exodus of parents from nuclear families? Social scholars are pointing to an ethos of extreme individualism as a cause of family breakdown3; they call it “expressive individualism.” Expressive individualism is the attitude that self-interest should be the main goal of any situation,4 asserting that individuals have a moral obligation to look after themselves first and foremost.5
There are a multitude of factors that have contributed to the rise of expressive individualism and the emphasis on self-service rather than self-sacrifice in the realm of the family. This article addresses three: economic prosperity, the psychological revolution and technology.
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