How many American children have cut contact with their parents?
Unhappily married for many years, Peter (not his real name) waited until his children were grown up before he divorced their mother. He hoped this would make the experience less upsetting for them. Yet in the six years since, he has not seen either of his two sons.
“For me it has been completely ①devastating,” he says. “I get on with my life, but I get② teary when I think about them.” Losing ③contact with children is like bereavement, he says, but with the painful tug of hope that they might one day be ④reconciled.
Though people ①tend not to talk about it much, familial ②estrangement seems to be widespread in America. The first large-scale nationwide survey, recently ③conducted by Cornell University, found that 27% of adult Americans are ④estranged from a close family member.
Because family estrangement has been a ①subject of research only for the past decade there are no data to show whether it is becoming more common. But many sociologists and psychologists think it is. In one way this seems surprising. Divorce heightens the② risk of other family ③fractures.
In recent years America's divorce ①rate has fallen. Yet Dr Coleman ②reckons other③ trends are making parent-child estrangements likelier than ever. Other therapists, who do not④ specialise in family rifts, ⑤concur.
A rise in ①individualism that ②emphasises personal happiness is the biggest factor. People are increasingly likely to ③reject relatives who ④obstruct feelings of well-being in some way, by holding ⑤clashing beliefs or failing to ⑥embrace those of others. Personal fulfilment has increasingly come to ⑦displace ⑧filial duty, says Dr Coleman.