The Public Interest

On selfish children and lonely parents

Alvin L. Schorr

Summer 1966

The American family is deteriorating. We were once a family-centered society, but industrialization and urbanization have separated our old people from their children, and everyone from his ancestral home. Women have made great strides towards equality – they are paid in cash for their work and assume new status in their marriages – but this leaves men and women uncertain about sexual roles. Our society is also a highly stimulating one; youngsters reach puberty earlier and undertake sexual relations and marriage before they are ready. As we know, the age of permissiveness was ushered in by Freud; we pay for its glories with character disorders in adults and – who knows? – delinquency among youth. (Dr. Spock rewrites Baby Care so that those who always resisted permissiveness are paid the final insult of being permitted to be strict.) Our civilization has become so complex that each of us feels adrift, uncertain of our purposes, unable even to attain genuine intimacy with our kin. If an American can survive the driving thirties, the dangerous forties, and the frantic fifties, he may live to a ripe old age. And what awaits him? His children – anxious, ambitious, and self-regarding – will have neither time nor material support to offer.

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