A recent study by Angus Reid Group suggests that the Canadian family is in pretty good shape.  Seventy-five per cent of adults surveyed described their current family lives as happy, and over ninety per cent believe their lives growing up were as good as or better than other families.

The pollsters point to what they call a Perception Gap concerning attitudes toward the family, because while most Canadians say they enjoy happy family lives, most of us believe that Canada’s families are in crisis.  The number one reason for concern is the “rate of divorce and instability of the family unit,” followed by “lack of values in society.”

Maybe I insist on seeing the glass as half empty, but I found the poll was most revealing in what it said or implied about divorce and its effects on our society.  Those who are married, or living common law, and those who are widowed are far more likely to be happy with their family life (80%) than those who divorced (48%) or never married (62%).

Nearly half of us believe divorce laws are too lenient and over sixty percent, including those who have experienced divorce, believe the traditional family (two parents with one at home) is best for raising children.

The so-called perception gap reveals a seemingly irreconcilable idealism and pessimism.  Perhaps it is due to an unrealistic view of our own families: we’re “in denial” as pop psychologists claim.  Or, it may reflect an instinctive awareness of the uncalculated repercussions that emanate from a divorcing family throughout the community.

Although the divorce rate of 17% has not risen dramatically over the last generation as some may suspect, the number of children affected by divorce has grown steadily over time. Nearly a quarter of 18 to 28-year-olds are children of divorced parents.

While most people express great reservations about divorce, as a society we are very tolerant.  We accept that promises of unconditional love can be broken with no fault, regardless of the innocent victims.  We all agree it’s a pity, but we do not hold the spouses accountable for their failure to follow through on their promises.

Weddings are usually very public occasions.  The reason for this is not simply to have a bi celebration, but because it is a community activity.  Marriage and family are at the heart of every community, and it is in the community interest to protect and sustain it.  The poll results suggest that we know this in our hearts, but our current slavish belief in individualism causes us to back away from imposing any restrictions on individual activity.

People need unconditional love in order to thrive.  Babies will literally die from lack of it.  Children and adults become psychologically disturbed.  The impact of these broken trusts on the whole community is the growing awareness that we are not valuable as we are, that we must be on our best behaviour in order to be accepted.  It’s hardly a surprise that we are experiencing (to return to pop psychology) an epidemic of low self-esteem.

The stress of making ourselves acceptable and loveable has led to growth industries in diet and fitness, plastic surgery, psychobabble, and guilt-free new-age religions.  These are illusory escapes from the fundamental problem of evading responsibility.

Promiscuity even “serial monogamy” as some prefer to put it, as well as the accompanying contraception and abortion also form part of this crisis of conditional love (an oxymoron) and rejection.  It is difficult to distinguish whether they are the cause of effect.  Like Medusa’s heads, they are part of the same monster that is paralyzing society.

Throughout the Angus Reid report, which was produced for the International Year of the Family, the statistics cry out that divorce hurts.  In virtually every category relating to personal happiness and satisfaction with one’s family life, those who have divorced, and grown children of divorced parents express significantly lower levels of happiness and higher levels of unhappiness.

Since adult children of divorced parents are nearly twice as likely to undergo divorce in their own marriages as those from intact families, Canada can anticipate an exponential growth in broken families and declining social morale.