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How our individualistic culture impacts the parenting experience

The Industrial Revolution changed the extended live-in family into the nuclear family, consisting of two parents and their children. Of course, now in the 21st century, the modern family can and often looks different than the stereotypical family, with a wide range of family types and dynamics, but still, we are firmly concreted in a segregated and individualistic family and social structure.

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Australia is rated as the second highest individualistic culture, behind the USA (Geert Hofstede), and I think it is important to reflect on how this informs the experience of parenting, especially in a time when conversations about the lack of postpartum support are high.

First, consider the difference between individualistic and collectivist cultures:

Individualistic: values self-reliance, independence, autonomy, self-expression, individual achievements, and success

Collectivist: values interdependence, the good of the group, family integrity, conformity, social responsibilities, interconnection and harmony

There are pros and cons to each cultural structure. I personally love the autonomy and self-expression afforded in individualistic cultures, not to mention they tend to have more sensitive and affectionate parenting practices versus the authoritarian style of collectivist cultures. However, individualistic cultures pose many problems to a fresh family that requires constant and deep support.

Parenting is not designed to be done by the nuclear family structure, it is a job requiring you to work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. A job in which you cannot quit, no matter how exhausted, sick, stressed, or sad you may feel.

This is alot to put on two individuals with no integrated support in our social and cultural structures. It is a job that demands unlimited resources to handle the never-ending challenges of child-rearing. Studies have shown that parents in more individualistic cultures have higher levels of burnout on average than those in collectivist cultures (Ning et al 2023). These studies show that burnout is the product of chronic and extremely high stress levels with the lack of resources to cope (such as built-in support in social and cultural structures, institutions, systems, education, and workforces). Not only are those in individualistic cultures at higher risk for this burnout (which leads to negative mental health, escape and suicidal ideations, sleep and addiction problems), but they also tend to carry out the demanding parental responsibilities and stress alone, as they are conditioned by a culture that values independence and self-reliance (Ning et al 2023).

Beyond this, individualistic cultures train people to see the world from the self. We look at problems, challenges, and life dissatisfaction with the root cause within the self. We locate the problem within us or our approach to living, whether that be work, parenting, health, relationships, etc. When often, we should be looking external to the self for the root cause of such dissatisfaction and challenges, and understand how cultural and social systems, institutions, norms, and ideals make it near impossible to attain solutions, support, or satisfaction within our lives. This is compounded by a capitalist society which requires constant production and is pushed by consumerism and mass production. Rarely do we have time or space to slow down and even consider the role culture plays in the experiences of our lives. In this capitalist, individualistic environment, we are very much indoctrinated into the hamster wheel (have you ever noticed that the education system prepares us for an 8-hour working day, 5 days a week?), and are told to be self-reliant, independent, and strive for individual success and achievement.

This is a recipe for isolation, burnout, and dissatisfaction.

The enormity of becoming parents and raising a child requires constant support and a sharing of responsibilities. Whether that is child-raising and caretaking, in-built government and institutional support, or holding the parents in other ways (house cleaning, nutritional support, emotional and mental support, physical health), the individualistic culture of many Western countries lets parents down and perpetuates cycles of exhaustion, indifference, dissatisfaction, and isolation.

The idea that a baby shower offering gifts of onesies and teddy bears, and a postpartum visit to meet and hold the baby, is in any way affording support and love to this experience is barbaric when we take a moment to really think about it.

There are so many more aspects we could go into, but instead, I want to reiterate that we are not to blame for this shortcoming. I want to locate the problem outside of the self, as discussed above, and remove any guilt or shame you may feel at reading this. We know only what we are taught and shown, and when immersed in a culture of individualism, that is what we understand to be true. There is evidence that individuals can have individualistic and collectivist traits coexisting within themselves and their approach to living, and it is this that I suggest we integrate into our treatment and care of new and growing families.

I also want to address the problematic nature of confronting systematic problems as an individual. Something I fall into each time I have these conversations or observations is "How on earth can I, one person, change anything if it is a systematic problem?", it is too big of a job, and I quickly become discouraged. We start with ourselves. The problem is not within us, but we start making change through our behaviours, our conversations, and what we stand up for. Bit by bit, this ripples in change and awareness.

The Alyssa Miller Collection Photography


With a special interest in natural fertility, conscious conception, and conscious relating through starting a family, I offer birth support and related services to encourage more depth and awareness in your journey. I educate on the menstrual cycle and encourage women to reawaken their confidence and trust in their bodies, and show an understanding of how all of these experiences are interrelated and must be considered on your journey to starting a family.

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