Friday, 31 July 2020

Two Kinds of New Normal


There are two kinds of new normal. There's the one that arrives in fanfare and is announced by everyone, often ushered in by a crisis; no one can miss this new normal. All eyes are fully open to the changes we must now get used to; perspex screens, masks and social distancing. There is another kind of new normal however that is much more subtle, it happens gradually over time like the boiling of a pot or the flavouring of a dinner. No one announces its arrival and once it's here no one really notices it as 'new' at all but only as what 'is' since we can't imagine or conceive of a world in which this normal doesn't exist.

These new normals are deadly and without canaries to warn us they'll end up killing us and dismantling our social structures. 

This thought occurred to me recently when reading Glynn Harrison's excellent book 'A Better Story' in it he points to many of the effects of the Sexual Revolution on society. The promise of the revolution was 'better sex and more freedom' and whilst it has certainly made us more free (if freedom is taken to mean only the throwing off of restraints) it hasn't brought us much that is better. I have grown up in the post-revolution world and so have known nothing else but its dogmas. 

It was only when a new friend I made several years ago commented with surprise at the amount of divorced or remarried couples he knew of in the church that I began to consider whether this normal wasn't always around; I had no idea that it was new at at all. 

Here's some normals we're familiar with, normals that we might never have considered 'new' since no one announced them with the same fanfare we've become used to in the past few months:
  • Common acceptance of the validity (thought of course emotional painful reality) of abortion. There were 209, 519 abortions in England and Wales last year (it increases year on year and is the highest its ever been since the passing of the Abortion act in 1967 - 18 out of every 1000 women aged 15-44 had an abortion last year)
  • Living together before being married (>66% of couples)
  • High divorce rates (42%)
  • Addiction to or regular use of porn. I have long assumed (from experience in youth work) that every boy (and increasingly a lot of girls) struggle with being addicted to or a regular user of porn. And the stats show that children are accessing it younger than ever before.
  • Sexually 
  • 48% of all children born today will not be found living with both natural parents by their sixteenth birthday
  • Father absences in homes: In 1972 1 in 14 households in the UK were fatherless, now it is 1 in 4. In more than 236 local authorities in England and Wales more than 50% of 
  • Mental health disorders.Common. Expected even. One 
  • In 2015 one in five teenage girls had experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.
  • Suicide: The biggest killer of all men under the age of 50, and increasingly among the young. 46% more 15-19yr olds committed suicide in 2015 than in 2007.
  • Loneliness. We're familiar with the commonplace loneliness among our 
I'm sure there are 

Mental health disorders are treated by many as being as inevitable as the common cold or as genetically predisposed as cancer and yet there is plenty of evidence to suggest that for the most part (though of course not in every case) it is more a symptom of something else, resulting from other factors at work in a person's life.

Whereas in our current crisis we're going to great lengths to protect the elderly and vulnerable from Covid-19, many of the new normals listed above are simple accepted (or in some cases celebrated); and yet it is our young that are most at risk from them all.

"Family insecurity and insecurity are bad for kids in terms of almost any outcome that you care to mention" (Harrison) and whereas we all accepted that divorce would harm our kids (although in many cases even that is done 'for the sake of the kids') cohabitation (the new normal) poses a much greater threat to the stability and security of our kids: 

In a study from the UK Marriage Foundation the author found that, independent of mothers’ age or education, more than half of couples who only get married after the birth of their first child have split up ten years later, compared with only one quarter or couples who marry before having children.’


This has huge knock on implications for the mental health of our young since (in one survey of 10,448 eleven year olds) 18% of those living in stepfamilies had significant mental health problems, compared to 6.6% of those living with both natural parents. Boys were affected most of all, displaying conduct problems, hyperactivity and attention-deficit issues.

There are two kinds of new normal, one that gets noticed as 'new' and one that gets accepted simply as what 'is', but if it hasn't always been this way shouldn't we be more concerned that it's new and start to question whether we're all happy with it?

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