Breaking the traditional Greek family mold

The rising number of single-parent families in Greece, a country that until only recently was a bastion of the traditional Mediterranean extended family, is the result of several decades of growing economic and social independence for women. The roles of mother, wife, lover and co-breadwinner have been added to with growing isolation as the usual help from one’s own extended family has dwindled. «The increase in the number of single-parent families is linked to the modern way of life, that is, the liberation of women, the ability of both partners to seek greater freedom of choice and the de-stigmatization of divorce as something socially unacceptable,» says psychologist-psychotherapist Katerina Poulopoulou, who is also a founding member of the Greek Association for Phenomenology and Existential Analysis and Psychotherapy. «Naturally, it is also linked with a faster pace of life, in other words, with people’s unwillingness to postpone the satisfaction of their desires. We are all living in the present and therefore happiness is something that has to be gained now. What once constituted obstacles (with the ‘blessing’ of religion, of course) are on the way out. Yet there is always the risk that this unrestricted desire for momentary satisfaction can eventually lead to an absolute vacuum.» Unmarried mothers, mothers whose children have different fathers, parents with children from previous marriages and who later also have other offspring, and women who become mothers at an advanced age all face personal and social difficulties to some extent. «In Greece, there are still some prejudices and conventions, particularly in the provinces, where an unmarried mother or a woman who marries later in life is ‘problematic’ and therefore socially unacceptable,» said Poulopoulou. «In the larger cities, of course, where women claim social acceptance through their working lives, these phenomena are not so pronounced. The problem here is still how to balance while walking a number of different tightropes.» According to Poulopoulou, children growing up in «unconventional» families can be just as happy and emotionally healthy as in conventional two-parent families, which are by no means any guarantee of love and care. «Everything depends on the relationship the child develops with each parent. The quality and depth of that relationship is chiefly up to the parents themselves. It is they whose own behavior and relationship will define the borders of what is ‘conventional.’» Poulopoulou does not see motherhood as something separate from paternity. «Even an ‘absent’ father, a sperm donor, is present by his very absence.»