In the past week, mother Brenda Heist reappeared, 11 years after going missing. She was last seen by her then-young kids when she dropped them off at their Pennsylvania school. Just coming out of a marriage breakdown, she had just been told that her application for financial aid had been denied. According to Brenda, she was crying in a park when she met hitch-hikers who asked her to join them on their way to Florida and, on a whim, she accepted.
Now she has told police that she did it because she was stressed.
Sad and shocking as it is, I immediately dismissed it as a rare case. But according to an article by Peggy Drexler (author of Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family and assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University), this is actually becoming a bit of an alarming trend. While she admits that there are no hard numbers, there has been a substantial increase in the number of mothers walking away from their families. In the US the number of single fathers more than tripled between 1982 and 2011, and believe it or not there are now support groups for mums who have chosen to leave.
Drexler argues that this could have a lot to do with our individualistic societal values. Research shows that clinical narcissism has had a 30% rise in the last 20 years, in the context of a culture that takes “being true to ourselves” and “never compromising” to a whole new level.