Like everything else, “family” has an infinite number of definitions. One definition of family is “any group of people united by marriage, blood or adoption, constituting a single household, interacting and communicating with each other, and creating and maintaining a common culture” (Hales 14). Many contemporary sociologists have expanded this definition to include people whom or may not be related and those who for of their lives live together, satisfying their emotional needs and relating to each other to fulfill wants and desires. Regardless of the definitions, everyone has his or her own idea of what a family is. Some feel that family life “is not what it used to be” and have a very negative view on the subject. Others more optimistic argue that families are not dying but are being reborn in new forms and styles. Society is ever changing therefore, so is the family institution. The old “Leave it to Beaver” view on family life is being quickly overtaken with a new millennium, where there is no “set” standard norm. Although the causes and effects of the breakdown of the Canadian family unit in the 21st century are numerous, there are many ways in which families are developing and adapting for the future.
The family is considered the most basic social institution. Often the significance of problems that occur within family is underestimated. Families are being increasingly jeopardized by a number of social issues. In 1991, approximately one-quarter of Canadian households consisted of only one person (Hagedorn 396). Although over the past twenty-five years the number of marriages has decreased significantly. Most people in Canada marry at least once in their lifetime. “Most marriages are characterized by homogamy and by inequality in domestic labor and marital power” (Hagedorn 396). Therefore, many people are turning to divorce or common law relationships as an alternative. Divorce can be an extremely traumatic experience for anyone, especially for a young child. In a telephone interview, Zachary Yung age eight, he stated “I don’t know why my parents don’t live together, I think they don’t love each other anymore, I am afraid they don’t love me as much too”. For most children, divorce means an end to a family they have grown to know, love and become accustomed to. For many children, the concept of divorce is hard to grasp, and like any substantial change, requires a large adjustment period. Children whose parents who get divorced may grow up having difficulties committing or trusting partners. Eventually, however, most children overcome these deficiencies and go on to be successful in future relationships.
Reports of domestic violence have increased significantly in the past twenty years, partially due to the fact there is a great public outcry towards men who beat their wives and children. A shocking 68 percent of assaults on mothers are witnessed by children (Leighton 132).
Canadians like to imagine the family as a refuge from the stresses and strains of the outside world. While this is true, there is another reality. The family is both the most loving and supportive of human groups and also by far the most violent group or institution.
(The Vanier Institute of the Family 131)
Women’s liberation has also played a key role in the breakdown of Canadian families. Women’s increase in education and movement into the work force, often creates neglect in homes as a result of their need to seek personal satisfaction. This by no means is implying that women are the soul cause of family breakups.
“Family policy alone cannot solve the problems of economic injustice” (Conway 209). The effects of unemployment are enormous, and pose a huge burden on the well being of families in today’s society. This forces a significant number of Canadian families to live below the poverty level. According to the Vanier Institute of Family, in 1987 “An estimated 61.9 percent of those families are single females,” struggling to support one or more children and the numbers are lowly escalating. Increasing numbers of Canadians are turning to social assistance for help. Which is a burden, not only on families, but the Canadian society in general.
It is becoming more and more difficult to support a family on the average salary of a Canadian male or female. Dual income households now constitute the large majority of families. The responsibilities and obligations of parents often conflict with their productive roles in the work force. Children frequently face feelings of neglect when parents are overly involved in their careers. In a face to face interview with Arron Tso, age six, he stated “I play by myself. No one is home but Chun Yi and she is too old to play with”.
The natural environment, current political, religious and social conditions have forced families to be in a constant state of adoption throughout history. Families have always altered their size, structure and patterns of functioning in response to confronting situations. Increased rates of change, along with an increased variety in families are two general factors, which contribute to the ways in which families are changing and adapting today. Less than a life time ago, the majority of Canadians families were composed of two adults, only one of whom was employed, who lived in a permanent union and produced three to five children, Families who varied from this model were rare and thus the exception. In the new millennium exceptions seem to make up the general rule.
Today, single parent families, interracial families and families of divorce are becoming more and more common. The trend has also turned to teen pregnancy. This does not mean that families are getting smaller rather their size is increasing due to such groups as stepfamilies, adoptive families and foster families, who although they are not related, share common bond.
Adoption and foster families are also becoming part of the social norm. Adoption is a permanent placement of a child in a family, whereas foster care is temporary. Children are placed in foster care because of problems that do not allow them to stay with their own families. Many families are adopting more hard-to-place children instead of only newborns. Older children and both physically and mentally disabled children are being incorporated into today’s families much more easily than ever before because of awareness and tolerance.
Homosexuality as a sexual preference has become much more prominent in present society. Much prejudice and hatred (caused by ignorance), which was directed toward people who chose to live a homosexual, has significantly subsided. Homosexuality has made substantial progress in its attempts at being accepted by society. A large number of homosexual couples are participating in the adoption process or looking into the prospect of surrogate motherhood. Homosexual couples, although they are not the norm, are making efforts to form families and support the family unit.
With more than six million families in Canada, including married couples with or without children, lone parents, people cohabiting, as well as remarried couples, it is virtually impossible to describe family simply in terms of membership and structure. Instead many researchers prefer to focus on what families do. “No culture has ever survived without a family structure and it is inconceivable that a man in the future could function without family” (Barbeau 77).
Family should be defined on the basis of relationships of dependency, trust and familiarity. In a world where everything is changing so rapidly and most people are in a constant state of confusion, it would be nice to have some sense of continuity. Regardless of the challenges that the Canadian family faces in the future, families will still remain the foundation of society. Family is one of the deepest and most abiding human need and it should not be taken for granted.