Thursday, October 07, 2010

Changing the Family Landscape

The headlines boast: "Canadian Families are no longer bound by tradition." Referring to a survey done by the Vanier Institute of the Family, it reveals the growing trend of common-law partners over and above the traditional man-woman-marriage-children family unit. In other words, there are more singles, divorcees, and same-sex partnership over the traditional man-woman-marriage based families. The full report "Families Count" can be downloaded here. Here are some worrying statistics:
  • 'Married with children families' now number around 39% (2006) compared with 55% (1981);
  • 40% of marriages end in divorce;
  • More than 50% of first marriages are common law ones, meaning including people who live together but unmarried, homosexual unions and other non-traditional unions; (Credit to one of my blog readers who pointed out this error, that there are many types of common-law unions, not just homosexual ones. Thanks Rosie.)
  • Traditional 'Man-Woman' marriages are seeing a marked increase in older grooms (average 30.5 years) and older brides (28.5 years). This means lesser children as the older a woman, the more risky to have more children.
  • Rising poverty
  • Busy professionals mean lower volunteer hours from this group. (community groups suffer as they lack the volunteer contributions from this particular segment)
A) Three Views: Not A Simple Solution
First, for those of us brought up on strict tradition, we are tempted to complain about the younger generation losing sight of the importance of tradition. Some will even suspect that there is a parallel between individualism and the new definition of what family is. As society becomes more individualistic and self-focused, there will be a trend to re-define a family based on self-needs, and self-fulfillment. In other words, the preferred kind of family will be based on what a person can get out of it, instead of what the person can give himself to.

Second, for non-tradition adherents, like younger modern folks, tradition is indeed an option rather than a given. One face of that is of a culture of convenience or an avoidance of inconvenience.
  • Why get married when there is such a high rate of divorce?
  • With marriage increasingly broadened to include homosexuals, there is no need for children.
  • Why should marriage be restricted to only heterosexual marriages?
  • Bringing up children is too stressful and expensive. Why not have just one child, or no children?
I like to suggest a third viewpoint. I believe there is more than meets the eye. I wish things were that simple, that people are throwing away tradition merely in favour of something more modern and hippier. Or that people are getting more individualistic and self-focused. Although there are certain truths in the earlier two views, we need not pit them against each other. There is a bigger concern, that of the system that traps both, if not a lot of people. Let me explain.

B) The Third View
A closer look at the Family Report tells us something more worrying.
  • Time and money continues to be major issues for many Canadians;
  • The growing rich-poor divide is making poorer families unable to cope with more children;
  • For people who do not have a reasonable amount of education, they cannot get better jobs to help pay their bills and have a better quality of life;
  • For those who are educated, work stresses and time demands reduce their energies to build up their families. 
  • Costs of education have gone up, making it even harder for families to send their children to higher educational institutions;
  • With an aging population, and lower birth rate, as far as the national budget is concerned, the long term future is pessimistic.
  • Higher cost of living is also making it hard for traditional families;
My point is, before we point a gun at the tendency of individualistic concerns, we are perhaps underestimating the real problem. If we simply blame it on the loss of tradition, we are overestimating, even overstating the positive influence of tradition. Things are not as simple because family problems need both old thoughts about tradition as well as new ways to bring meaning into modern society.

C) Understanding Family Needs
Let us be mindful that society and the system we are in have big problems in the first place. It is like trying to fix our leaky water supply by pouring in good water faster than the amount leaking out. In other words, if the hole is not fixed, the only way to ensure adequate water supply is to make sure that fresh water input exceeds the amount consumed and the amount leaking out. This is precisely the predicament modern families faced, as demonstrated by the Vanier foundation report.

Let me suggest 5 steps how we can benefit from this new re-definition of family, that traditional man-woman marriages are overtaken by common-law unions.

1) We are Family: The first thing to be mindful of is that we are all members of a traditional family. Trace it. Research it. We will eventually link back to a family with a male-female-marriage-children traditional family. Do not treat this lightly. Do not exclude ourselves. Lose our connection and we lose a big chunk of our own identity.

2) Our Role: We have a role to play, even though the specifics have changed. The statistics reflect the changing landscape of how family looks like. Regardless of the definitions or the re-definitions, we must remember that we have a role to play in society. Do not let definitions deter any of us from playing our role responsibly. We may argue but let not disagreements discourage us from playing a positive role.

3) Relationships are Still Important: No man is an island. No matter how different we are, we need to be humble to admit we need one another. This said, do not underestimate the negative impact of individualism.

4) Fight the Common Enemy First: Poverty and Injustice are color-blind, family-blind and can impact any society. Diseases and unhealthy lifestyles drain the economy. Do not sink all of our energies trying to attack alternative views. There are more important battles to fight. Perhaps this is an opportunity to join forces to work together to fight the common enemies.

5) Get Your Own House in Order: Whatever 'family' bucket you are in, you are expected to get your own house in order. What good will there be if you boast of your right to have your kind of family, but do not practice what you claim to be? If you feel your brand of family values are beneficial, then prove it. Show us. Demonstrate them through good works. Whether you are tradition-based or liberal-common-law-based, remember certain family values are universal, like love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control etc.

Let us not be distracted by the family report. People have needs no matter what kind of family they are in. Let us aim to be channels of blessings to help fight the common enemies, to help one another be the best people we are called to be. Perhaps this is too ideal an expectation. Perhaps this is nearly impossible, given the deep divide between the various groups. Let us work toward building bridges rather than barriers. For all we know, the bigger the platform of understanding, the better we can work together for the good of all.

Let our families count well.



Rosie Perera said...

Hi Conrade, just wanted to correct a misunderstanding. You wrote: "More than 50% of first marriages are common law ones, meaning homosexual unions." The statistic about first marriages is not surprising, but "common law marriage" does not mean "homosexual union." It means two people not ceremonially married but living together and committed to each other as if they were married. In some jurisdictions it counts as de facto marriage. It could be heterosexual or homosexual, though the concept has existed long before "domestic partnerships" for same-sex couples became recognized. (See Wikipedia article, Common-law marriage.)

YAPdates said...

Thank you for pointing it out. It is a mistake on my part. The changes are reflected with credit to you.

Thanks again.


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