Eight years ago, Charles MacKinnon, now 35, was teaching science at a Dartmouth, N.S., high school, while his wife Colleen, also 35, was finishing up a teaching degree at Saint Mary's University across the harbor in Halifax. Colleen was also getting ready to have her first baby. The MacKinnons both felt that an apartment was no place to raise a family. “We wanted a home and to be near our relatives,” recalled Colleen. In June of 1978, the couple pulled up stakes and returned to their native Cape Breton, moving into a house in Charles’s old neighborhood in Sydney-just a block from his parents’ home. The MacKinnons were among the 81 per cent of respondents to The Maclean’s/ Decima Poll who said that family is becoming more important in their lives. Explaining the decision to return to Cape Breton, Charles told Maclean’s, “We moved back for the lifestyle, particularly for the kids.”
As a consequence of that move, Charles MacKinnon had to switch occupations. Because a teaching job was not readily available in Sydney, he took a job as quality control manager of Cape Breton Beverages Ltd., a local bottling company owned by his wife’s family for more than 20 years. Colleen chose to stay home with the baby. Now the mother of three children— Owen, 7, Cara, 5, and Kate, 2—Colleen has not worked since. “I am a firm believer in raising my own children,” she told Maclean ’s.
Although Charles’s $35,000 annual salary does not enable the family to take southern vacations or to replace their rusted 1975 Chevrolet, they say they are fortunate in an era marked by ambivalence about the family. Said Colleen: “Society has to make a choice and it has not. Do they want mothers to stay at home? If they do, why is it so expensive to raise a family? Or do they want mothers to work, and if they do, why can’t they provide affordable day care?” Colleen says that she is also worried about the increasing number of working mothers. “I have a serious fear,” she said, “of a backlash from a generation of children who are raised in day care centres. Are they going to be antifamily? My biggest fear is that when Owen grows up, will he come home with a woman who doesn’t want kids because of her experience in day care?”
Like many parents, the MacKinnons do not always agree about how their children should be raised and family values nurtured. It is the only thing, they say, that they quarrel about. Charles, the youngest of two children, says that society dictates his role as the traditional economic provider. Still, he makes time to be with his family-even if briefly. Said Charles: “Kids make your life a kaleidoscope, and that keeps you fresh.” Colleen, the oldest of seven children, grew up in a Sydney home where there were organized family activities. As a child, she spent Sundays playing cards with her family. “It was a ritual and my family was fanatical,” she recalled. Now, she also wants her own children to regard certain activities as family events—a preoccupation that her husband enjoys teasing her about. When the five get into the car for a family outing to a fast-food restaurant, he will say: “Everybody be happy. We’re doing this for Mom.”
The MacKinnons had begun to feel that their ideals of family life made them part of a vanishing breed—and they were astonished by the results of The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll, which suggested that the majority of Canadians may actually share their views. Said Charles: “Maybe the pendulum is swinging back.” Colleen was less surprised to learn that Atlantic Canadians cited family as the priority in their lives. “Maritimers are attached to their families,” she said.
Colleen is content to stay at home with her three children, at least until they reach school age. “I asked them if they wanted me to stay home with them even if it meant having fewer toys and they said yes,” she said. “It’s our contribution to society: a happy family. The world is so crazy that maybe our kids will help make it a better place.”
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