Economic and social forces are changing the face of the modern Canadian family
Two moms and a baby
When it comes to public acceptance of gay rights, the real litmus test is the issue of raising children. Only 37 per cent of respondents to the Angus Reid poll disagreed with the statement: “I find nothing wrong with homosexuality.” But when asked about same-sex couples raising kids, 67 per cent thought it was a bad thing. Those views are familiar to Maureen Mills, 35, and Joanne Beatty, 33, lesbian partners of seven years. They live in South Vancouver with 16-month-old Sydney Beatty Mills, fathered by a male Mend and borne by Mills. Some neighbors who accepted the couple’s homosexuality, Beatty says, changed when Mills got pregnant: “That really hurt. Some people feel we’re not fit to raise a child.”
Beatty has no legal rights as a parent, although Mills has specified in her will that, in the event of her death, Sydney should stay with Beatty—a stipulation that could face a legal challenge. And Mills says people tend to question “Joanne’s influence. They don’t always understand that we have an equal commitment to Sydney’s well-being.”
of respondents agree that they are/were close emotionally to their grandparents; 70 per cent say they are close to their pets.
of respondents are all-around happy with their family lives. Those who had a happy childhood, hold strong religious beliefs and remain close emotionally to their parents are most likely to fall in the happy category.
of parents disagree with the statement: “It is sometimes acceptable for a parent to spank a child.”
She calls for legislation that would “legitimize our family status.”
For all the negative comments, however, Mills says that they have heard even more positive ones. And although they worry about the social stigma Sydney might face, they have no second thoughts. “I think it’s important to be visible,” says Mills. “That way, people may learn that we have more commonality than differences with other parents.”
ADRIENNE WEBB in Vancouver
Going home, again
Dave Walsh never expected to be living with his parents, never mind his in-laws, at the age of 25. But after graduating from the University of Alberta in Edmonton with a civil engineering degree last year, he faced the bleakest job market since the 1930s. Unemployed and burdened with hefty student loans, Walsh and his new wife, Carolin Henry—who earns only a modest income as a social worker— moved in with her parents in Hamilton after their >_ marriage last July. “I was brought up to believe that I when you get married, you have your own place,” 5 says Walsh. But it was simply not possible. “We I asked them to stay here because we knew that they couldn’t manage on their own,” says Carolin’s mother, Aldith Henry. She and her husband, Joel, had already helped support another adult son, Jimmy, who moved back into his old room for two years when he could not find a job after graduating from college in 1990. And the family’s experience is not unique. According to the Angus Reid poll, about one in five adults over the age of 24 live with their parents. “It’s tough for young people today,” says Aldith Henry. ‘We don’t like them to struggle.”
Hard times are bringing families like the Henrys together—for better or for worse. Walsh is grateful for his in-laws’ help and they, in turn, praise him and
Carolin for pitching in. At the same time, the parents, who want to see their adult children become established, are increasingly concerned. “We did it with a good heart,” adds Aldith Henry. “But it isn’t always easy.” Joel Henry, 47, works long hours at his motor mechanics shop and his wife, 56, works full time as a nurse to help pay off the mortgage and put their younger son, Paul, through university.
And most twentysomethings yearn for independence. Space was not a problem in the Henrys’ fivebedroom house, but Walsh sometimes felt that inviting friends over “would impose on the rest of the family.” Walsh recently found part-time work as a laborer while he continues his search for an engineering job. Two weeks ago, he and his wife moved to a nearby townhouse. “It’s going to be a financial strain,” says Walsh. “But we can’t grow as close as we want to if we don’t have privacy.”
SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER
Blending two families
Only a few weeks before François Cantin married Louise Thériault last August, Cantin reached an agreement with his first wife that gave him custody of their two young children. LouisPhilippe, 8, and Maude, 6, moved from their mother’s place in the country to the Cantin-Thériault household in Quebec City. “It’s been quite an eyeopener,” says Thériault, a 30-year-old graphic designer with no children of her own. “François has to work a lot of overtime and I work at home, so I find myself almost like a single mother sometimes.” Thériault took on much of the responsibility for the children. And it has not all gone smoothly. “I had a very frank discussion with the boy recently because his attitude was really bad,” she says. “I told him I took care of him and his sister only because I wanted to, not because I had to.” She also told Louis-Philippe that she loved him—and that it was OK for him to love her, as well as his mother, a concept he had struggled with. But while that discussion helped, the transition into a blended family, combined with
Louis-Philippe’s difficulty in adapting to life in the city, was just too much for the boy. This month, he is moving back to his mother’s home in the country.
In an age of rising divorce rates, blended families are increasingly common. About 343,400—or seven per cent of all Canadian families raising children— include at least one stepchild, according to the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa. And such families—afflicted, sometimes, by the acrimony of divorce as well as by centuries-old stereotypes about wicked stepmothers—face particular challenges. “People must remember that love and respect in blended families is not instantaneous,” says Montreal psychologist Liliane Spector. “Sometimes it can take years, and sometimes the best you can hope for is a civil relationship.” Blended families, adds Spector, are not like traditional ones, and must define completely new roles: which parent has responsibility for discipline, who does the chores, who pays for what.
of respondents say that the use of reproductive technology to allow people to give birth will have a positive impact on families and society.
of those married or common-law couples who reported being dissatisfied with their relationships said they would like to improve “communication.”
Only eight per cent of the dissatisfied couples said that they wanted to improve their sex lives. Parents of young children were an exception—15 per cent of them wanted improved sexual relations with their spouses.
of never-married respondents have given birth to, or fathered, at least one child; so have half the people now living common law.
of respondents who are living with a common-law partner consider their living arrangement to be a “family.”
MARK CARDWELL in Quebec City
Often, they must also struggle to forge bonds between new siblings. “That was the big problem in our case,” says Michel Vermette, a 35-year-old Canada Post employee in Quebec City. Two years ago, his girlfriend, Sonya St-Gelais, 35, and her now14-year-old son moved in with Vermette and his two children, a boy aged 16 and a girl of 12. The children did not get along. “Michel and I,” says StGelais, “found ourselves playing the police all the time while the kids screamed injustice.” Within six months, St-Gelais and her son moved out, although she and Vermette are still dating. ‘We plan to try living together again,” says Vermette—“after the kids turn 18.”
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