Family: Traditional to Diverse
What was once understood of the definition of the traditional Canadian nuclear family—consisting of a married man and woman, with biological children, that stay married for the duration of their lives—is long gone. The family model, once defined by the man who went to work to financially support his family and the woman who stayed home to raise their children, is now less relevant to the realities of modern life. In 1961, marriage accounted for 91.6% of families in Canada (ohrc.on.ca, n.d.) and although it is still the predominant family structure, it has declined significantly to 67% in 2012 (www12.statcan.ca, 2014). Today, there is much greater diversity in the family structure.
The Changing Face of Families
The 2014 study on “The Changing Face of the Canadian Family,” published by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, acknowledged that the definition of family has broadened significantly to include many variations (ohrc.on.ca, n.d.), such as single-parent families, common law families, blended families, same-sex families and adopted families. As well as changing structures, our definition of what family means is also changing and often includes identifying friends as family rather than those relationships defined by bloodlines. In addition to the change in family structure, families are also decreasing in size, due to the decline of the birth rate in Canada (MacDonald, 2012).
The rise in same-sex marriages and same-sex families can be attributed to policy change that occurred with the passing of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, in July of 2005, which legally allowed same-sex couples to marry in Canada. As a result, samesex marriages tripled in the five years that followed the passing of the bill (www12.statcan.ca, 2014).
The rise in blended families can be attributed to divorce at varying stages of life, including a recent trend towards “grey divorce,” which has seen an increase in people over 65 ending their marriages (Nguyen, 2012).
Multi-generational living arrangements are becoming more common as families respond to the “boomerang effect,” which sees adult children of the Millennial generation returning home to live with their parents when they are not able to find sustainable employment (MacDonald, 2012). In addition, the higher divorce rates identified in the aging population have contributed to people from different generations living together under one roof; as well, the emergence of communal living for people over 65 has been a way to reduce financial burdens and provide social support later in life (Cavendish, 2014).
Gender Roles and Caregiving
Beyond changing family structures, changing gender roles, related to care, are also a significant factor of family life in Canada. In 1961, less than 10% of women were part of the workforce, in contrast to the almost 60% of women that were part of the paid workforce in 2009 (statcan.gc.ca, 2013). As women pursue career opportunities, men are taking a more active role in raising their children.
An article in The Atlantic recognized “The Rise of Daddy Daycare.” It acknowledged that more men are choosing to be stay-at-home dads, as their wives become the primary breadwinner (White, 2014). Federal policy also allows the flexibility for either the mother or the father to access up to 35 weeks of parental leave within the first year of a child being born or adopted (servicecanada.gc.ca, 2014).
Although caregiving is still primarily seen as the role of women, small shifts in care duties are also being reflected in men taking on greater responsibility for aging parents. “In 2009, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP study, men accounted for 34% of the nearly 65 million family caregivers in the U.S. But more recent surveys show the number of men in this traditionally female role has risen rapidly, driven by a combination of factors, including the recession, changing gender expectations and longer life expectancies” (Snelling, 2013). In Canada, The Change Foundation, recently released its 2015–2020 Strategic Plan. Focusing on patient and family caregiving experiences, the plan acknowledges that women (53%) and men (47%) are evenly matched when it comes to caregiving responsibilities (The Change Foundation, 2015).
Regardless of whether caregiving is in the hands of men or women, both genders are feeling the pinch. As more women delay having children until they are older, multi-generational caregiving is becoming a common reality. This results in the “sandwich generation” which has the responsibility of concurrent care—that of raising children and caring for aging parents (Arnup, 2013)
Variations, and diversity, seen in modern families are important to acknowledge, and gender roles and the distribution of caregiving responsibilities should not be pre-assumed to live solely with women.
Recent policy developments in Ontario and Canada identify the family as a critical piece in providing care for the aging demographic. However, the impact of the “changing face of the Canadian Family” (ohrc.on.ca, n.d.), as well as the reality that adult children do not always live in close proximity to their parents (Arnup, 2013), is not well-considered in current policy. Changing gender roles, work pressures and childcare responsibilities will have an effect on whether individuals in families will be able to fulfill caregiving roles for their aging parents, and to what degree. The shift in gender roles is particularly important, as healthcare often assumes that women will take the lead in caregiving tasks, whereas it is reasonable to expect that men may increasingly share these responsibilities in the future. Interventions designed to support the Distance Family Member need to consider the broader context of changes in family structure and ensure that inclusivity of the diverse definitions of family are addressed.