Diversity of Family Structures in Canada

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Family Relations and Human Development
FRHD 1020
Hank Davis

Unit 1: Course Notes Diversity of Family Structures in Canada There are over 33 million people, who live in Canada and as of September 19, 2007, we had 8,896,840 families (Statistics Canada). When we think of families today, we often think of diverse family structures and have many names to describe and distinguish what we think of as important differences. 1. "Nuclear" families composed of two parents and their one or more biological or adopted children, living together - when the nuclear family was led by a male wage-earner, it wa s the conventional family of the 1950's, although now it is only one of many types of family; 2. "Extended" families composed of parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other blood relatives living together, or not; 3. "Step-families" or "blended" or "recombined" or "reconstituted" families composed of parents who hav e divorced their first spouses, remarried someone else and formed a new family that includes children from one or both first marriages, and/or from the remarriage; 4. "Childless" families consisting of a couple; 5. "Lone-parent" families composed of a parent, most often a mother, with a child or children; 6. "Cohabitating couples" and "common law marriages" - family arrangements that rese mble other forms, but without legalized marriage; 7. "Traditional" families - a confusing term that reflects the changing nature of Canadian families in that people tend to use it to refer to their own families, or to the family type that they have encountered most often; 8. "Same sex" families consisting of two partners of the same sex and, possibly, natural or adopted children of one or both partners. Source: The Vanier Institute of the family and Canada Committee for the International Year of the Family (1994). Canadian families, p. 4. According to Statistics Canada, Family Structure refers to the classification of census families into: 1. Married couples and common-law (same-sex or opposite) couples, with or without never-married sons or daughters living with them; 2. Lone-parent families: a lone parent, either male or female, living with at least one never-married son or daughter. The diversity of family forms and the language we as a culture have come up with to "name" these family structures reflect the dynamic nature of our socio- cultural history when it comes to studying the family. It may also reflect the dynamic nature of people's experience of living in families. However, even with our increased awareness of this diversity, we may, as students of the "family," exaggerate the similarities within each structure while minimizing the similarities between structures. For example, we may think of all "lone-parent" families as alike when, in their experience, each lone-parent family may share some similar experiences with other lone-parent families but they likely have many different experiences too. As well, a "lone-parent" family may share some similar experiences with a family that we consider "nuclear." Analytic Biases in Studying Families Margrit Eichler (1983, pp. 1-2) identified four pervasive biases in our thinking about and studying families: 1. Monolithic Bias is the tendency to think of a family structure with an emphasis on uniformity of experience and a universality of structure and functions. She reminds us to think about diversity of experiences, structures, and functions - even when we are thinking about families who seem to share some obvious similarities. An example of this monolithic bias is believing that all children in single-parent families are disadvantaged compared to a two-parent "nuclear" family. 2. Conservative Bias refers to the tendency to largely ignore changes in socio-cultural institutions such as "family" or to treat apparent changes as temporary rather than central and fundamental. She identifies several risks associated with the conservative bias, such as looking at the dynamics of a "remarriage" family through the same lens as is used to study families in first marriages; or to ignore the uncomfortable reality of spousal abuse in families. For example, thinking that co-habitating couples are just "trying out" their relationship and will "naturally" want to marry when they decide to have children shows a conservative bias. 3. Sexist Bias is identified as the tendency to assume there is some "natural differentiation of functions within families" based on sex and that there is a uniformity of experience for all members of the family regardless of sex. Believing that all women are better suited to providing care for children than are men is an example of the sexist bias. 4. Microstructural Bias is a tendency to ignore impacting and explanatoryfactors external to the family and maintain a focus on the isolated, internal workings of a family when trying to understand and/or explain behaviours within the family unit. This practice can lead to seeing individual and/or family characteristics as "the problem" rather than appreciating the larger cultural and social policy systems that are a family's backdrop. For example, in an Eastern town with a fisheries economy (in an era when the fisheries are being shut down) someone with a microstructural bias could point to a man's "laziness" as the root of the family's poverty, rather than appreciating the severely depressed regional and local labour market conditions. An Overview of the Study of Couples and Families There are many disciplines involved in the study of families. In the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition (FRAN), several disciplines are represented, such as child development, counselling, education, gerontology, nutrition, psychology, public health, sociology, and social work. Each discipline may have a slightly different focus. The foci in the study of families from a child development perspective may be on growth, learning and personality development. From a psychological perspective, the foci might involve interpersonal relationships and adjustment, cognition, and behaviour
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