[FNF 100] - Final Exam Guide - Comprehensive Notes for the exam (60 pages long!)

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FNF 100
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The changing face of the Canadian family
“We are family,” sang Sister Sledge back in 1979, but today what form that family takes is undergoing
tremendous change, with important implications for society.
By VIRGINIA GALT | December 5, 2012
When Trevor Macdonald and his partner Ian applied for their newborn’s birth certificate in April 2011, “we had
to check off the ‘mother’ box for me,” Mr. MacDonald relates. “There was no other option on the form,” which
the Winnipeg couple submitted along with an essay of explanation. Other than that, he says, “we have run into
no barriers” in terms of being legally recognized as baby Jacob’s parents.
As a transgender person born with female anatomy, Mr. MacDonald gave birth to their son and was able to
breastfeed him with the support of La Leche League Canada despite having had breast reduction surgery.
He recently made national headlines as the “breastfeeding dad” who inquired about becoming a La Leche
League leader. Within weeks of Mr. MacDonald’s story going public, the international organization embarked
on a review of its policy that only breastfeeding mothers could be group leaders.
While Mr. MacDonald’s situation is unusual, academics who study changing family structures agree that the
pace of change has been breathtaking. Governments, policy-makers and organizations such as La Leche League
have been hard-pressed to keep up with the new realities: the rise of same-sex unions; an increase in the number
of lone-parent families; the popularity of common-law arrangements; expanded family networks created by step
families; reproductive technology and all the associated issues around parentage; and now breastfeeding dads
and the rights of people like Mr. MacDonald to have their chosen gender reflected on official government
“People live their lives in all kinds of complicated ways as, indeed, they always have, but the law does not
capture that particularly well,” says political scientist Lois Harder, a professor and associate dean of research
and graduate studies at the University of Alberta. Many of the laws and policies designed to support Canadian
families are still rooted in another era, Dr. Harder observes in a research report, After the Nuclear Age,
commissioned last year by the Vanier Institute of the Family. “Despite the fact that the traditional nuclear
family is now a minority family form in Canada, it continues to define the norm of family life.” In 2011,
couples with children at home comprised 39 percent of Canadian households.
That last statistic was from the release in September of the most recent data on families collected during the
2011 census. As governments and policy-makers pore over the wealth of data, they are looking to Canada’s top
researchers for insights on how to respond to the increasingly diverse needs of contemporary Canadian families.
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As holder of the Canada Research Chair in Social Statistics and Family Change, McGill University sociology
professor Céline Le Bourdais has been looking at family life in flux including the rise in lone-parent families
and stepfamilies, and the degree to which greater marital instability affects children’s lives. The recent census
data show that married couples, with or without children, still form the predominant family structure in Canada,
accounting for two-thirds of all families. However, the proportion of common-law couples and lone-parent
families is increasing, to 17 percent and 16 percent of all families, respectively, in 2011. Stepfamilies, counted
for the first time in the 2011 census, represent about one in eight two-parent families with children. One out of
every 10 children aged 14 and under lives in a stepfamily.
Dr. Le Bourdais says the increased number of separations and the popularity of common-law unions,
particularly in Quebec, have led to drastic changes in the traditional family structure.
“New partners, step-parents, step-children, half-brothers or half-sisters extend the family network, but will these
relationships be strong enough to ensure that everyone receives the support they need?” According to a recent
report from Statistics Canada, 21 percent of parents in stepfamilies identified financial concerns as the main
source of stress in their daily lives, nearly twice the proportion of 12 percent among parents in intact families.
In the course of her research, Dr. Le Bourdais has uncovered different dynamics between different family types
and these differences have profound implications, especially for the children of those unions in the event of
separation. Cohabiting couples, for instance, tend to share the income-earning and household responsibilities
more equitably than do married couples, “so we thought if they have been more egalitarian, then probably after
they separate, they will be more involved,” she says.
On the contrary, “What we found, to our dismay, was that separated men from cohabiting unions were less
likely to be maintaining contact with their children after separation.” They have the same rights and obligations
towards their children as men whose marriages have dissolved, “but they do not have the same behaviour.”
As a demographer, Dr. Le Bourdais is interested not only in the care and support of society’s most vulnerable
youngest members, but also in what will happen to society’s oldest as the baby boomers age. “Who is going to
be there for them in the future?” she asks. “If you have, for example, biological children from different unions,
are you likely to keep contact or receive support equally from all of those children? Research shows that, when
there are children from the second union, the children from the first union will tend to lose contact with the
parent and will be less likely to support.”
This is a field of interest for U of Alberta’s Dr. Harder as well. “It used to be that we didn’t have public
pensions and children were supposed to ensure the financial well-being of their senior parents. We don’t do that
anymore, but my suspicion is it could come back,” Dr. Harder says. “Given that we have a Conservative
[federal] government, I will be intrigued to see if we don’t start to have some emphasis on the responsibility of
children to their elders.”
Informally, it is already happening and families could use more support from the various levels of government
rather than less, says Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family. Municipal
governments, for instance, have been slow to revisit housing bylaws to reflect the reality of multiple generations
of families living together under one roof with unemployed or under-employed young adults moving back in
with their parents for financial reasons, competing for spare-room space with their dependent grandparents.
“You have kids in the basement or mom in a nanny suite and in a lot of places, that’s still illegal,” Ms. Spinks
says. “Households designed for multi-generations will start coming on the market in a few years. Meanwhile,
families will have been doing this for a decade by the time the architecture catches up.”
On the other hand, the federal government has taken a more flexible approach to family definition by including
the designation of “like family” for the purposes of the compassionate care benefits program, Dr. Harder notes.
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