In these trying days of COVID-19, our busy schedules have been set aside. We are required to stay at home with our families, which have now become the very front and centre of our lives, since they are providing the human contact and comfort that we need. This unique time has also given us an opportunity to strengthen our family bonds and to examine why families are important, regardless of our circumstance.
Care of the Elderly
Many elderly family members are in long-term care residences, some of which are unable to cope with the current disaster. More than half of the deaths from the virus have occurred in these residences. This is very troubling.
Separation from the family unit, by parents living in retirement communities, is a concept which hasn’t been around for very long. It exists for a number of reasons, including our understanding of the aged. We may have lost respect for old age, which is no longer associated with leadership, experience, and wisdom. Instead, the aged, in many cases, have been reduced to merely being a burden on families. This notion is reflected in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), March 2020 issue, which included an article by James Downer, the former chair of the Dying with Dignity Physician Advisory Committee, who recommends a new protocol that would lead to anyone with disabilities and the aged being denied ventilation and other healthcare, regardless of disease status, because of resource scarcity.
It is a fact, unfortunately, that our long working hours and busy lives have made it difficult for us to care for elderly family members. Also, many of the aged require the kind of advanced care and support that the family does not have the expertise or resources to provide.
Our current long-term care system heavily relies on stressed personal support workers (PSWs) who are not medically trained and start at a pay of only $15 an hour, despite the difficulty and sensitivity of their work. Because of a lack of funding, PSWs must work without both sufficient medical supervision and sufficient protective equipment, combined with limited training in how to use the equipment. In short, the long-term care sector is overstretched and underfunded. It was ill-prepared for the coronavirus and will be, as well, for the surge of Boomers who will soon be admitted to their premises.
What We Know About the Family
No family is perfect because we ourselves are not perfect. We all make mistakes when raising our children. As parents and grandparents, we are also painfully aware that some members of our families do not live according to our values and standards. Yet, we care for them.
There are certain aspects about the family, however, that can assist us in navigating the joyous, but sometimes treacherous, road of family life. The family has been diligently studied over the years and from these studies, we have learned some facts that can no longer be contested.
Children Flourish and Thrive Living in a Family With Their Own Parents
Some single–parent families have raised wonderful children, but this is much harder than raising a child in a home with married parents. For one thing, marriage is a defense against poverty. Those who graduate from high school, start working, get married, and have children in that order are less likely than others to fall into poverty. This formula, known as the “success formula”, is key to financial and general life success. Children living with married parents are more likely to continue with their education, stay away from crime, and avoid drug and alcohol abuse. They have better health. Interestingly, according to a study published in Health Affairs 38,5 (2019), pages 729-737, children raised at home by their biological parents have greater resilience later in life. This is because they are better at completing tasks, have the capacity to regulate their emotions, and have developed curiosity and self-confidence to learn new things. These characteristics provide them with the tools needed to respond to problems that will inevitably occur in their lives.
Fathers Are Important
At one time, it was believed that the flourishing of children was centered on the love and warmth of the mother. However, we have now learned that the father has a critical role to play in children’s lives. The increasing occurrence of adolescents carrying out ruthless shootings and increased use of knives in attacking others has been associated, in large part, to young men being raised in fatherless homes. The horrific mass shooting of 22 victims in Nova Scotia in April 2020 was carried out by Gabriel Wortman, who exactly fit the profile of mass shooters in the U.S. That is, he was white, male and his father was absent for most of his life. When adolescents do not have a father figure in their lives, drug dealers and exploiters become their role models. As a result, these children are deprived of the self-affirmation, affection, and discipline of a father and so are more prone to crime. These youths turn to gangs to fill this missing gap in their lives. It is also a fact that such children are more anxious, insecure, and needy, which makes them more vulnerable to the harmful aspects of today’s culture. The father’s influence not only extends to his children’s behaviour while growing up, but also can affect their later life in regard to drinking to excess, taking drugs, or suffering mental health problems. None of this is exclusive to any one race or community, as all children need both their mothers and fathers to help them avoid the pitfalls of life.
According to Statistics Canada data taken from the last census, 56% of adults aged 25-64 are married, whereas about 15% are living common-law. The proportion of Canadians living common-law has more than tripled since the early 1980s.
Data on separated and divorced individuals from Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey, published in 2017, shows that 74% of common-law relationships ended within seven years. By contrast, 28% of marriages ended within that same time period. Only 15% of common-law relationships lasted more than ten years, compared to 57% of those married. Further, the incidence of domestic violence is higher among common-law couples than among married couples. Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey has revealed that those who lived in a common-law relationship were at an increased risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their intimate partner.
Why Aren’t Young People Entering into Marriage?
There are many reasons why Millennials (age 24-39) are either delaying marriage or not marrying at all. Financial uncertainty causes many to delay or forgo marriage. University debt, lack of job security, and expensive housing all contribute to the economic insecurity that leads to delaying marriage and delaying having children or having none at all. The sexual revolution has not encouraged marriage either. It has made personal self-fulfilment—sexual, emotional, financial, and intellectual—of more importance than the responsibilities of marriage.
Also, men and women today seem to have more trouble successfully and permanently pairing off. This may be due to the fact that technology increasingly focuses on the individual, who creates his or her own digital universe of endless entertainment according to individual tastes, and living alone with streaming music, shows, and porn. But pornography does not make for happiness. The digital age, where pornography is so readily available, often means virtual sex rather than physical sex. As a result of the digital age, loneliness has become more prevalent today. Data released from Statistics Canada Global Family and Gender Survey (2019) indicated that married Canadians were very satisfied with their families – compared with just under half (40%) of those living common-law or alone.
Marriage Differences Between Low- and High-Income Families
Some fascinating and challenging information about marriage, recently disclosed, is that there is a stark difference between wealthy neighbourhoods, where one would be hard pressed to find even one single–parent family, and low-income areas, where they abound. It is striking, for example, that despite being a cultural force for liberation, California actually has a higher share of stable, married families, as approximately 67% of California parents live in intact marriages. These zero single– parent neighbourhoods in California are disproportionately populated by highly educated, high-income adults and their children. They obviously think that getting married and staying married is preferable to a common-law relationship.
In contrast, there is a growing, self-reinforcing phenomenon that lower–income families are not getting married, and are more inclined to have children outside of marriage (See The Marriage Gap Between Rich and Poor Canadians, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, February 2014). The children of such arrangements are paying the price for this instability.
The reason that lower-income families are reluctant to marry is that they are most likely to suffer from the potential costs of ending a marriage. That is, compared to middle class people, lower-income individuals are wary of the legal and financial difficulties associated with divorce, rather than the emotional or social impact. The bottom line is that people who are less financially stable are more reluctant to get married. Unfortunately, these changing social attitudes and economic pressures mean more stressful times ahead for all of us.