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Victoria echoes radical shift in families revealed in new census data

Sep 20 2012

This summer's crop of wedding photos illustrates the complexity of relationships in modern families.

"I had one wedding where the bride had five fathers - I've never seen anything like that in my life," Victoria wedding photographer Frances Litman said Wednesday.

The bride had a biological father, three stepfathers and a godfather.

Times have changed from the days of the nuclear family with a mother, father and clutch of biological children, says a report based on 2011 census data released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

Folks getting married a second, third or fourth time often want the white dress, tiered cake and photographs featuring their biological children, stepchildren and ex-spouses.

Today's "normal" family is blended, Litman said, with the marrying adults bringing children from previous relationships.

Statistics Canada's report, titled Portrait of Families and Living Arrangements in Canada, says while married couples still make up two-thirds of all families in Canada, the 2011 census indicates a growing number of families are headed by same-sex couples, common-law couples and single parents.

Fifty years ago, married couples accounted for 91.6 per cent of families. Today, it's more like 67 per cent.

The data reflect today's increasingly complex lifestyles, said Richard Routledge, a clinical counsellor and executive director of B.C. Families in Transition.

"People are adapting to having multiple roles and responsibilities both inside and outside the home," said Routledge, pointing to increasing demands in the workplace and the fact that both women and men typically have employment outside the home. Men are also more engaged in parenting and domestic tasks, he said.

While Routledge said commitment to family relationships remains strong, the number of divorced parents nationally has shot up from 36 per cent in 1961 to 51 per cent today.

Nearly 20 per cent of children come from oneparent families, the vast majority living with their mothers. There are about 11,500 single mothers in Greater Victoria and 3,000 single fathers.

Schools are ahead of the curve in recognizing the changing shape of families, said Jim Cambridge, superintendent of the Sooke School District. "Schools have adapted from a 'bring your mom or dad day' to 'bring a significant adult in your life,' " said Cambridge. That adult could be a biological parent, step-parent or foster parent, he said.

Meanwhile, a near tripling in same-sex marriages between 2006 and 2011 merely reflects a recognition by the state of same-sex unions, said Victoria lawyer Danielle Topliss.

"I don't think there's been that much of a change in our relationships," said Topliss, a lesbian.

Longtime common-law heterosexual couples are also increasingly getting married, said Victoria marriage commissioner Terry Robinson. "One couple was together 37 years and now they're getting married."

Reasons for the trend aren't clear, but in one case, it was the grandchildren putting pressure on them.

"They were asking why Grandma had a different name than Grandpa." smcculloch@timescolonist.com