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Editorial: Family changed, but still needed

Sep 22 2012

Results from the 2011 census show what everyone already knew - the Canadian family is changing. The concept of the traditional nuclear family - mother, father, two or three children - is being replaced by a variety of arrangements, including single parenthood and complex, blended families.

The shifts in family structure are being brought about by a variety of factors, such as economics, changing culture and divorces and subsequent remarriage.

But while the typical Canadian family might not look like it did a generation ago, family is still important.

The technical definition of a family is a group of people related by blood, legal or common-law marriage or adoption. Beyond technicalities lies the assumption that members of a family care about each other, care for each other and work together for the good of the family. It's also assumed that parents of whatever kind dedicate themselves to instilling in their children the skills, attitudes and confidence necessary for a productive and fulfilling adult life.

It's when those assumption aren't realized that problems arise, and those problems affect all of us. Dysfunctional and broken families result in a host of ills: Most of the roots of crime, substance abuse, unemployment and poverty can be traced to deficiencies in family life. "Broken home" is more than a tired cliché, it's a serious societal disease that cries out to be curbed.

Schools, daycares and other institutions are valuable and necessary supports in raising successful families, but they are not substitutes for a stable family life - they work best in partnership with concerned, caring parents.

Many tales are told of teachers who made a difference, and there are many unsung heroes in our schools helping children become good citizens when the odds are stacked against them. But we cannot expect teachers and schools to fix what should have been fixed at home - that's asking too much.

Some see the changing structure of homes as an assault on the traditional family, but the greatest threat to any kind of family is from within. More damage is caused by neglectful, abusive or harshly controlling parents than by changing societal mores. Genuine love and gentle concern are powerful forces that help children become capable and confident adults. Good choices and wise practices make families strong.

But too often, the problems that beset families are beyond personal control. Poverty, illnesses, accidents and other misfortunes can turn the challenges of raising a family into insurmountable obstacles - that's when society should step in with support and resources.

While fewer families consist of father, mother and children, it's still a good structure. Fortunate is the family with two parents who can devote the needed time, energy and resources to bringing up grounded, capable children. But an increasing number of single parents are doing that job, and many are doing it well. We should be sure they have the tools and the moral support they need to succeed.

Functioning families, whatever their structure, are the foundation of a functional society. Government cannot legislate good families, but it can strive to ensure that fiscal, social and educational policies enable families to be successful.

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