The Cardus Daily

The Pathetic Family

Peter Menzies  |  September 25, 2012  |  Institutions, Parenting

One of the great capacities of the modern age is its ability to deny and, more alarming, refuse to address the negative outcomes of its progress.

The most recent example comes in the approach to last week’s release by Statistics Canada on the shape of modern living arrangements. In summary, the 2011 Census report showed that the modern Canadian family structure is as follows:

  • 83.7% are couples (married or common-law, same-sex, and opposite sex); 16.3% are lone-parent families.
  • Most families (44.5%) are couples without children while 39.2% are couples with children.
  • Intact families (children living with biological parents) constitute a mere 34.3% of Canadian census families, while step-families represent 4.9%.
  • Step families are further broken down into simple (2.9%) and complex (2.0%) of the national total.


This “diversity” was the focus of much of the media coverage, along with the facts that for the first time, there are now more one-person households in Canada than there are couples with kids and the gap between couples with and without children continues to grow. In summary, marriage continues its stark 50-year decline and we are well into an era in which we are choosing not to replace ourselves or continue our history. The primary reasons for the latter—according to a Postmedia report—appear to be related to the instability of marriage.

“The fact is, marriages and common-law (partnerships) are very unstable and very likely to separate,” Evelyne Lapierre-Adamcyk, professor emeritus of demography at the University of Montreal told Postmedia. “That has an influence on the decision to have children or not.”

Gosh, who knew this would happen? Weren’t the kids going to be alright? Wasn’t it going to be “better for everyone” if we just went our separate ways? Hey, it turns out the kids (the usual caveats apply) aren’t anywhere near alright, according to this report in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. While it is somewhat dated, I find it useful as it addresses the generation which is now at its most fecund, and it is based on Canadian data. Its tone is best summarized here:

Numerous studies have examined the consequences of parental divorce on children’s scholastic performance, psychological adjustment, conduct, social competence, and relationships with their parents. These studies have found that children from divorced families experience lower levels of well-being across these domains than children from intact families. The consequences of these behavioral, psychological, and cognitive development impairments include higher risks of internalizing and externalizing disorders, substance abuse, and alcohol consumption in adolescence. Moreover, studies with a long-term follow-up design suggest a continuum between these disorders in childhood and social integration in adult life.

Call me krazy with a k if you like but it seems likely that not only are the kids not alright but they are so not alright they have lost trust in the emotional safety (the usual caveats apply) of society’s bedrock structure—the way uncool Leave It To Beaver family. And—now I’m going way, way out on a limb—it’s worth wondering that it is not marriage that they fear so much as it is divorce/break-up of families because more and more of them remember that, as children, not only is it not “alright,” it hurts like hell.

A second popular reason for not having kids appears to be that they cost way too much money and require far too much emotional investment. At least that’s what Postmedia found speaking with Monica Zeniuk of Edmonton.

“The benefits of not having children are in the driveway, in our closet and stamped on our passports,” she told reporter Misty Harris. “Kids are expensive. And the marriage mortality rate is huge without the added pressure of financing a child throughout its life.”

“A family consists of those who surround you with love; it has nothing to do with gender, age, status, two legs or four,” said Zeniuk, who’s been married for 18 years. “Simply put, a family is your choice.”

Now, before you go all religious wacko judgmental on Ms. Zeniuk, she is behaving in a perfectly rational fashion. Her words indicate that she has seen the devastation (yup, the same social apocalypse that was “all for the best”) and wants nothing to do with it. She has weighed the odds, done the percentages and opted for self-realization. If push comes to shove, she’ll take the cuddles and loyalty of a dog or a cat over the risks of genuine, trusting human emotion or whatever the heck it was June and Ward Cleaver (gosh, wasn’t that just so pathetic?) had going on. Given that most people these days come from non-intact families, asking them to commit to the ideal of an intact one without any role model training in how to keep one together is like asking an acrobat to perform without a net.

And so, with a nice car in the driveway, plenty of shoes, and lotsa stamps in our passports, we are where we are—where we were, of course, never going to be: all by ourselves.



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