Future of Family
(This column first appeared December 2004)
As we roll ourselves away from the Christmas table this year, many of us are surrounded by more family than we will see at any other time of the year. We’ve all gathered with the ones whom we call when a baby is born or an accident happens. Family, even when it’s dysfunctional, tends to be far more longevous than friendships.
And yet I have been melancholy this year as I think about the future of family. In the weeks leading up to Christmas we were greeted with many different news stories about how the government is remaking family, and I feel as if we’re on this speeding train where the brakes have gone, no one knows where we’re heading, and the engineer doesn’t seem to care.
Earlier this month, Paul Martin decided to push forward a bill allowing same sex marriage, while rejecting the idea of a referendum, largely because he knew he would lose. This may, however, be news to the Toronto Star, which showed nine talking heads on their front page. "It’s about time", said one. "It’s wonderful" said another. Seven out of nine gushed their support for gay marriage, while one said he was uncomfortable with it, though his wife didn’t agree, and another said he rejected it because he was religious. That’s the Toronto Star’s view of Canada: we’re either totally in support of gay marriage, or we’re ambivalent, or we’re religious reactionaries.
I’ve already written about gay marriage, and I won’t repeat that column, except to say this. Many people ask "how is allowing homosexuals to marry going to hurt my marriage?" It likely won’t. But here’s what will happen, and what already has happened in the nations that allow gay marriage. Gay marriage makes it less likely that anybody will get married in the first place. Marriage was once an institution that preserved the family by being the only socially acceptable place to have children. By preserving that type of union that could create children, you guaranteed that when they did come into the picture, they would be protected.
Once divorce and cohabitation became widespread so that marriage was no longer central to family, we made marriage less about children than it was about adult wishes. Gay marriage shows this to the extreme. It’s now a lifestyle choice you can take or leave. And as soon as it’s only a lifestyle choice, it’s one fewer will make. So while gay marriage won’t affect your marriage, it will, as it has in Scandinavia, make it less likely that your children will marry, and that will affect your grandchildren.
Yet this isn’t the only way the government is radically altering children’s lives; it’s also promoting universal day care. This money won’t go primarily to help lower-income parents—they already have subsidized spaces. It will go to expand day care centres so that, as one MP has already said, more stay at home parents will enter the workforce, adding to tax revenues. They want to stop middle class parents from staying at home. Surveys, however, show that day care centres are the least favourite choice of any child care option. Nevertheless, under the government’s scheme, if you stay home, you will subsidize those using centres. If you need to work, and you decide to leave your child with Grandma, you will also get nothing. But if you put your child in care with fifteen other children and strangers, you will be compensated.
It would be much fairer if all parents of preschool children received tax credits to use as they saw fit, either allowing parents to stay at home, to pay Grandma or Aunt Suzie, or to leave children at a centre. But the government has decided that what children need is more time with government workers. We saw that disaster in France two summers ago, when people were so used to letting government look after family they fled the cities during a heat wave, leaving grandparents to suffocate to death. Personally, I’d rather strengthen families.
I know the joy that can come from family. I also know the pain, firsthand, that can come when families don’t work. Rather than making that latter more likely, I would love it if we as a society could fight for family again, and fix the brakes on this train.