Features

How young people are changing the face of Canadian families

Darren Sharp | Fulcrum Staff

IT IS A very interesting era to be entering adulthood. The term “nuclear family” has become somewhat dated, with the structures of homes across Canada increasingly including parents, stepparents, children, or no children at all. It’s scary to think about if you’re a student, but after you graduate, the questions from relatives are going to start coming: Do you have a girlfriend? Have they put a ring on it yet? When are you going to settle down and give us some grandkids?

Students and recent grads may not have the answers to their family members’ questions, but they do know one thing for sure: The definition of the word “family” is different for everyone.

“Family for me doesn’t mean procreation,” said Jaclyn Lytle, a U of O alumni who received a bachelor of arts honours degree with a specialization in English. “It means acceptance and togetherness.”

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Lytle’s modern definition of family—that you don’t need two parents, three kids, and a white picket fence to call yourself one—is being shared by more and more young people. According to data from the 2011 Canadian census, families are being made up of fewer married couples, more single parents, and smaller sizes than ever before. This is a trend that’s been happening since the baby boom of our parents’ generation ended, and it sets an interesting precedent for those our age who are starting to think about their ideal family structure.

These days, achieving personal life goals comes before almost anything else when young people consider settling down.

“I do hope to one day get married, although it is very important to me to be well established before making that step,” said Kendra Maxine, a third year student at the U of O, majoring in women’s studies and political science. “This is something I learned from my mother, who raised me for the most part on her own while attending college and working to support us. Like with marriage, children will hopefully come when my life is well established.”

 

Because I am only 22, my rejection of motherhood usually elicits the comment, ‘Oh, you’ll change your mind when you’re older,’ which I find grossly offensive.

 

This idea of establishing yourself before starting a family—rather than the family being the establishing factor in your life—is a modern one that has vastly changed the Canadian familial landscape. Gone are the days when you graduated high school and immediately begin to consider getting hitched. People our age want happiness, success, a career, and maybe a family—in that order.

“I don’t plan on having a family,” said Jacob Macfarlane, a first year U of O student studying economics. “I’m only 18 and more than likely my priorities in life will change, and in the future maybe I will want children. If this were to happen, I would picture it happening in my mid-to-late thirties, possibly into my early forties.”

Lytle has similar ideas on of what her future family will look like if everything goes according to plan.

“I never planned on getting married until I found myself in the midst of an engagement,” she said. “Now I find I am far more open to the idea of marriage, but I have absolutely no intentions of having children. I often joke that my mother has several grand-puppies to look forward to, but that she shouldn’t count on any grandchildren.”

While waiting until later in life to consider marriage and having few or no children may seem bizarre to generations before us, it’s fast becoming the norm for those in our age bracket.

“Because I am only 22, my rejection of motherhood usually elicits the comment, ‘Oh, you’ll change your mind when you’re older,’ which I find grossly offensive,” continued Lytle. “I have personal reasons for not having children that are very important to me, and I don’t see them changing any time, be it soon or a long way down the road.”

Our generation’s familial values contrast strongly against our parents’. We have different priorities. We’re the age bracket that wants to be fully satisfied with ourselves before we can try to be fully satisfied with someone else. It’s important to us to have our lives together before we invite others—a spouse, children, or both—to share our lives with us.

There is no set deadline for when someone should settle down. It’s something we all need to figure out for ourselves.

“If you’re ready and your partner is ready, I wish you all the happiness in the world,” said Maxine. “As long as your goals are met and you are satisfied with your position in life, why not?”