Archive for the Category » About Families «

Monday, April 12th, 2010 | Author: mjward

Anyone watching the progress of efforts in the Untied States to legalize same-sex marriage has seen a battle in state after state. Some states have approved such onions. Other state legislatures have moved proactively to define marriage as being between one man and woman, thus barring same-sex marriage there. There have been initiatives to repeal gay-marriage laws in states previously approving them. Thus there is a patchwork of laws across the country. Uncertainty reigns. For example, a couple who had married in one state was denied a divorce in another because their marriage wasn’t legal there.

In contrast, Canada’s Civil Marriage Act, which became law on July 20, 2005, defined marriage as occurring between two individuals. Thus it legalized same-sex unions. This followed court rulings in Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, then in other parts of Canada, that allowed same-sex marriages in Canada under the anti-discrimination clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Following these rulings, the federal government drafted a new marriage act and referred it to the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion. Then it passed the Civil Marriage Act. One of early couples marrying under the new act filed for divorce soon after. The federal divorce law was amended to reflect the new marriage reality.

There are two factors that account for the differences between the United States and Canada. The first is the difference in the division of powers between the federal and state or provincial governments. The American Constitution lists the responsibilities of the federal government and leaves all other matters to the states or individuals. In Canada, the responsibilities of the provinces are detailed and all other issues left to the federal government. Thus, in the U. S., marriage became a state matter. In Canada, who could marry became a federal responsibility. How they could marry was up to the provinces. The Canadian division was tested legally when the premier of Alberta tried to opt his province out of the Civil Marriage Act. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that opting out was unconstitutional.

The second factor is the difference between the American Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Charter is based on the American Bill of Rights, but goes further in some areas. The clause on equality rights in the Charter was the basis for the change in law. This clause states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” Gay marriage proponents successfully argued that there should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Saturday, March 20th, 2010 | Author: mjward

According to various surveys, most North American pet owners, women more than men, consider their animal companions to be family members. In fact, adults are more likely to have a pet living with them than a child. For some, pets are like children, especially when they are childless. Many point to the unconditional love given by a dog, in contrast to the relationship with a child. Pew Research has also found that people report feeling closest to their dog, followed by mom, cat, and then dad. According to the Harris Poll, over two-thirds of owners let their pet, more often a cat than a dog, sleep in bed with them.

Pets can help people cope with stressful life events. For example, they can improve the health of the bereaved. Pets in long-term care facilities take away some of the loneliness residents feel. One nursing home had three resident cats who chose their primary people and spent most of their time with them, though they visited other residents. There was also a visiting dog who interacted with others. Abused children may turn to their pets for comfort.

On the legal side, there is information online on how to set up a trust fund to provide care for your pet if you are disabled or after your death. Yet legally, pets are considered property rather than as family. For example, if someone wantonly kills your dog, you can sue for its cost but not for its emotional value to you.

How we define kinship and family is changing. Among humans, there is a growing acceptance of a broader range of individuals as “family.” For example, close friends who are there when they are needed are often considered like sisters or brothers. Or you may have an honorary grandmother or uncle. Sociologists sometimes refer to these people as “fictive kin.” It appears that some people now blur the species barrier, making something in between animal and human. Thus they are creating a new kind of fictive kin, the family pet.

Sunday, March 14th, 2010 | Author: mjward

My great-great-grandparents lived to a ripe age, dying when they were 63 and 74 years old. They had met some of their grandchildren. During their lifetime, they were the old people. Canadians born in 1900, well after these ancestors died, could expect to live to about 57 years. In the United States, prospects were grimmer – about 48 years for men and 51 years for women. A new report from Statistics Canada tells us that life expectancy at birth has now risen to over 78 years for men and to 83 years for women. Many, of course, live longer. The fastest growing age group in Canada is people aged 85 years and up. With longer lives, there is the opportunity to know more generations. One newspaper story about a man approaching his hundredth birthday reported that he had fifteen great-great-grandchildren, with more on the way. A couple celebrating their seventy-fifth anniversary happily stated that their sons had been married for over fifty years. Another couple had children who were in their seventies.

Privileges come with old age. Many receive pensions when they reach 65, or even earlier. Some businesses, like hotels and restaurants, offer senior discounts. Elders traditionally are respected for their life experiences and bearers of family history and stories. People looking toward retirement expect to spend more time with their families, engage in more leisure activities, and travel more. In fact, many of the “young old” remain physically active and involved with their families and communities. A recent study from the Pew Research Institute found, however, that many older people did not experience all the benefits they expected from their age. Health problems or money shortage, of course, may interfere with their plans. But the increasing number of even older people plays an important part.

A number of family scholars refer to midlife people as the “sandwich generation,” caring both for their children and their parents. The sandwich is getting older. People past retirement age are now looking after their still older parents, while their children have returned home following job loss or breakdown of relationships. A growing number care for grandchildren. There is even a newspaper report of a couple that obtained custody of their great-grandchildren. Many older people are spending more time with family members, often far more than they expected. This time, however, entails much more caregiving than they imagined.

Increasing life expectancy demands changes also in our definition of old age. Perhaps we need to invent new terms to reflect reality.

Sunday, April 19th, 2009 | Author: mjward

As I was looking through an updated book by a recognized expert on Canadian family law, I was amazed to see a serious error. The author stated that each province decides who are too closely related to be married, and adds that you can’t marry your divorced wife’s aunt. This information was correct until 1990, but it is now WRONG. This book section has not been updated in the nearly two decades since a new law was passed.

The federal government has always had the responsibility for making laws governing who can marry. Because Parliament did not pass any law, however, the rules of each province when they entered Confederation remained in effect. Thus there was some variation. The Provinces do have the responsibility of deciding how federal laws about marriage are carried out.

In 1990, Parliament passed the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act, which applies to all of Canada and overrides provincial rules. It prevents marriage on the grounds of consanguinity (too close a relationship) if the persons are related through direct descent either biologically or through adoption. That is, you can’t marry your biological or adopted child, parent, or grandchild. You also cannot marry full and half brothers or sisters, or brothers and sisters by adoption. Under the new act, not only are Canadians allowed to marry a divorced wife’s aunt, but also their own aunt or uncle.

The moral: Always check your sources, even if the author is an expert.

Sunday, April 19th, 2009 | Author: mjward

Emily Murphy, a recognized author, was involved in social issues in Edmonton. Along with several other women, she was turned away from the trial of several prostitutes because the testimony was not fit for mixed company. She appealed angrily to the Attorney General of Alberta for the establishment of a women’s court, where testimony would be heard by women. In 1916, she was appointed a magistrate to hear such cases. Immediately, defense attorneys challenged her authority, arguing that women were not “persons” under the British North America (BNA) Act, the basis of Canadian law, and that therefore she was not qualified to be a judge. She continued hearing cases. In 1917, the provincial supreme court decreed that, in Alberta, women were really “persons”. In the rest of Canada, however, they were not.

Several activist groups campaigned to have a woman appointed to the Senate. By 1921, Mrs. Murphy’s name was put forward as a candidate. Then followed several years of waffling by various Prime Ministers. Fed up, she decided to send the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada. Under the BNA Act, five interested citizens could petition the Supreme Court. She invited four other noted Alberta women to join her: Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Henrietta Muir Edwards. The women became known as the “Famous Five.” They posed this question to the Supreme Court: “Does the word ‘Persons’ in Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons?” On April 24, 1928, the court ruled that, under the BNA Act, women were not “qualified persons” and could not be appointed as Senators (or judges). They explained that in the Act, one person was always referred to as “he,” and when the Act was passed, only men held such positions. Thus women were excluded.

With the help of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, the case was sent to the Privy Council in England, the final court of appeal for Canada. On October 18, 1929, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council unanimously decided that the word “persons” includes members of both the male and female sex, and that the exclusion of women from public office was a leftover from more barbarous times.

In 1979, the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case were established to mark the 50th anniversary. Each year five awards, plus one Youth award, are given to Canadians who have advanced the equality of girls and women in Canada. They receive a medal representing the “Famous Five.” Men can also be recognized.

Although, soon after the ruling of the Privy Council, a woman was appointed to the Senate, Emily Murphy never received that honour.

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 | Author: mjward

Marriage is a greedy institution, so say researchers from Boston College and the University of Massachusetts. Married children spend less time with their parents, they found, and help them less. They leave it to their unmarried brothers and (more likely) sisters to keep an eye on their parents. The married are less likely to give and receive emotional and financial help. Their divorced siblings are somewhere in between. This pattern holds true in spite of differences in age of parents and children, sex of child, job demands, extended family make-up, family needs, and resources.

The researchers, Natalia Sarkisian and Naomi Gerstel, are unable to explain this pattern. They do suggest a number of possible reasons. The unmarried might have closer relationships with parents than their married siblings ever did. The emotional demands of marriage itself may mean there is less attention available for other relatives. Or that our culture expects that husbands and wives should rely on each other to fill day-to-day practical and emotional needs. Many other cultures expect the new couple to remain a part of the extended family rather than forming their own separate unit. I would add that friction between in-laws can add to the distance.

Whatever reasons there are for the “greedy marriage,” it is important for policy makers, helper organizations, and families alike. For example, in slow economic times, there is an increased expectation that family members will care for aging parents. The stresses of care, guilt over not providing what is expected, and increased time demands can burden the marriage relationship. This is especially true if the couple takes a parent with extreme needs into their home. For example, the constant monitoring required by an Alzheimers sufferer can erode the husband-wife relationship. It’s hardly surprising that the unmarried daughter, rather than her married sister, is expected by many people to submerge her own interests and plans in order to care for a parent. It’s assumed that she doesn’t have competing interests and responsibilities. This used to be the role assigned to the spinster aunt or unmarried daughter in times when women were usually dependent on the men of their families for support.

What is to be done? We should place less emphasis on the nuclear husband-wife-child family and more on networks of care. The recent campaigns to limit marriage to one man and one woman and to allow only married couples to be foster and adoptive parents are symptoms that family boundaries are being drawn increasingly more narrowly. Campaigns promoting these changes proclaim that they are protecting the family. In fact, their proposals are limiting the ability of families and communities to care for their neediest members. Rather, we should support friends caring for friends, relationships with “honorary” grandparents, brothers and sisters looking out for each other, and the many other variations on caring that are possible.

Oh yes, and we should also expect married couples to be part of the network. Marriages are destroyed by death or divorce. The married and formerly married may also need support and care.

Friday, November 07th, 2008 | Author: mjward

I’m amused as I drive around by the stick figures in the back windows of cars and SUVs depicting family members – father, mother, boy, girl, baby, sometimes cat or dog – mother and one child – and so on. Parts of our community are still very horse-oriented, but I haven’t seen any horse stick figures yet.

Seeing these pictures makes me think about the varied ways we use the word “family.” During the recent elections, in our state supporters of a proposition to define marriage as “the union of one man and one woman” urged voters to protect the family. Family here obviously means a man and woman married to each other (preferably in a first marriage) and their children. I’ve been asked, “Do you have a family?” The questioner wondered if I had any children. This is much the same meaning as saying a woman is “in the family way.” Many people arrange family reunions, get-togethers which may include people of several generations and perhaps some only remotely related. You might say that “My family originally came from Italy,” meaning “ancestors.” Or it can refer to descendants. Others refer to their family of choice, the people who may have no biological relationship but care about them and for them. I checked our dictionary and found 17 or 18 definitions of “family” including a number unrelated to human beings.

There is a cultural factor involved. Some ethnic groups appear to spread the family net much wider than others. For example, in the city I lived for many years, people of Italian descent included many more degrees of cousins in their family than those of English ancestry. I find that’s true of the Hispanic group in our current city. The largest net was that of aboriginal peoples, who might regard everyone of their tribe as a family member. I think small, settled communities encourage greater inclusion. I remember visiting my aunts and uncles in the rural area where my father grew up. Anyone whose relatives had lived there for a length of time was connected by birth or marriage to almost everyone else in the area. I met youngsters who were my aunt’s husband’s cousin’s children, for example. In larger communities, there may be enclaves where relationships like these are honored. For the most part, however, people in cities tend to keep track only of closer relatives.

There is also a personal factor. Some people who are not biologically related may be considered family members. For example, one young single mother lived with us for a few months. During that time, she and her baby were part of the family. Even after they moved out, they joined us for family celebrations. One young man told me that his family consisted of only his blood relatives and that therefore his wife wasn’t a member of his family. Parents can disown a child (or vice versa, a child can cut himself off from his parents). Although there is a biological relationship, an individual can be denied family membership.

What, then, is a family? In my view, the definition needs to be very flexible so that it includes people who are connected to each other by birth, adoption, marriage, or other form of commitment, who care about and for each other, and who consider themselves to be family.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008 | Author: mjward

Anyone or anything that is dynamic has energy and is open to change. Healthy families adapt to the circumstances, good or bad, they find themselves in, so they can meet the needs of family members. Over centuries, basic needs haven’t altered, though the way they are met keep changing. People need to survive physically and economically. We thrive best if we receive love and support from those close to us. This may include fulfillment of the need for physical closeness, including the sexual. We need some sense of identity; we need to know who we are, where we fit in. Finally, children need to be protected and nurtured so that they can develop into happy and productive members of society.

Through history, families have filled these needs in part or in whole. There is a lot of talk about nuclear families. One ideal is the man and woman in their first (and only) marriage, along with their biological children (or perhaps adopted ones). This model has met people’s needs for a long time. But there have always been variations. For example, my grandfather was raised by an unmarried aunt after his parents died when he was six. In another family, an aunt and uncle raised two nephews, one from a divorced family, the other from a family so poor that they couldn’t support their son. Many grandparents raise grandchildren. There are other variations. One single mother shares an apartment with a man quite a bit older. This is not a romantic relationship. Rather they are bound together by their love for her son. He has been an honorary uncle since the boy was born. They balance their shift work so that the child is cared for. Think of other family forms. Some are regarded as invalid or sinful on the basis of some people’s religious beliefs. For example, same-sex unions can meet basic human needs. Children born to or adopted by such couples can and do receive loving care. Polygamy can also meet human needs.

Regardless of our beliefs about the value of particular family forms, we need to recognize that there are many ways of meeting individual needs and that we may recognize many different people as family–biological relatives, relatives through marriage or adoption, friends both live-in and live-out–basically those we regard as family.