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What Families “Look Like” Today

Carol Matusicky, PhD, presented the following thoughts during a recent event at a local community centre.

My pre-occupation for over 35 years – viz., has been one of constantly observing and learning about children and families and how best to be proactive in addressing the changes taking place in families.

What families “look like” today, how and when they form, what they do, how they feel about the challenges they face, are, in many ways, far different from the experiences of previous generations.

The picture that emerges for me regarding the challenges that today’s families face is captured in a quote from Margaret Mead that I heard many years ago. Here is what she said:

“We now expect a family to achieve alone what no other society has ever expected an individual to accomplish unaided. In effect, we call upon the individual family to do what a whole clan used to do.” (Margaret Mead)

I think it is one of the major challenges today – to rediscover that clan, to grow the sense of community and connectedness in our neighbourhoods for the children and families in our communities.

The very fact of engaging families is, in itself, a unique and respectful step to take. What will families with young children say when asked to identify ways to improve supports for them? I can’t predict but I know what I would say and what my adult kids with family responsibilities would say:

•More support for child care
— more spaces
— less expense
We now have compelling research that shows investment in the early years pays off over a life-time in terms of health and well-being; success at school; a greater chance of attending post-secondary education.

•More flexible workplaces
— workplaces that understand that we don’t live the way we used to so we can’t work the way we used to. Workplaces that understand, for example, the increased caregiving responsibilities that families have – not just for their own children but, increasingly for aging family members. Flexible workplaces are good for the bottom line; they are workplaces in which employees are more;
…Committed and loyal
…Free from turnover and absenteeism

•More recognition of the responsibilities that parents have – and I’m talking about many people parenting children today: mothers, fathers, adoptive parents, foster parents and, increasingly grandparents – thousands of whom have taken on a parenting role. More support is needed for this 24/7 role. “If a community values its children, it must cherish their parents.” (Bowlby, 1951).

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