Daring to Meet our Children's Needs: Message from the Catholic Organization for Life and Family on the occasion of the International Day of Families - 15 May 2006
The theme chosen this year by the United Nations for the celebration of the International Day of Families is “Changing Families: Challenges and Opportunities”. In view of this, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) would like to call on all Canadians to build a society that promotes family as it strives to meet the needs of children in more effective ways.
Canadian families today are more diverse than ever before. One in six Canadian children lives in a single-parent household, and many are being raised in step families or by common-law couples.[i]
Children are at the heart of marriage and family. This makes them especially vulnerable to shifts in the family structure. Research continues to show that all forms of family structure are not equally beneficial for child well-being. Rather, one type of family consistently outperforms all others; children do best in a family founded on marriage between their own mother and father.[ii]
Families founded on marriage are far more likely to endure. More than 50% of the children of cohabiting couples will have experienced a family breakup by the time they are 10 years old, compared to only 14% of the children of married couples who did not cohabit before marriage.[iii]
Children of married parents generally have fewer problems at school, they are healthier physically and psychologically, and they are less likely to fall victim to child abuse or neglect.[iv] Marriage also makes the parents themselves happier, which in turn creates a better environment for their children.
With Canada facing a population decline because of falling birth rates, it is good news that marriage also produces more children! According to Statistics Canada, between 1985 and 1994, married women had twice as many children as women who cohabited.
We also know that children continue to need both a mother and a father. Both mothers and fathers bring their unique contributions to parenting, and neither can be replaced by the other. In their own gender-specific ways, they act as important role models for their children. This may be why many single parents, who are striving to achieve the best for their children —often in heroic circumstances— seek out role models of the missing parent’s gender for their children.
The personal connection between a child and its biological parents is also important for a child’s development. It is certainly true that a child benefits from the love of adoptive parents. We know, however, how difficult it is for many of them not to know their biological origins. Yet today, through in vitro fertilization with donor sperm and eggs, children are being intentionally deprived of a biological parent.
New studies also show the importance of parental presence for the cognitive development of the child during early childhood. Montreal pediatrician Jean-François Chicoine sounds a cry of alarm regarding the situation of children in his recent book, Le bébé et l’eau du bain — Comment la garderie change la vie de vos enfants (“The Baby and the Bathwater – How Daycare Changes the Life of Our Children”), co-authored by journalist Nathalie Collard.
He writes: “Thus, I implore you, it is necessary to aim for 18 to 24 months of parental protection. This is neither a minimum nor a maximum, it is the goal that any society should be able to attain for itself in order to give the best of the world to younger generations”.[v]
As a society, we must rediscover the great personal and social value of the work of a parent who chooses to stay at home and raise children. We must also offer women, who most often take on this responsibility, the opportunity to develop professionally without sacrificing their role as mothers; it should be possible for them to continue their career from home or part time, or to return to the workplace without being penalized after raising their children.
This outcome will require a radical transformation of many social and corporate attitudes, but we believe such a transformation would benefit society in general and individual families in particular. It is therefore worthy of society’s greatest effort.
[i] Statistics Canada, 2001 Census: Families and Households Profile, available at:
http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census01/products/analytic/companion/fam/canada.cfm (In 2001, 16% of all Canadian families were single parent families, almost 12% were step families, 14% were common-law families).
[ii] Mary Parke, Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being, Policy Brief, Center for Law and Social Policy (May 2003): 6, available at: http://www.clasp.org/publications/Marriage_Brief3.pdf.
[iii] The Vanier Institute of the Family, Profiling Canada’s Families (2004): 35, based on Statistics Canada, Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada 2000.
[iv] Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being? in Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain, eds., The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, & Morals (Witherspoon Institute: 2006): 197-212; Nico Trocme et. al., Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (Health Canada: 2001): 73-75.
[v] Dr. Jean-François Chicoine and Nathalie Collard, Le bébé et l’eau du bain —Comment la garderie change la vie de vos enfants (Éditions Québec Amérique inc.; 2006): 41. Excerpt and title translated by COLF.
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