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Traditional Family Devalued in Canada, but Some Women Push for Revival

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On her fridge door, along with numerous family pictures, Danielle Brandt has a handwritten quote by Dr. John Trainer: “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”

A proud Calgary mother of three boys (Aiden, 10, Theodore, 4, and Silas, 2), Mrs. Brandt is a homemaker. Her husband, Adam Brandt, is the breadwinner. At the core of their parenting philosophy is the belief that strong families make strong societies, Mrs. Brandt says.

She was a music teacher before becoming a stay-at-home mom, but when she returned to work shortly after giving birth to her first child, she says she realized she wanted to be fully involved in raising her children.

“The idea that your identity is found at home with your family and not out in the world with your peers, and that your parents and your family are what matters first … that’s the reason I wanted to be home with my children,” she told The Epoch Times.

While Mrs. Brandt persists in adhering to her traditional role in the family, there is declining interest among young Canadian women to pursue the same path.

Canadians are “increasingly less likely” to form families, and if they do, they are choosing to have fewer children, if any at all, according to a May 2024 report jointly published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) and the Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

The same report, based on evidence from existing data and literature, found that traditional families enjoy more prosperity and better health.

Adults who are in a couple tend to earn more money per person than singles of the same age and, if married, they tend to live longer, have healthier lifestyles, and are less stressed. Similarly, children benefit from being raised by their two biological parents in a stable marriage, appearing to have a higher standard of living and educational attainment, and being less likely to engage in risky behaviour, the report found.

But a significant fraction of Canadian children will see their families break up by the time they are 14, and more than a quarter live in one-parent families, the report said. The author, Tim Sargent, deputy executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, concluded that the rates of family dissolution in Canada are higher than those in the United States and the UK, culturally comparable countries.

Janice Fiamengo, a retired University of Ottawa English professor who now gives talks on the role of women in society, says the downward trends in family formation are largely due to how women’s priorities are being redefined in Canada.
“Their primary goal in life is to be independent, to have a career, and to regard marriage and childbearing as secondary, if not undesirable in general,” Ms. Fiamengo told The Epoch Times, describing the trends and messages aimed at young women today.

Trends Among Canadian Women

Women are now taking longer to complete their higher education. From 2000–2022, the participation in education of women aged 20 to 24 rose by 12 percent (to 51 percent), according to Statistics Canada.

Only 37 percent of men in the same age range participated in education in 2022, and that rate grew by just four percentage points since 2000. Similar trends are seen among men and women aged 25 to 29.

Source: Statistics Canada 2023h, Table 37-10-0196-01. (Chart: Carolina Avendano/The Epoch Times)
Source: Statistics Canada 2023h, Table 37-10-0196-01. (Chart: Carolina Avendano/The Epoch Times)

Women’s participation in the labour market has also increased dramatically in recent decades, with fewer and fewer women choosing to be stay-at-home moms.

Employment among women aged 25 to 54 has almost doubled from 40 percent in 1976 to about 80 percent as of May 2024, according to Statistics Canada. Employment rates for women in general remain higher than they were prior to the pandemic in 2017 and 2019.
In addition, more women aged 25 to 34 now delay living with their partner. The proportion of those who live with their parents increased by 3.3 percentage points, from 12.8 percent in 2011 to 16.1 percent in 2021.
Marriage rates are on the decline while divorce rates are increasing, and women are waiting until later to have children.
At the same time, Canada’s fertility rate has been declining persistently for the past 15 years, with the national rate hitting an all-time low in 2022 at 1.3 children per woman.
A study by the think tank Cardus found that the top factors that diminish a woman’s desire to be a mother are wanting to grow as a person, wanting to save money, focusing on a career, and believing that kids require intense care.

“Any woman who decides that what she primarily wants to do is to marry and to have children, that woman is seen as having failed, having let down other women, and having failed herself,” says Ms. Fiamengo.

She says the prevalence of feminism in Canada has played a role in shaping these views.

Changing Views on Traditional Family Roles

It wasn’t until the second-wave feminism of the 1980s that an idea with communist roots took hold—the dissolution of the traditional family structure, Ms. Fiamengo says.

Feminism takes many forms and contains different ideas—in the 19th century, it was about women’s suffrage. The idea that the traditional family is at odds with gender equality and women’s fulfilment has its origins in communist ideology.

In his 1884 book titled “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” Friedrich Engels, based on notes by Karl Marx, made the first allusion to the monogamous family as “the world historical defeat of the female sex,” in which the woman was reduced to servitude and turned into an instrument for the production of children.

He thus advocated for the liberation of the wife, the abolishment of the family, and for the care and education of the children to become a public affair.

“[Engels] explicitly makes that connection, that the man—the patriarch—is the capitalist oppressor. The woman is in the situation of being the oppressed worker or the sex slave in the family,” says Ms. Fiamengo.

“He saw no distinction between prostitution, in which a woman is bought by a man to have her body used for the man’s pleasure, and the situation of a woman in a marriage.”

Betty Friedan’s 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique,” a precursor of feminism as a struggle between genders, urged women to break free from the domestic sphere and find their own identity outside the home. Friedan promulgated that fulfillment could not be found through marriage and motherhood alone.

Ms. Fiamengo says feminism’s lack of encouragement for women to start a family makes them miss out on what she thinks is one of the greatest joys of human life—childbearing.

“The fact that our government doesn’t encourage marriage … or encourage couples to stay together for the good of their children, is doing a terrible disservice to the future generations,” she says.

Peter Jon Mitchell, program director for Cardus Family, says the prevalent view of marriage in Canada is that “it’s nice, but unnecessary.”

“We don’t really talk a lot about marriage and the benefits of marriage in our culture,” he told The Epoch Times. Mr. Mitchell says that, compared to the United States, where the two-parent privilege—the fact that children fare better in two-parent rather than single-parent households—and the benefits of marriage are part of the public discourse, Canada lags behind.

The May MLI report cites some studies showing that children in two-parent households fare better. One published by the National Library of Medicine in 2014 found such children do better physically, emotionally, and academically.
Likewise, in a 2015 research paper, David Ribar, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne, found that children who grow up with married parents enjoy more economic and family stability. Mr. Ribar argues that the benefits of marriage for children’s wellbeing are hard to replicate through policy interventions other than those that support marriage itself.

Consequences of Putting Family Role Second

Sociologist Brigitte Berger noted in her book “The Emerging Role of Women” that work is important for both sexes. Yet liberation through work means different things to different people.

To the working-class women and the poor, for whom work is a necessity, liberation means freedom from financial burden and the freedom to devote time to things that matter outside of work, such as family, community, and hobbies. Among women for whom work is not a necessity, modern thinking has led them to find identity and liberation through paid labour.

According to a 2021 survey by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 28 percent of mothers reported difficulty keeping up with work demands, and half of mothers felt exhausted trying to balance work and childcare responsibilities.

“I think most mothers would prefer to be part-time,” says Mrs. Brandt. “They don’t actually want to leave their kids 100 percent of the time with someone else.”

She says the widespread notion that women can do it all is not realistic and can lead many to burnout. “I can’t fully parent my children well and fully do another job [outside the home], at least not the way I want to,” she says. “Something has to give; there’s not enough of me.”

Mrs. Brandt says she is not worried about her chances of returning to work at some stage.

“We live a long time nowadays. You can’t always have kids, you can’t always be with your kids when they’re young or get that time back when they’re young,” she adds. “But you could do a career later, and that’s the amazing thing about our culture, too.”

Last year, a study by the think tank Cardus found that half of Canadian women are not having as many children as they would like, and that this group reported lower life satisfaction than women who achieved their fertility goals.
Cardus senior fellow Lyman Stone noted low fertility rates are not because women want few kids, but the timeline most of them follow for school, work, self-development, and marriage leaves too few economically stable years to achieve the families they want.

One of the most striking findings of the May MLI report is that Canada has seen a marked deterioration in the mental health of young women over the last decade.

More than three-quarters of women aged 15 to 30 reported excellent or very good mental health between 2009 and 2010. Throughout the following nine years, that figure dropped 22.5 percentage points, to 54 percent. For women aged 31 to 46, mental well-being also declined, but only by 10.1 percentage points.
Source: Canadian Community Health Survey, 2003 to 2019. (Chart: Carolina Avendano/The Epoch Times)
Source: Canadian Community Health Survey, 2003 to 2019. (Chart: Carolina Avendano/The Epoch Times)

Motherhood and Women’s Happiness

A Cardus 2023 study concluded that women’s happiness and fertility are linked. The think tank surveyed 2,700 women aged 18 to 44 about family and fertility, and found that mothers are happier than non-mothers everywhere (except when they are under 25 or living in poverty).

“The role of the mother really is to nurture and to develop children,” says Mrs. Brandt. “My husband is a wonderful nurturer, he’s fantastic at it, but my boys, even the ones that have the closest relationship with him, they still need mom … I’m still the safe place.

“I am not saying that men can’t do it, but sometimes women are built for it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Danielle Brandt with her youngest son, Silas, at her Calgary home on June 1, 2024. Mrs. Brandt homeschools her oldest son, Aiden, because she saw he was falling behind in class. Seeing the positive response, she now plans to also homeschool her other two children. (Photo by Carolina Avendano/The Epoch Times)
Danielle Brandt with her youngest son, Silas, at her Calgary home on June 1, 2024. Mrs. Brandt homeschools her oldest son, Aiden, because she saw he was falling behind in class. Seeing the positive response, she now plans to also homeschool her other two children. (Photo by Carolina Avendano/The Epoch Times)

She draws inspiration from her mother, who was also a teacher turned homemaker. Mrs. Brandt says her mother was always available for her and her three siblings, and would show up at their most important moments, including sporting events, school functions or field trips. “We felt like we were the priority because we were,” she says.

But being a stay-at-home mom is also demanding, Mrs. Brandt adds. Although it’s rewarding, she says the challenge is that there is no time off.

“But at the end of the day, when I look at my children and see them peacefully sleeping, [I think to myself] ‘That’s it, that’s what this is about,’” she says.

“They are the future generation. I want to pour into that, and there is no more valuable work than that.”

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