Over 35 years ago, Crosby, Stills and Nash had a song called ‘Teach your children well’. In it, they exhort the people of this world to instil solid values and love into the hearts, minds, and souls of our children.

But just who is supposed to do this? Conservatives argue that it is the family which is primarily responsible for the education and upbringing of children, and that the secular state is an agent of all sorts of nefarious left-wing policy agendas.

Liberals, on the other hand, see the family and the secular state working hand in hand to make sure that our children receive the best early-childhood learning that they possibly can. The realities of today’s workplace dictate such a policy. Ever since the Great War of 1914-1918, society’s material and human resources were mobilized in such a massive way, that it became imperative to bring women into the paid workforce in a big way, for the first time ever. The mobilization for the Second World War was even more significant, and produced even more urbanization, industrialization, secularization, and social dislocation and transformation of Canadian society.

By the time the dust had settled, women were determined to take their place within society. They had gotten a taste of the self-worth and independence that comes with obtaining money for work, and wanted more. They were not, on the whole, content to go back to the kitchen and cook and clean and fetch.

By the mid to late 1960s, the regulatory climate in North America had gotten a lot more interventionist. The cost of doing business was going up by leaps and bounds because of upward pressures on wages, as well as more stringent federally-mandated rules and regulations on most consumer products, such as anti-pollution devices, warrantees, and safety features on cars. The cost of all these things were passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, which in turn put more upward pressure on wages to pay for these things. Also, at this time, the public’s expectations of what a typical North American household could or should expect to own so as to be able to consider themselves as prosperous was increasing, due in large part to corporate advertizing campaigns to stimulate more consumption, and raise living standards.

Simultaneously, in the U.S. around the late 1960s, there were hundreds of thousands of American men serving overseas in Southeast Asia in the Vietnam War, causing massive labour shortages at home. All of these factors conspired to push more women into the workplace to pay for the higher cost of the American Dream. Many of them got jobs in the legions of family-type restaurants that opened up in the suburbs in the late 1960s and early 70s, such as Denny’s, etc… This supplemental income went a long way towards helping the family make ends meet.

It also, unfortunately, put a greater strain on the family unit and the social fabric of North American society. Mom and Dad were now both working, trying to make ends meet, to provide for a bright future for their children. Often, however, they worked odd hours and didn’t have much time to spend together as a family. Communication broke down. The kids got into trouble. The husband or wife got into extramarital affairs. Many marriages ended up breaking down. This was precisely at the time when most of the divorce laws were liberalized. Many women seized upon the opportunity to get out of a bad situation, and jumped ship.

So where does that leave us? The 1970s led us into a period of unbridled sexual ‘freedom’, and self-indulgent narcissism. The 1980s led us into an even greater period of excess, coupled with a neo-conservative backlash during the Reagan years. The 1990s led us into the post modern world of post Cold War, post industrial, internet-based everything, perpetually changing paradigms at dizzying speeds, etc…

So where does that leave the nuclear family? It looks like it has exploded in a giant mushroom cloud!!! We can’t put the genie back into the bottle and expect to live the Ozzie and Harriet/Leave it to Beaver black and white lifestyle of 1950s television. We’re not even sure of just how true to life that was to begin with! We can’t go on living like we are now, with no support for our families, and no coherent Pan-Canadian Family Policy.

The family is the basic unit of measure of human civilization. All things flow from it. Regardless of whether it is a nuclear family with a male and female spouse, and one or more children, a same sex family, or any permutation or combination of single parent families. As long as the family unit is coherent,  we can assume with certainty that some sort of family unit exists before the law.

What we need is a coherent Pan-Canadian policy for families. It needs to reflect the current realities of women who want flexibility in the workplace. Men want the same thing. Women want to be able to work, but to perhaps share their job with another person, and look after their children the rest of the time. Some women want to work four days a week. Some would like to be able to work, then have kids, get paid parental leave, stay home with their children for X number of months, even years, then go back to their jobs.

Some would like to go back to work as soon as possible after their pregnancy, and have access to quality state-sponsored day care and early childhood learning programs. Some would prefer to leave their kids with a parent, grandparent, or neighbour, seeing that they come from a more traditional background.

Some men would like to take paid parental leave and stay home with their children and bond with them at an early age. They have the right to do so. Right now the province of Québec is the only province in Canada with a parental leave program, in addition to the EI program at the federal level.
Can we really afford NOT to have a proper Family Policy in Canada? The government as well as several university institutes calculate that over two thirds of people feel stressed out over their jobs/family situation. It is estimated that if something is not done soon, the population of Canada will be divided into two categories: People who are depressed because they don’t have a job, and people who are burned out because they’re trying to pick up the slack for everyone else, including caring for those who are depressed, or elderly!

Giving proper support to women who leave their jobs to have babies is not an inconvenience, or a hassle. I often hear male managers of companies complaining that hiring women is problematic, because they inevitably get pregnant and want to take some time off to care for their children! I don’t call that an inconvenience, I call that looking after future generations of citizens, consumers, and taxpayers, all of whom need our utmost attention and care. Women who go on parental leave need to be treated with respect, as well as men. They often are made to feel guilty for doing so, and are coerced into returning to work too soon after the birth of their child.

They are therefore more susceptible to job-related stress, anxiety, depression and burn out, because they’re being made to return to work sooner than they should, and not being given enough time to bond with their children, and look after them during those key months in their early development. And if they do choose to come back to work, they should have access to employer/government –subsidized daycare/early childhood learning, either onsite, or close by, so that they can feel secure knowing that their child is being well looked after in a clean, safe and well kept environment.

Many Scandinavian countries have such arrangements, as well as Holland, and their private sectors have not gone bankrupt! Why can’t we do something similar here in Canada? We have to be able to stare down the mostly American corporate owners of our branch plants, and stand firm in our convictions that what we want is what we’re going to get. America and Canada are faced with gigantic human resource costs related to stress, burn out, absenteeism, alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, etc… Many if not most of these problems are directly or indirectly related to the breakdown in the social fabric of North-American civilization, as it relates to the family.

If we were to enable our workers to strike a better work/life balance, through allowing them to spend more time with their family, and not worry so much about ‘where is Johnny?’ Or ‘Who’s picking little Suzie up from the sitter tonight?’, then families would become more coherent once again, and ultimately, everyone would gain, including the corporate sector and the government, through more sustainable profitability, and healthier and productive citizens who can pay taxes and contribute to society.

All of the studies are of one accord: We don’t want more stuff. We don’t want more money, food, a bigger house, car, boat, etc… An increasing number of people are disillusioned with the gigantism of consumer society and are turning in their cars in record numbers, taking the bus, walking, taking their bike, the train, going from two vehicles to one, buying used clothing, furniture, making a compost heap in their back yard, washing in cold water, turning the thermostat down, recycling, starting community gardens, bartering instead of buying things, car pooling, etc…The message is clear: We want MORE TIME, more QUALITY OF LIFE, NOT QUANTITY. What people mention that they miss the most, when surveyed, is the ability to spend time with loved ones, and just hang out and do basically NOTHING! Just enjoy each others company.

So, I repeat: Who is going to ‘Teach your children well?’ If, as it would appear to be the case, that the economic imperatives of the material world dictate that both spouses work either full or part time, so as to be able to provide the family with the necessities of life, whether they be more, or less than today’s standard, then it follows logically that some sort of partnership needs to be brokered between the secular state, families, unions, and employers. There is urgency to this. Unions need to be more flexible in the negotiation of collective agreements for day care workers, allowing these places to be open possibly evenings and weekends. Shift workers do not have civil servant work hours. They need access to government day care services outside of the standard Monday-Friday 8h30-4h30 work week.

Our families and the children within them deserve the best that society can offer. Let’s try to break free from the sterile Left/Right ideological divide which has left our country with a hideously inadequate patchwork quilt of family policies, including an early childhood education policy delivered in the mail via Canada Post in the form of a 100$ check. I’m not saying that parents who choose to stay home with their children and raise them on their own should have that money taken away. But I think that other parents who choose otherwise should have access to other options.

Teaching our children well is a collective effort. It is incumbent upon not only the family, but also the state to play a role in moulding the minds and characters of our young people, for they are the Canadians of tomorrow. They shall proudly carry in their arms, the torch of Canadian citizenship, based on the notions of personal initiative, collective responsibility and solidarity, spirituality, unity, diversity, tolerance and love. And the greatest of these is Love. Love is all you need. Thank you.

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