This article draws on surveys of specialists involved in family research, on an accounting of the thematic and disciplinary orientations of the first six Quebec symposiums on family research and on the production of master’s and doctoral theses. This data is contextualized so as to provide an overview of the development of family research in Quebec. It concludes by suggesting that a reconfiguration of the conceptual field of the family supposes the opening up of other thematic perspectives. In other words, even though the notion of family has frittered away and lost its original substance, it has not lost the ability to provide food for thought concerning the new social phenomena that traverse contemporary societies.
Many questions arise today when it comes to defining parenthood. If the biological link is no longer an essential factor, the notion of long-term linkage remains fundamental and the instrumental daily commitment of parent to child is more material than ever. Being a parent is no longer necessarily restricted to a conjugal or even charnel relationship, nor does it automatically involve a male-female partnership, as is presupposed by the fundamental principles of our genealogical system, which is based on sexual differentiation. Being a parent today also requires, more and more often, that we take into account other ‘parental’ modes.
The Centre de Recherche et d’Innovation en Sociopédagogie familiale et scolaire [Centre for research and innovation in family and academic sociology] (CERIS), at the Université de Mons-Hainaut, Belgium, was set up in 1969. This centre carries out research and action-research in family and parental education. From the day it opened it was called upon to deal with the distress experienced by so many parents confronted with the ever more difficult educational situations they have to handle in this rapidly changing world of ours, a world where societal changes also have a head-on impact on children and adolescents. And yet, some families do seem to manage quite well, others rather less well. It would appear important, therefore, to search out both risk factors and protection factors, in order to better understand and explain these educational and social itineraries, and also in order to more adequately assist educators, whether they be parents, grandparents, future parents, teachers or social workers, in their educational mission. This is where CERIS’ commitment lies, both in the field of research and in that of action. The projects it has carried out so far take into account three interacting dimensions: the way individuals develop will depend on their environment, on the events that affect them and on their sensitivity both to their environment and to such events.
Even though they have fewer children than in the past, North-American parents still devote almost as much time to their offspring – mothers a little less, fathers a little more. This is particularly true of young Quebec fathers. However, all in all, less time is spent in the physical company of the children, whatever the activity, though young Quebec fathers are once again the exception. The drop in maternal contact time is due mainly to women’s increased presence on the labour market. The fact of having young children at home, rather than age, gender or educational level, is one of the main factors impacting the parents’ daily schedules, more particularly as concerns the number of working hours and the amount of free time. When the children are grown up, parents tend to plan out their days like childless parents.
Home schooling is a borderline, though legal, option that is exercised throughout the world. Until now, there has been no in-depth study of this practice in Quebec and there has been no head count of the families concerned. This article deals with the reasons for choosing home schooling, as given by 203 Quebec families who responded to a questionnaire on the subject. The survey, carried out in 2003, was designed to document the families` representation of education, the reasons for their choice, their educational experience and their socio-demographic profiles. The reasons they gave were both numerous and diversified. The rationale of the parents’ decisions is both varied and multidimensional. One of the particularities of the results is that the discourse of these Quebec parental educators seems quite devoid of any religious, anti-State or philosophical overtones. For the participants as a whole, the basic factors that largely determined their choice were their desire to implement a family educational project, their objection to the modes of organization of the school system, a desire to offer an enriched learning experience and a concern with the socio-affective development of their children.
In our study of household lifestyles, carried out in France in the year 2,000, we surveyed a group of 5,200 individuals, aged 14 and over. Over one person in three acknowledged having acquired from members of their family circle the taste for an activity that became important in their lives, indeed that became a ‘passion’, in some cases cultural activities, in others scientific hobbies, in yet others a passion for learning foreign languages, etc. The major source of such passions was their parents. We are now seeing a spectacular development of the transmission of cultural passions amongst the younger generations. Their family environment is an important factor – parents who are better educated, or who themselves are gripped by a cultural passion.
By allowing the creation of a parental relationship between a child and two persons of the same sex, the reform adopted on June 24, 2002 not only formalizes homosexual families, but also recognises the existence of a serious rift with the biological actualities that had previously served as a model for laws dealing with filiation. According to the then Justice Minister, some such overhaul had become necessary in order to be able to provide legal protection for the children involved. However, remodelling the parameters of filiation was not the only legislative option available to achieve the desired objective. Other measures, such as joint parental authority or the legal recognition of a new form of “psychological kinship” could have been contemplated as a way of ensuring the legal protection of the children in question. This reform, adopted in haste by the Quebec legislator, opens up prospects whose impact on children’s welfare cannot yet be fully measured. This incomplete piece of legislation does not respond to the need for legal protection of the majority of children growing up in a homosexual environment.