Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Jennifer and Scott Lawson relax in a park near their Grimsby, Ont., home with their four natural children. The only thing Ms. Lawson can't seem to write into her family's daily calendar is free time.

Patrick Dell/The Canadian Press

The only thing Jennifer Lawson can't seem to write into her family's daily calendar is free time. The blank space of each fresh day vanishes in scribbles of ink as she documents air-cadet meetings for her two eldest sons, both from a previous marriage; regular visits from one of her husband's three daughters; and endless sports activities for the couple's four natural children.

Co-ordinating the sleep, schooling and social needs of a sprawling blended family – nine kids in all, ranging in age from 20 months to 20 years – could be a full-time job all on its own. But for Ms. Lawson, 39, it's the least of the many issues confronting an increasingly common brand of Canadian family unit.

"When you're getting together with a blended family, you could still have court cases going on, you have work challenges, you have personal challenges," Ms. Lawson said from her home in Grimsby, Ont.

Story continues below advertisement

"You don't realize that all those little things can make things like blended families even more difficult."

It's a complex – and often physically and emotionally bruising – reality with which a growing number of Canadians are having to come to terms, census numbers suggest.

Stepfamilies, counted in the census for the first time in 2011, comprised 12.6 per cent of Canada's 3.7 million families with children, the agency reported. Those families are home to nearly 558,000 children aged 14 and under, about 10 per cent of all those living in a private household.

Statistics Canada defines a stepfamily as one in which at least one child was the biological offspring or adopted child of only one of the spouses prior to the relationship. From there, stepfamilies are classified either as "simple" or "complex," depending on the children and their biological or legal relationship to the parents.

A "simple" stepfamily comprises biological or adopted children from one and only one of the spouses, all of them pre-dating the relationship.

There are three types of "complex" stepfamilies: those with at least one child of each parent and no children of both; at least one child of both parents and at least one from only one parent; and children from both parents and at least one from each.

Last year marked the first time Canadian stepfamilies been formally counted in the census, although Statistics Canada has been keeping tabs on the trend since at least the mid-1990s.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2001, the agency warned that a growing divorce rate, coupled with the mounting popularity of common-law relationships would make it more likely that a growing number of Canadian children would grow up in a reconstituted family.

In its general social survey in 2006, the agency found that only about 40 per cent of those families surveyed could be considered "intact" — two people and their own biological or adopted offspring.

The numbers reflect one of the most significant shifts in Canada's population in the past 40 years, said Roderic Beaujot, a family demographer at Western University in London, Ont.

The stereotypical "Brady Bunch" family unit began evolving as early as the 1970s, Mr. Beaujot said. Laws, such as the Divorce Act in 1968, loosened societal restrictions on the family unit and how relationships and child-rearing ought to evolve.

"We have more diversity of relationships, including an orientation that it's good to have diverse potential relationships over the life course," Mr. Beaujot said. "People can make their own choices in this regard."

Ms. Lawson didn't realize just what repercussions those choices could have when she decided to marry her husband and merge their existing families a decade ago.

Story continues below advertisement

Eight of those years were then spent mired in court battles as the couple hammered out complex visitation arrangements for both sets of children.

Ms. Lawson hopes the census data will raise awareness of how prevalent blended households are and help people to view families as a concept rather than a construct. "Family really comes down to who's there for you when you need the most and who knows when to let go when you need to let go." The Canadian Press

More daunting, however, were the challenges of helping children of widely varying ages adjust to a new and complex family dynamic.

"Our kids have a huge support system because they have four sets

The Lawsons found themselves alternately offering guidance and letting their children take the lead as they established new routines in every facet of everyday life.

The kids grappled with a bewildering number of issues, including what to call their new step-parents, how to obtain multiple copies of official school documents, and how to manage time divided between at least two households, Lawson said.

Story continues below advertisement

The parents tasked with shepherding them through these pitfalls had to do so under tremendous emotional strain, Lawson said. She and her husband struggled to prioritize their children's feelings without entirely suppressing their own.

"For every ying, there's a yang," she said.

"You have to understand that your perspective of what happened is not necessarily the other person's perspective. We try and take that into consideration. We really try and think about, in the end, it's not us, it's about the kids."

Children caught in the middle of the "blending" process often find themselves grappling with emotions well beyond their years.

Kevin Gilchrist struggled to come to terms with losing the undivided attention of his father when his parents' marriage disintegrated when he was 11.

As he made tentative overtures towards his new stepmother and struggled to accept her sons from a previous relationship, he realized he had lost a sense of security that most children take for granted.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's almost like you're just going to see an aunt or uncle. It's just someone you're going to visit. It's not home," he said.

Gilchrist's wife, Teresa, said the aftermath of her own parents' messy divorce was palpable for decades.

From their separate homes at opposite ends of Ontario, she and her brother could only watch the constant games of one-upmanship as both her biological parents and step-parents tried to curry their favour while vying for the upper hand in the ongoing family feud.

The turmoil she struggled through as a child, however, began to seem like an advantage when she and Kevin became parents themselves of grandparents," she said. "If they need a loving hand, they can go to my stepdad. If they need someone hard nosed to show them how things get done, they've got my dad."

Their turbulent childhood experiences also strengthened the resolve of the Gilchrists to keep their own family intact.

Demographers may caution that children in stepfamilies run the risk of repeating the cycle as adults, Kevin Gilchrist said he and his wife are committed to showing their children how to overcome the conflict that inevitably crops up in any relationship.

Story continues below advertisement

"My parents never argued in front of the kids, so the divorce was a complete shock," he said. "We don't do that. We won't hide our arguments. (The kids) need to understand that disagreements are normal and see how people work things out."

Lawson said society still struggles to accept the blended family, adding any unit that falls short of the unrealistic expectations set by "The Brady Bunch" is often judged as inadequate.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies