How Hamilton couples have discussed having children over the years

Published November 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

“To be the best place to raise a child and age successfully,” – that is the city’s vision for Hamilton, according to the City of Hamilton website.

But are residents having and raising children in the city?

Well, as of 2016, according to Statistics Canada, there were roughly 94,525 couples in Hamilton with children and 78,835 couples without. This information was revealed in the 2016 Census Profile – the Census Program, as noted on the website, “Provides a statistical portrait of the country every five years.”

However, the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton revealed, in their 2016 Demographic Shifts: Birth Rates and Delayed Child-Rearing bulletin, that, “Since 2010, Hamilton’s estimated crude birth rate has dropped at the same time as an increase in residents in their prime reproductive years (ages 25-35).”

The bulletin noted, residents within this age group in earlier decades often start having families in this phase of their life and that this decrease may have been due to unstable employment in the city.

Despite this decrease, inthehammer recently spoke, via email, to a few Hamiltonians to explore their thought process of having children in the city.

What are Hamiltonians saying?

Deby Penner and her ex-husband started to seriously discuss having children when they began dating in 1996. Penner said they eventually decided to wait until they had been married for two to three years. They got married in 1997. However, there were a few additional factors they discussed before Penner got pregnant in 1999.

Penner, who has always lived in the Hamilton-Wentworth District, recalled, “We knew we wanted to be in our home and not renting and we were, we bought in 1998.” They also wanted to ensure their first home was in a kid-friendly town with good schools and recreation options.

Although she has stayed within the district, for the most part, Penner – who is now 52, has moved around a bit. She was born and raised in Ancaster, left the house at 29-years-old, and has lived in Hamilton, Caledonia, Ancaster again, Mount Hope, Ancaster again, and now Binbrook.

Geographical location aside, when raising her daughter, who is now 20, Penner said, “It [living in Hamillton] was great.” She noted that they lived in wonderful communities with growing families, and that her daughter attended nice Catholic schools.

Chelsea Bates, 23, and her husband Joel, 24, have had conversations surrounding having children more recently. The couple has been married for just over a year, however, the conversation about having children started before they got engaged. Bates noted that they both wanted to make sure they were on the same page.

“We made a bit more of a plan that we were both happy with closer to when we were about to get married,” Bates said. “We recognize that not everything always goes to plan, so we didn’t want to set anything in stone, but we just wanted to make sure that we both communicated what we wanted and made a bit of a timeline that we were happy with.”

In terms of where the conversation went, the couple agreed that they both wanted to wait until they had been married for about five years until they had children. When asked if the City of Hamilton had any impact on their decision, Bates answered in two words at first – ‘maybe slightly’.

“Right now, all our family and friends are in the Hamilton area, and I think we are pretty settled here,” she said. “I think it becomes easier to talk about plans for a family when you feel settled somewhere.” There were a few other factors that impacted their decision, one of them being a financial factor. Which, is fair considering it costs, roughly, $253,946.97 to raise a child in Canada until they’re 18, according to a 2015 MoneySense article.

“We are at a point right now where we are spending a lot of our income on our house, and other things, so the thought of having a child seems like we would have to be stretched pretty thin at the moment,” Bates said. “We like the idea of having enough to not have to worry about putting them in sports, or buying them a new coat, etc. We also are hoping to travel together before we settle down to have children and enjoy time with just the two of us.”

Emelia Visca and her husband Jon, who have been married for a few years now, also started discussing the topic of having children before they were engaged.

“That’s one thing we felt we needed to be on the same page about if we wanted to do life together,” she said. “But it wasn’t until about February 2019 that we started discussing it more seriously to plan it out. That would’ve been approximately five years into our relationship and 1.5 years into marriage.”

The couple currently lives in Saskatchewan, however, the City of Hamilton did come into play somewhat. Both Emelia and Jon grew up in the city. Although they had already moved by the time they started having serious conversations about starting their family, Emelia noted that the city would have been one of her top choices of places to be pregnant and deliver a baby.

“Due to the immense amount of resources and the accessibility of McMaster Children’s Hospital,” Emelia said. “My perspective of having children in Hamilton only shifts to be more hesitant once you consider the less ideal elements (drugs, homelessness, violence, air quality) that would impact my children as they get older.”

She expanded on Hamilton a bit further by adding that there were a few opportunities they took for granted.

“We took for granted the many things Hamilton had to offer when we lived there and will do everything we can to allow our children the same recreational, and explorative opportunities we had,” she said. “But we also both grew up seeing and experiencing some things we hope to protect our children from as well.”

Emelia and Jon recently had their first child in Saskatchewan.

While the thought process of having kids in the city will be different for everyone, and every couple, there seems to be one common notion – Hamiltonians are having the conversation earlier than later.

What is the city doing?

When it comes being the best place to raise a child and age successfully, Aisling Higgins, Communications & Intergovernmental Relations, City of Hamilton, said, via email, that measures should start before the child is born.

“Being the best place to raise a child and age successfully starts with building a strong foundation pre-conception, having a healthy pregnancy, and supporting child development in the early years through parental supports, quality early years programming and high-quality childcare,” Higgins said.

As a result, the city has worked, over the last decade, to develop and implement several early years services and supports for families and children in Hamilton. This has been done through, according to Higgins, the implementation of the city’s Early Years Community Plan, along with several partners from the early years and human services community, and the city.

Higgins noted that all parties have worked to get the accessibility, affordability, and quality of childcare increased, and have EarlyON Child and Family Centres implemented across the city to give opportunities to young children, parents, and caregivers.

More specifically, over the past 10 years, the City has worked to create more equitable outcomes for all children and families.

This, according to Higgins, has included a “10 per cent increase in licensed child care spaces since 2016 — expanded the licensed child care system by providing funding and supports to 935 new spaces (2018), increased affordability of child care through an Affordability Grant that reduced child care costs by $10.00 per day per child for approximately 4500 licensed child care spaces for children aged 0-4 years, and increased access to child care by providing a fee subsidy to 6918 children, an increase of 1250 more children compared to 2016.”

These are just a few of the achievements the city has reached over the years to hit the goal of being the best place to raise a child.

More recently, the city has made an effort to continue to support child care and early years programs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

A full list of early years and child care services can be found on the City of  Hamilton website.

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