Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family, talks about why Ireland needs Family Day
and how our Constitution only recognises the marital family.
Why is it important to celebrate Family Day? Because it can be a positive life-affirming event for children in all families but particularly those in diverse families. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are international institutions but they do leave out lots of children every year and can cause awkwardness and exclusion despite the best efforts of parents and teachers. The concept of Family Day is so broad that everyone should be able to see themselves reflected in the notion of family, no matter what size or shape their family is. Even for those children who may not be living in their family of choice or birth, we hope that they can find something positive and celebratory in Family Day.
What do we mean by diverse families? Well, I’m a big believer in people defining themselves and their families rather than being prescriptive so I suppose in one way, it is how people feel about themselves. But given we are living in Ireland with a constitution that only gives rights and protection to the marital family, we could decide that a diverse family is anything other than a marital family. However there may be families based in marriage who also feel diverse such as adoptive or foster families; step-families; ethnic minority families; families where someone has a disability or they are homeless or are dealing with an addiction. I am sure there are many more people who might add their family to this list.
Do children in non-traditional families really feel different? Yes, they can! Depending on their age and personality of course, children can have incredibly strong desires to fit in, be like everybody else, look like everybody else and have a similar background. Most often children start to feel ‘different’ because of external influences, what they hear being said about diverse family forms from sources outside of their family and friends and from lack of representation of a diversity of families. Feeling different, of course, doesn’t have to be a negative thing so what is important is that children hear and understand the positives about their families. That’s why it’s really important that schools, employers, the media etc. don’t resort to using incorrect stereotypes when it comes to talking about family and diverse families, and understand that what matters for children and what most influences their futures is not the form their family takes but having quality, strong, happy, supportive relationships at home.
What is One Family’s dream? We have a big dream and a big vision for Family Day. We want every family, workplace and school in Ireland (and abroad) to celebrate the wonderful diversity and reality of families every year in May. We want Family Day to be as well recognised and celebrated as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We want children to look forward to Family Day as a time when they feel beloved, understood and respected even though their family might not be generally celebrated. I believe that we are just following the reality of what families are already doing rather than leading a process of families becoming more diverse and complex. But families and children deserve a voice on their behalf calling for equality and celebration because unfortunately every day children feel different, excluded, not normal and may be bullied because of the family they live in. This has to change and if leadership and respect for all families is not going to come from the top (i.e. constitutional change led by government) then we need to start a grassroots revolution building on all the good work being done by families all around Ireland. If we are going to reach our vision for Family Day and constitutional change then we will need help from thousands of people, families and organisations who care as much as we do.
Click here to learn more about One Family.
Click here for suggestions for parents in talking with children about their family form.