Family Day with Geneviève Hone


Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

Family Day

'Creating a holiday requires months of hard labor!'

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker. With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is

  Image by Julien Mercure.

01 March 2013 I sit at the dining room table, flipping through a couple of books, hoping to stumble on a perfect definition of the word “family” for this article on Family Day, a statutory holiday in Ontario, this year on Monday 10 February.

The introduction of this holiday in 2008 provoked all kinds of reactions, ranging of course from negative: And is it the Government that will mind my kids while I’m at work? to positive: Great, we’ll do a special project together.

But now most people seem to have adjusted to this holiday accorded to them right in the middle of February. They may have had to rework their schedules, but I suspect that many are actually managing to enjoy the day with their family.

Family Day Holiday reminds me of a scene in The Bells of St-Mary’s, the first film I ever saw in my life, when I was seven. Father O’Malley, divinely played by Bing Crosby, is asked by Sister Benedict, no less divinely played by Ingrid Bergman, to address the children assembled in the school yard on his first day in the parochial school.

Obviously taken aback by this request, he blurts out: “Good morning children. Today is a holiday.”  The children jump for joy and shoot out of the schoolyard towards freedom. Sister Benedict, immediately grasping the many complications this announcement will bring to her day, scolds Father O’Malley: one cannot declare a holiday just for the fun of it. Creating a holiday requires months of hard labor!

For the past half-hour, our seven-year-old granddaughter Felicia has been sprawling on the floor next to my chair, busily drawing plans for a house she intends to build for a little plastic figurine that she lovingly calls “Honey”. In her cardboard house Honey will enjoy a swimming pool, a small zoo inhabited by at least one platypus, a giant play room for her friends, and kitchen cupboards that contain only healthy foods, i.e. very few vegetables and big bags of marshmallows. Felicia looks up and says: “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could skip the school week and land on next Saturday? We’re going to our friends’ cottage for the Family Day weekend. Why do we always have to go to school?”  Felicia and Father O’Malley would have gotten along like a house on fire!

“Felicia”, I ask, “What is a family?” Felicia gives my question a long moment of thought and finally answers:  “A group of people…”  And perhaps sensing that she should say something more, she adds: “A family is a group of people who eat together.” She turns back to her plans, Honey having just requested an extra-large closet for her dress-up clothes and disguises. 

How we share meals within our family certainly gives definition to who we are as a family. We share in the preparation of meals, or not.  We eat together regularly, or not. We work together to clean up after a meal and plan for the next one, or not. We give thanks to Life that provides us with food, or not. We enjoy being together at mealtime or not. And so on. We thus establish rituals based on our values as individuals and as a group. And we create rules to support our rituals.

Many a family therapist has recommended that a family make an effort to share at least one unhurried meal each day. Easier said than done, as many a parent will inform the therapist! Busy schedules and so on. Of course, most parents know the value of the family dinner that allows space for sharing news, ideas, feelings, dreams and projects, and they will try to get their family to willingly and gracefully participate in such moments. But they also know the level of skill required to actually pull this off! 

Invite to your table a bunch of hungry and tired people, of different ages, sizes, levels of development, interests and needs. Sit them on chairs of the same size and shape; serve them food that is good, but of course not everyone’s favorite du jour. This meal could turn out like the United Nations on a bad day, especially since these people at your table have changed since you last saw them.

The family has been dispersed during the day, off to work, school, play, appointments, errands. Everybody has been exposed to influences beyond your control. Nobody is quite the same as they were this morning, and they will show it, strongly or subtly. Maybe the six-year-old will be eager to show off his or her newest “bad” word. Maybe a teenager will sport a new body piercing. Maybe a parent will propose a new way of spending Christmas.

Yes, navigating the choppy waters of a family dinner can be daunting. There are so many rules to be followed!  Enforcing the rules is a necessary process, but a very complex one. It is easy to catch the offender who disobeys the “No elbows on the table” rule, but harder to catch the offender of the “Do not mock your brother/sister” rule. Trust me, I know. My brother never got caught, though he was guilty time after time of “laughing at me with his eyes”. 

Just for the fun of it, make a mental list of all the rules that govern mealtimes with your family. You’ll quickly find dozens, and you might discover that you are obeying rules that came from your childhood and were never reviewed. Rules about choosing, buying, preparing and serving food. Rules about sharing the work. Rules about table manners. Rules about loading the dishwasher. Rules, rules, rules. Which are really useful to the family today? Which have become a nuisance?

I put away my books to prepare dinner. “May I bring Honey to the table?” asks Felicia. “Of course”, I answer. Honey is two inches tall, and doesn’t talk, so she’s most welcome. Darling Felicia places the little figurine next to her grandfather’s plate, throws me a look of deliberate mischief and declares: “At my house, we’re not allowed to bring toys to the dinner table.”  Oh dear…

By the time you read this, Family Day, at least in Ontario, will have come and gone. I hope you have had occasion to enjoy a meal with the group of people who are your family. Maybe you even have had occasion to break a few outdated rules. If so, I hope you had fun doing so!