It’s Family Day in Israel tomorrow.
Thousands of children around the country will walk into their kindergartens and schools carrying family pictures. They will fashion them into age appropriate crafts projects, and their teachers will wax eloquence about the abstract wonders of the family unit. Fathers are wonderful, they will teach. Mothers are wonderful. Families are great.
Behind this quaint apple-pie and motherhood celebration of abstract parents, thousands of actual parents will go to work exhausted from their last minute frantic search for a place to print photographs. How, they will grumble, were we even supposed to have a picture of the whole family in the first place? Who would have taken it, our imaginary family dog? And who came up with this let’s-make-more-work-for-parents holiday anyway?
The tension between abstract concepts and reality is at the heart of Family Day. This day celebrates families as a wonderful thing. But it glosses over what actually makes families thrive.
Happy families aren’t “born” this way. They’re made.
They’re made when we give up on an activity for a spouse, even though we would really rather not.
They’re made when we encourage our kids to pursue their passions, even though said passions stain the walls.
They’re made when we wash the dishes because he or she really needs a break.
They’re made when we agree to watch our kid’s favorite show. And they’re made when we say “no” and stand our ground.
They’re made when we choose not to use everything we know about each other to score a point in the heat of an argument. And they’re made when we choose to speak up and challenge our loved ones, because we deeply, desperately, care.
They’re made when we hold our tongues in a family event and let things slide. And they’re made when we don’t, but our extended family chooses to love us anyway.
On Family Day, we glorify the result of these efforts, the picture-perfect, postcard-worthy happy family. But we don’t usually acknowledge it as a result. We leave out the efforts. And without them, family happiness is unattainable, and postcard-thin.
As adults, we are mature enough to celebrate Family Day without forgetting that happiness needs earning. We can highlight the goal for one day, and focus on working towards it on all the others. But what about our children? What kind of message are we passing on to them?
One day, our children will form families of their own, and face inevitable challenges. Will they see them as a normal part of life, as an opportunity to work for their happiness? Or will they carry with them unrealistic expectations of effortless bliss, seeing the very need to make an effort as a sign that something’s off?
“Something is wrong with me,” I heard a mother say the other day. “I find it hard to manage all my responsibilities.” For her, the hardship itself meant she had already failed.
Don’t get me wrong: I still want to celebrate Family Day. But I don’t want to set my kids up for disappointment. I don’t want them to balk at the face of challenges, and miss the opportunity to create joy.
So tomorow, I’ll make sure my kids take family pictures to kindergarten. I’ll ooohhh and aaahhh at the projects they’ll bring home. But I’ll also try to highlight the efforts behind our enjoyment. I’ll compliment them for looking out for each other, point out their sacrifices, and celebrate their consideration and hard work.
And maybe this time, Family Day won’t make me cringe.