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Family Day: Another day of work for many women

The Waterloo Record by Diana Parry February 2012

On the second or third Monday of February Canadians in the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia have a statutory holiday aptly named Family Day. As the name implies, Family Day is meant to recognize and celebrate the importance of families having time together, but also the value of family life to communities. This purpose reflects the origins of the holiday, which started in Alberta in 1990 with the intent to reflect the importance pioneers of the province placed on the values of family and home.

A quick google search of what Canadians do on Family Day turns up (not surprisingly) a wide variety of family centred activities including: playing board games, watching movies, skating on outdoor rinks, crafts, and visiting local museums and art galleries. Other popular pursuits reflect the seasonality of the holiday such as drinking hot chocolate and eating freshly baked cookies. Irrespective of the actual activity, the descriptions of Family Day conjure up images of families jovially enjoying their time together on a wonderful winter day.

The problem with this picture, however, is that it masks the work that goes into making Family Day a happy one. When we think of Family Day, we think about family leisure. But for whom? Who has organized a skating outing (including locating a rink, making sure everyone has skates that fit, warm clothing to wear, a helmet, and has had skating lessons)? Who has ensured the family unit is well supplied with crafts that are age appropriate and engaging for each member of the family? Who has researched the local art galleries and museums looking for those who have child-centred themes and a reduced price? Who has made hot chocolate and whipped up a batch of freshly baked cookies? There is a great deal of unpaid, and often unrecognized, work that goes into Family Day.

Despite changes in men’s and women’s role expectations in recent years, research in this area demonstrates that most often women are performing the hidden work that makes Family Day a holiday for others, but not necessarily themselves. Indeed, gender remains a central organizing principle of everyday life, affecting work, family, and leisure practices. A close examination of Family Day reveals that for some women, especially mothers, it may be a day of work, not leisure. Leslie Bella was one of the first to critically examine the link between holidays/family leisure and women’s work in her grounding breaking book entitled, “The Christmas Imperative” in which she exposes the real work that goes into the festivities. More recent research demonstrates a similar theme, however, with women responsible for organizing and facilitating family leisure despite advancements in women’s paid employment. In short, to utilize Arlie Hochschild’s term, a second shift continues whereby women work a first shift at paid employment and a second shift at home that includes childcare and house responsibilities.

Let’s all say ‘no’ to this gendered division of home labour. Let’s work together as a family so this Family Day is truly about family leisure for all those involved. As Family Day fast approaches and plans are in the works, be the force of change in your family, in your community, and in your country. Make Family Day what it is truly meant to be, a day of recognition and celebration for all.