Family Day presents chance to show all families are perfect it there is love

Separation takes toll but pulling together for children a huge help

Paula Lonergan from One Family with her daughter Aoife Lonergan-Bourke.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Paula Lonergan from One Family with her daughter Aoife Lonergan-Bourke.Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Sat, May 18, 2013, 01:00

The definition of family is ever-changing and tomorrow its evolution will be seen in glorious technicolour at Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens.

“It’s one of my favourite events,” says Paula Lonergan, of Family Day, now in its third year. “It’s an opportunity for people going through difficult times to say it doesn’t matter if you are a two-parent, a one-parent or a same-sex family, all families are perfect if there’s love and support . . . I hope that doesn’t sound too hippy-dippy.”

Lonergan, training and development manager with organisers One Family, will be found among the balloon artists and face painters, with her daughter Aoife (10). Staff and supporters of the agency help to run the event, which is becoming an ever-more popular fixture, attracting 5,000 people last year.

It’s also a chance to reflect on the state of the Irish family. Lonergan travels around Ireland, running courses for professionals working with families – especially those in crisis or transition – and she is acutely aware of the stresses faced by parents.

Marital breakdown
Separation and divorce can cause a huge emotional toll, and this can be exacerbated by parents’ unrealistic expectations, she says. “I think it’s really important that parents acknowledge that they can’t do it all for their children.”

In the case of marital breakdown, “parents should not feel they have to get their child ‘over this’; rather it should be about getting their child to live with it. It’s important to say, this is happening – it’s a change. We are going to . . . work along with it.”

Traumas can be turned into a positive, she adds. “No matter what family form you have, change is going to happen. You can learn so much as a child watching your parents navigate those changes. There are painful parts of a separation but . . . keep communicating through the process.

“It comes down to very small things, like ‘who is going to pick me up at football on Wednesday?’ Parents might not realise how important those sorts of things are to children.

“If children can see their parents are 100 per cent united for their needs it’s a huge help.”

She admits the transition is far from easy, having gone through a separation herself. She counts herself lucky she was working at the time with One Family and could benefit from its expertise.

Lonergan lived in France for 12 years before moving back here a decade ago. The French approach to family and community is one she thinks we could aspire to. And she has made her own contribution to changing attitudes in her home place of Ballybough, north Dublin through a local arts project.

Along with a fellow Francophile, Natalie Crowley, wife of singer and songwriter Adrian Crowley, she organises a monthly arts event called The House Presents in Annesley House, North Strand.

“In every community in France there are celebrated members of that community who would perform for the local people and we have tried to reproduce that by putting on a mixed performance.” While it started on a very small scale, its reputation has grown to the point that people now travel from “all kinds of areas on the southside like Monkstown”.

European attitudes
Ireland would benefit from embracing a more European attitude to family in other ways, she suggests. One problem for single parents is flexibility from employers for childcare.

“It’s surprising how unaware some workplaces can be to the needs of single parents. If you are a male single parent who has a child two or three days a week it can be hard to explain why you can’t make that 9am meeting. These are things other countries have woken up to.”

l Family day at Iveagh Gardens runs from 11 am to 5pm tomorrow, with events including magic, comedy and dance, an egg and spoon race and assault course. All events are free.