International Day of Families: Keeping Family Bonds Strong Across the Seas



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large family gathered together

What originated as Family Day in Canada was proclaimed as The International Day of Families by the UN in 1993. The UN designated the 15th of May for this event to be observed each year. Although it is not yet celebrated as a national holiday in most of the world yet, the day is gaining importance for good reason.


The International day of families is observed with a different theme each year. In the 23 years since 1996 the themes have focused on prominent issues of the day such as poverty, disability, HIV, and human rights. In recent years the themes have been based on education, well-being, sustainability, gender equality, work family balance and the like.

The theme for 15th May 2019 is “Families and Climate Action: Focus on SDG13”. SDG stands for the UN’s list of 17 sustainable development goals set in 2015, to be achieved before the year 2030. SDG 13 is about managing climate change.


Throughout most of the world the family remains the fundamental societal unit. The UN explicitly recognizes this fact and establishes that families are important for the achievement of the SDGs. Governments’ awareness of the social and economic issues which impact families is important. It is also essential to recognize the value of cohesiveness, collaboration and harmony within families. This awareness is all the more relevant in the context of the millions of expat families living all over the world, split for economic reasons and separated by huge distances. The fast-paced lifestyle, a strong need to focus on economic imperatives, and a multitude of electronic devices are some of many factors that nowadays seem to impede strong cohesion within families. The international day of families is a reminder that family is important and must come first.


A 2014 UN report stated that there is a dramatic change in the composition of families. With rising urbanization and other forms of migration the number of individuals living alone is on the increase, as is the percentage of families wherein children are being raised by single parents. Efforts toward intergenerational solidarity and transfer of family values are important in a time when single parents struggle to balance work and family-related responsibilities. The bigger picture of-course consists of formulating family-friendly policies with regards to education, healthcare and social support. However, state-sponsored efforts can only do so much to drive the all-important component of family bonding.

A family is much more than the sum of its parts. Seemingly small gestures such as telling bedtime stories to kids and walks in the park with elderly parents can make a substantial difference to the quality of lives. Strong family bonds, healthy relationships and positivity at home is the essential foundation for happy, healthy, well-informed, productive, and civic-minded citizens.

Things to do on family day

The international day of families is a day dedicated to bonding and spending time together as a family doing fun stuff. You could engage your family in board games, outdoor games, a picnic, spending a day out at the beach or a resort, brunch out, dinner out, camping, cookout, a visit to the zoo or a museum, or any other activity which helps the family bond.

When you are an expat and separated from your family by the vast oceans, your options narrow down. Yet, there are things you can do. You could schedule a long Skype call with the whole family present in the room. Swap stories and share updates from everyone. Take the time and show interest in how the kids are doing at school, what small or large challenges have come up in running the household and what stories and opinions the elderly parents have to share. You could send presents in advance and have family members open them while on that call. Or you could send sums of money for each family member to get something for themselves for the occasion, which they would show to the whole family while on the call. You could play a board game with the family by proxy, with someone rolling the dice for you.

Reconcile any differences of opinion on issues which might affect long term family ties. Give a generous slice of your time to show your interest, love and care to all members of your family living overseas. You are encouraged to use the international day of families as yet another excuse to build harmony and lasting bonds within your family.


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