Most moms notice that their kids enjoy repetition. From watching the same video over and over to requesting a favorite book every night at bedtime, children crave the security and reassurance that a consistent routine provides.
One way to enhance this sense of comfort derived from repetition is to create or carry on family rituals. Family rituals are meaningful acts, repeated on a predictable schedule, that celebrate the uniqueness and solidarity of the family.
Family rituals differ from family routines in that they're infused with meaning, and designed to create an emotional response in the participants. While family routines can be comforting, mentally healthy, and vital for running an organized household, they're usually not spoken of as having any particular symbolism or meaning.
Family rituals, on the other hand, generally do carry meaning or symbolism and can become an important part of a child's family memory. In some instances, routines can become rituals if they're carried on over a long period of time, and come to have special emotional significance.
Family rituals are in danger of losing strength these days. With so many households having two working parents, and kids busy with school and extracurricular activities, it can be hard just to get everyone in the same room at the same time.
Media-saturation and commercialization play a role as well, leading some families to think that gifts are the most important part of any celebration, and discouraging individuality and creativity.
Family rituals can be saved, but we need to put our hearts and imaginations into reviving old ones or creating new ones from scratch. The family rituals you start can become part of the fabric of your family, and be passed down through your kids to future generations.
One simple yet powerful family ritual is the weekly sit-down dinner. Family dinners help bring everyone together for good food, conversation, and relaxation. Many important problems have been solved in conversations that took place during family dinners, making it kind of like the family a therapy session, but free, and with dessert!
Schedule one night out of the week to hold your family dinner. Friday is a good choice, because it gives the family members an opportunity to review the work and school week, discuss weekend plans, etc. However, if Fridays don't work for your family, simply pick a day that does, just try and keep it on the same day; a hit-or-miss schedule will get confusing.
The menu for your family dinner is up to you, but try to keep it simple. For some families, their weekly dinner is a take-out night, but this option can get quite expensive so it's definitely not for everyone. Money aside, there's something special about sharing a homemade meal that takeout food just doesn't provide.
Keep in mind, these aren't holiday dinners or parties, so don't slave over a stove trying to create something dazzling. The cook, whether it's you or your hubby, shouldn't feel stressed out and left out of the fun because of all the work involved in preparation and clean up. Stick with basic family favorites that aren't too fancy and which everyone can agree on.
If you normally cook alone, you can let the kids help on family dinner night. Sometimes, you might want to have a "Kids Cooking" night where the children come up with a menu and they prepare the dinner with your help. Just be sure to practice kitchen safety and to keep all children's tasks safe and age-appropriate.
Part of your family ritual can include going around the table and asking "what's one good thing that happened this week?" This starts the family time off on a positive note. There may be weeks when things have been rough, and it will take some soul-searching to come up with an answer, but that's the point. Children will learn to exercise gratitude and optimism in the face of challenges.
You can also come up with other "ice-breaker" questions that can be fun, silly, deep...whatever mood you're in. The point is to get everyone involved and keep the lines of communication open. If you want, you can follow dinner with some family fun like board games or a movie.
Happy Holidays and Cool Celebrations
Holidays and celebrations are great times to start or continue family rituals. These special days are all about family, friends, and togetherness.
Holiday traditions are the most likely of all family rituals to get makeovers. While some families enjoy carrying on centuries-old traditions, many others feel that they want to break out of the old ways and do something new. Feel free to tweak (or completely overhaul) your old family traditions to match up with your current family's cultural make-up, spiritual outlook, and practical needs.
However you choose to celebrate your holidays, try to create something that you and your kids can look forward to. You may have engagements to attend on the holiday itself that keep you from really "doing your own thing" that day, but try and get some special activities in sometime during each holiday season. Some suggestions:
- Make decorations together;
- Go out to eat at a favorite restaurant;
- Go for family holiday walks; and
- Reach out to the community by pitching in at a local charity.
The Soul of the Seasons
Even when they're not attached to a specific holiday, family rituals can be associated with certain seasons. Technology and general busyness has cut many people off from the meaning of the seasons, but slowing down to appreciate them can create wonderful memories for you and your family.
A family that does spring cleaning together every year, or has a bonfire night the weekend before school starts in the fall is making memories their children will carry with them forever. Activities like planting a garden together or going on nature walks to spot changes in the trees, sky and animals are great ways to give children a sense of belonging.
Teens and Rituals
Teenagers are old enough to grasp the meaning of family rituals but may act as though they don't really care about them. Don't let their tough exterior fool you, though. Teens take comfort in family rituals even when they don't realize it. The teen years can be a tough time that brings on feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. Having predictable, life-affirming family rituals to hold onto gives teens a solid home foundation and a feeling of security.