Inventing New Family Rituals

mom readingBy Cheryl Czuba – Retired Extension Educator Community Development, Families

This article was originally written around winter holidays, but we feel a lot of the ideas can be applied to any season.

The holidays will soon be here and are full of special traditions. At this time of year we think about our own special rituals – baking cookies, trimming the tree, lighting candles – which are passed down from generation to generation. We also perform routine rituals together such as meals, games, and chores .Rituals provide many important elements for our children’s development. They can help create a sense of belonging and being loved, teach family values and beliefs, build shared memories and contribute to one’s sense of identity. Rituals help give us a sense of stability, predictability and order.

What Are Family Rituals?

Most of us think of rituals as major, formal events that mark life’s turning points: weddings, baby showers, graduations, and funerals. We also perform daily rituals such as waking and getting off to work or school, weekend rituals of completing chores, seasonal rituals of raking the leaves or putting up the holiday tree. Whatever the event, the predictable pattern of planning, doing the activity or work and relating to others, creates what we call a ritual.

But what if you or your family have moved away, your work schedule changes, relationships in your family change or simply, you just want a change? Adults may understand the reasons for these changes, but children may not. That’s why it is very important for parents or adult relatives to connect with their children. Adults can help children create rituals. Creating new rituals doesn’t have to take a lot of time, money or energy. It can be as simple as reading to your child each night, enjoying a movie and pizza every Friday night or discussing what’s happened at your child’s school.

What kinds of rituals are there?

  • There are three kinds of rituals:
    • Family celebrations: birthdays, marriages, graduations, baptisms, holidays.
    • Repeated family traditions: vacations, reunions, or other special times.
    • Patterns of family interaction which are part of daily life: dinnertime, bedtime, picnics, or weekend routines.

What’s the purpose of family rituals?

  • Family rituals fulfill five key purposes.
    Focusing on each purpose may help you invent new routines and special events to enrich your life together.
  1. Relating:
    Communicating, caring , problem solving, balancing individual and together time:

    1. Example: Set aside individual time with your child, letting your child choose what to do.
    2. Example: Teach pre-schoolers communication rules such as taking turns (vs . interrupting)and making requests (vs. making demands)
    3. Changing:
      Adapting to new stages of development or crisis:

      1. Example: Create fun time, support time and work time for all family members when one member is in the hospital.
      2. Example: Continue inexpensive family recreation (trips to park, exercise or crafts) when parents are in the midst of high stress such as unemployment or being extremely busy.
  1. Healing:
    Acts of forgiveness and recovery from loss:

    1. Example: Plant a flower/tree or cook a meal together to foster a feeling of cooperation and reconciliation.
    2. Example: Visit a gravesite, place a flower in a loved one’s memory or share memories to ease grief after loss.
    3. Believing:
      Affirming family values, faith, life experiences.

      1. Example: Prepare special family crafts such as homemade ornaments or recipes for cultural or religious holidays to help give children a sense of belonging and identity.
      2. Example: Set aside time for community service and/or assist neighbors in need.
      3. Celebrating:
        Special events recognizing holidays or accomplishments.

        1. Example: Organize theme parties to recall great successes, overcoming difficulties, or events shared together.

Families that have the strongest ties, have the most rituals. Consider the rituals that hold meaning in your life and decide if you need to change them or add more.