All of us can remember family traditions that we have been a part of at some point in our lives. Going to a favorite family camping spot, having Thanksgiving dinner with relatives, or even the daily hug we give our young children when we walk in the door. Sometimes family traditions and rituals seem to start on their own, but many times lasting traditions have to be created intentionally. They take effort and follow-through, but they certainly pay off!
Family traditions and rituals can bring happy times and good humor, but there is more to it than that. They can bring genuine closeness, psychological strength, and emotional resiliency. Those may seem like distant and unimportant things, but as soon as they are missing in your family or marriage, suddenly they become the very things we crave.
Family traditions provide 4 important things:
1. Predictability – Rituals are more powerful if they can be something to look forward to and cherish. Kids CRAVE predictability because it brings them a sense of safety, continuity, and reassurance. Don’t let their ardent complaints about Family Night or family dinner or family reunions scare you away–their resistance masks what they likely won’t voice until their twenties: that they knew through traditions that they were loved. And adults are no different! Sure, partners like a spontaneous date, an unexpected gift, or a surprise to break up their daily routine. But those surprises are most appreciated and deeper in meaning if they are shared on a foundation of traditions and mutual engagement that already foster a sense of security in the relationship.
2. Connection – Rituals build emotional bonds that connect families. When was the last time your partner told you that they were “too connected” to you, or that the family felt “overly cohesive”? Hmm… probably not ever! Our kids usually won’t ask for more of a bond with you, but they want it all the same. If we are honest with ourselves, we all crave validation, love, and connection with the people that matter most to us.
3. Identity – Rituals build a sense of identity for the individual and the family. When we look back on our past, much of what has mattered to us is shaped by our cherished and often repeated experiences. We define ourselves by our traditions, and our children feel more security in themselves because of the memories which have taught them that they are loved and important.
4. A way to enact values – Family beliefs, values, and priorities are reinforced by rituals. Parents often search for ways to teach their children what matters most and how to live honorably, and they wonder how to reach past teen drama and childhood defiance to help their children see and understand their love for them. Traditions and family rituals do exactly that, without your children knowing that they are being lectured. Score! What is important enough to be carried out and repeated in family tradition, rain or shine, will be at the very least acknowledged by our kids as important, if not embraced, either now or in the future.
Adapted from The Intentional Family, by William Doherty
Whatever your family traditions are now, you must be persistent and consistent! Kids will complain and beg for the traditions to be skipped, work and schedules will often try to replace or complicate our traditions, and unless we push through that resistance, we will lose the family glue that keeps us strong. Holding firmly to our traditions will bring us closeness, and literally a psychological resilience for the trials and heartaches and difficulties we have to endure every day and week. Our minds find strength to endure when we have consistent and happy things to count on, from the promise of a kiss and a listening ear when we finish our work day, to the knowledge of a Date Night at the end of a long week.
You know that feeling— being able to endure a stressful or boring Thursday because of the weekend that is fast approaching. Have you ever wondered how so many of the elderly and terminally ill can delay their passing until just after Christmas or just after the New Year? It’s the hope and meaning that they place on family, tradition, and things that matter most to them. If we can delay death because we have something important to look forward to, we surely can delay despair during a hard day or week with the hope of a tradition or ritual to look toward.