Top parenting ideas No. 5 — Refining family traditions
Everyone, particularly every child, needs an identity larger than himself — something he belongs to, feels part of, gains security and protection from. It is kids who do not get this identity from families who are drawn to the rituals, symbols and traditions of other substitutes for families, such as gangs.
Strong traditions exist in every lasting institution, whether it is a school, a club, a business or a country. If families are to be lasting and permanent, they also need traditions. Traditions are the glue that holds families together. Children love and cling to family traditions because they are predictable and stable in an unpredictable world.
Almost all families have traditions — often centering on holidays or other special occasions — but parents who come to realize the importance of traditions and their ability to teach values to improve communication, to give security to children, and to hold families together can refine and redefine their family traditions and give them true and lasting bonding power.
We suggest families start by assessing and analyzing their traditions. What do you do on each holiday? Each family birthday? Do you have some weekly traditions, such as a special Sunday dinner? Are there some monthly traditions, such as going over the calendar and the family’s schedule for the month ahead? Make a list of these yearly, monthly and weekly traditions.
Then, as a family, ask yourself three questions:
1. How much joy and fun come from each tradition?
2. What values does each tradition teach?
3. Are there some gaps — some months without a holiday or birthday tradition?
With these questions in mind, revise and redesign your family traditions. Formalize them a little by writing them on a chart or in a special book.
Here’s a sampling of what happened to us as we went through this reassessing process:
1. We revised some traditions. For example, our Thanksgiving tradition had essentially been to eat way too much and watch football all day on TV, so we decided to shift the emphasis to thanks by making a collective list — on a long roll of cash-register tape — of all the little things we are thankful for. Each year, we try to break the record for the number of things listed.
2. We decided we needed at least one major family tradition to look forward to and anticipate each month. Most of these centered on a birthday or holiday, but there was nothing in May or September, so we started a “welcome spring day” (a hike) and a “welcome fall day” (a picnic).
3. We listed all the traditions, by month, in a big, leather-bound book. A little description of each tradition appears on the left and a child’s illustration of the activity appears on the right.
4. We worked some of our ancestors (the kids’ great-grandparents) into our traditions because we wanted our children to have that extra identity of knowing where (and who) they came from. We wrote up some simple bedtime stories based on real experiences of these ancestors (especially experiences that illustrated honesty or courage or other values), and we now have a little birthday party for them, which includes “their story.”
This helps illustrate the staying power and bonding influence of family traditions. On my (Richard’s) birthday in October, we had always raked huge piles of leaves with the kids and then jumped in them, stuffed them in our shirts, thrown them in the air and just generally had a wild time. We thought that as the kids got older, their interest in such a frivolous activity would fade. On the contrary, when they were teens, the leaf piles just got bigger.
One year, three of our children had left home; two were on missions and one was starting college. On my birthday, three birthday card-size envelopes arrived. As I opened the first, a leaf fell out, and a note said, “Dad, I honored your birthday tradition here in Bulgaria. Here’s a leaf from my jumping pile. Don’t forget, even though I’m far away, I’m still part of our family. I love you.” Through my tears, I opened the other two — and a leaf fell from each.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on family issues. Their new books are “The Half-Diet Diet” and “Life in Full.” See valuesparenting.com or eyrea