Creating Everyday Rituals for Your Family
November 24, 2015 | Home and Family
If you asked your children to name a favorite childhood memory, what would they say?
The night before her daughter Jillian’s recent wedding, Lauren Grece asked that very question. Jillian’s answer left an already teary mother of the bride-to-be reaching for another tissue. “I expected Jillian to say her fondest memory was of her surprise sweet 16 party or the day she got both her driver license and her first car. Instead, she floored my husband and me when she quickly said that her favorite memory of childhood was eating chocolate-chip pancakes on her birthday—the only morning each year that we would make them.”
When it comes to favorite childhood memories, you might think, like Lauren did, that it’s the big trip to Disney or the “I-gotta-have-it” game that matters most to your kids. Not so: According to family therapist Dr. Craig Pierce, it’s often seemingly insignificant everyday rituals, like snuggling on the sofa for movie night or singing a silly song while driving to school, that make children feel most special. In fact, Pierce believes that day-to-day rituals are the “glue” that binds families together, giving kids a feeling of security in an often chaotic world.
“Daily rituals help to create lifelong bonds between people. Whether it’s making breakfast together on Sunday morning or giving your children a special wink when you drop them off at school each day, these consistent actions help to deepen our daily experiences and create a greater sense of connection with loved ones,” said Pierce. “And because rituals are powerful organizers of family life, they also provide stability, especially during times of stress and transition.”
Making Everyday Life Special
A family ritual can develop from any activity you consistently and intentionally do together. What lifts it above the hum-drum routine of everyday life is the sense of flourish you give the activity.
Dr. Pierce explained it this way: “I wouldn’t call it a ritual if you order pizza during the week. However, if you do it every Friday, and then everyone gets to add their own toppings and you call it your TGIF party, that’s definitely a family ritual. It tells your kids, ‘Our time together is special.’”
The feeling of belonging that comes from rituals is vital to the health and well-being of any family. “Ask new parents and they’ll tell you that a baby gets calmer when you have a routine for sleeping, eating and other activities,” said Pierce. “Add a little lullaby at bedtime every night or a special tickle right before changing your child’s diaper, and you’ll soon see your child start to respond to the activity with anticipation. It’s like you two are in a club and only you two know the secret handshake.”
The Secret Ingredient to Success
Finding new rituals to add to the ones your family already has isn’t difficult. You can adopt the rituals you like from other family and friends as they are, or use them as a springboard for new ideas. There are also lots of suggestions for family activities and rituals available on the Internet, including A Dozen Fun Family Rituals and Family Ritual Ideas to name just two sources. What’s important is that you decide which ideas from these lists will enhance your time as a family and make them your own.
The good news about daily rituals is they don’t need to take a lot of time. Start by telling your kids how much your family means to you, then go ahead and ask them: What do you like best about our family life? Then try to include more of their favorite activities into your time together. But whatever ritual you decide to adopt, Dr. Pierce suggests that you anchor it with a symbol.
“A good ritual elevates an everyday activity into something special. For this reason, you need a cue that tells your loved ones that a family activity is about to happen,” said Pierce. “Just as candles elevate a cake into a birthday celebration or a carved pumpkin says it’s time for Halloween, everyday rituals need a symbol that says something special is about to happen.”
“Special” doesn’t necessarily mean “complicated,” however. In fact, Pierce believes the most effective family rituals are often the simplest. “What elevates your morning routine with your kids into a ritual could be the special hug or hand gesture you share before they set off for school. Or it could be the donuts you buy specially for breakfast every Sunday morning. These symbols trigger your kids to pay attention; in time, those symbols also will provide a powerful reminder of the good times you’ve had as a family.
“Dr. Seuss is credited with saying, ‘Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory,’” said Pierce. “Whether it’s a hello/goodbye ritual, a meal or bedtime ritual, a family activity or a ritual just for the holidays, every time you create a celebration or tradition with your children, you’re passing along important family values and giving them a template for a happier, healthier life.”