Simple Traditions to Bond Family
Although my husband had been previously married, he had no children and had been living alone for over 15 years when we married. In the first few months of our marriage he was astounded, perhaps even a little intimidated, by how many traditions and rituals I had developed with my 11- and 12-year old daughters. Believing traditions create security and form a family bond and identity, I had purposely created many traditions.
Mary Rineer, Ph.D., a psychologist and executive director of CAPES in Tulsa, also believes traditions are an essential part of families. “When I talk with my clients and their families, we focus on the development of traditions. I believe that traditions are the fabric which weaves shared memories together. Traditions are the active history of our family, she said. “Our traditions provide us with a view of the past and an expectation for the future.”
Dr. Barbara Friese, a professor at the University of Illinois, studies family rituals and has found that kids who grow up in families that consistently practice rituals and traditions feel more connected and valued. It has been shown they even adjust more easily to college life and are less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol. When a family expands to include new members, stepparents and/or stepsiblings, it’s important to retain old traditions, but also be open to some changes and additions to be inclusive to new family members.
Rather than abandon our traditions when I remarried, we altered them to include my new husband. One of our traditions had been the Friday night movie and junk food night. After a long week of school and work, our Friday night ritual was something we all looked forward to. When my new husband joined the family, we continued the tradition but gradually evolved it into Friday Family night where we took turns picking the activity. We expanded to game night, arts and crafts, cooking activities and, of course, continued occasional movie nights. The point wasn’t what we did; it’s that everyone got a week to be the director. We anticipated the time all week and enjoyed spending the evening together.
We also started new traditions, including a “familyversary’ on our wedding anniversary each year. We made the same dinner every year, looked at wedding photos, exchanged heart-shaped anniversary presents, and the girls received their annual raise in allowance. Besides the obvious benefit of having fun, this yearly ritual served to remind us that we were a tight family, a unit bonded together in caring and commitment.
If you haven’t started any traditions, it’s not too late. They don’t need to be complicated or expensive. The best ones are usually fairly simple. Some ideas to get started:
- Have a theme dinner once a week. For example, on Wednesday nights make it Mexican food night and learn one new Spanish word as a family each week.
- Celebrate half birthdays by baking half a cake (freeze the other half for later) and giving the half-birthday person a card cut in half.
- Invent a special family drink or dessert. Ours was called the “Kondoggie Special” and was made to celebrate the first day of summer break each year. It was actually a simple mixture of sprite, ice and limes but the elaborate ritual created around the making of it made it feel special and indulgent.
- Have a family meeting once a week where you recognize individual accomplishments of the week, discuss any problems and make future plans.
- Volunteer together. Depending on the age of your kids you could work at a soup kitchen, deliver Meals on Wheels or foster animals for the shelter.
- Play Roses and Thorns at dinner. Each person gets a chance to relate the best and worst part of their day.
- On birthdays, each person says their favorite memory of the birthday person from the past year or their favorite thing about the birthday person.
These ideas may get you started as you begin to develop your own family traditions. Kids often have ideas about forming traditions and are excited to be part of the planning. As long as they are enjoyable, inclusive and consistent, it will draw you closer and strengthen your family identity.
Susan Lieberman, life coach and author of New Traditions, Redefining Celebrations for Today’s Family says, “Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.”
Some of our traditions have changed as our children have grown but many have remained unchanged, an integral part of our family identity. My husband not only became accustomed to our traditions, he learned to love them!