My son and daughter have made a ritual out of saying goodbye to their father every morning. He gives us the five minute warning us when he is getting ready to leave, and then we all walk down the block waving goodbye, and repeating back and forth, with him, “see you later alligator, after a while crocodile, see you soon big baboon”, as he walks to catch the bus or drives around the corner. We all stand on the corner waving until he is out of site. When we miss this morning ritual there is much wailing and tears. We may have to modify it when the rain starts, but for now it is part of the way our family starts the day.
You wouldn’t think that renting a movie or having pizza and board games every Friday night would qualify as a family ritual—but it does, because it’s something that parents and children look forward to doing together. It’s sort of a celebration marking the end of the work and school week. More importantly it’s the type of activity that helps families stay connected. Family rituals are important to children. They help build a feeling of stability and safety and reinforce a sense of family togetherness. While many families have some rituals around birthdays and holiday celebrations, you may want to consider adding some more that are customized to your families day to day routine.
Added bonus: Rituals create a structure for you to make the very most of the time you do have with your children.
Everyday activities can become family rituals. Some fun examples are:
take the kids along when you walk the dog after dinner.
breakfast for dinner on Sundays,
silly face pancakes on Saturdays,
Some rituals are not daily or weekly, but seasonal activities that mark transitions,
getting the summer yard toys out in the spring, or putting them away for winter,
picking out pumpkins for Halloween,
going for ice cream cones on the first and last days of school,
decorating for the holidays,
serving food on a special plate to mark accomplishments,
games or activities reserved for road trips or camping,
or getting the garden ready for planting in the spring.
A ritual is really nothing more than an activity that a family looks forward to doing together.
Skip perfection: It does not need to be perfect. Don’t worry if some of your celebrations don’t turn out as you expected. By laughing about the flops with your children, you’ll find that those moments become memorable ones. Your children will remember the botched felt Christmas stockings you made together for longer, and with more nostalgia, than the needlepoint and velvet ones you saw in a catalog. My sons favorite Halloween project is construction paper bats and ghosts he cut out and strung on thread in front of a fan. They got irrepairably tangled, but he reminds me about when we hung the bats and ghosts whenever Halloween comes around! And rest assured, we will be cutting them out again this year and hanging them up for the fan to blow around. No need for fancy pre-made crafts!
Growing up. As your children get older, don’t abandon rituals that might seem too childish, like doing puzzles together or preparing their favorite dishes at Christmas. These family activities may hold special memories for your children. Let them tell you when they’re ready to try something new.
Generation Gap- Don’t worry about faithfully carrying over every ritual from your own childhood. Stay with those that still mean something to you, and create others that reflect your own family traditions. Perhaps your family finds value in solemn family traditions, like going to religious services together every week. However silly rituals—like a “secret” family handshake, or special “high five”—can be just as important. Look for ways to laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. Solicit ideas from them!
Once you’ve started a ritual, do everything you can to keep it. If it is centered on a specific day, like a family dinner together on a Saturday night, and you’re not able to do it one week, don’t let it slip away. Squeeze it in on the next day, or as soon as you can. With a little attention, your family rituals may not only survive but still be observed generations later. And even if they are short lived, you are creating quality time with your kids and offering them the gift of positive family memories.
Cheers to family time!