Practising family traditions helps to strengthen your family relationships, as well as to teach your child your family values, giving them a greater sense of identity. These are just some of the reasons to love these special activities.
Family traditions can be obvious and they can be unique, they can be big or small, and they can be old and handed down through generations or something entirely new that you have created. But what they all have in common is their ability to bring families closer together.
Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions, defines family traditions and rituals as “any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.” This could be the tradition of sitting around the dinner table as a family every night, or piercing your daughters’ ears at a certain age. They are your family ‘rules’ on how to do certain things, which are carried out repeatedly, and which take on a special significance as something that helps to define who you are.
The family that plays together…
Regardless of the type of family traditions you have, the value of these shared acts is immense, and the effect for both families and individuals is overwhelmingly positive. Dr Barbara Fiese, a psychologist at Syracuse University, was the lead writer on a study reviewing 50 years of findings on the effects of tradition in families. Her study reported: “Family rituals were seen as very important in providing togetherness, strengthening family relationships, emotional exchange, stability, and maintaining family contact.” She adds that traditions foster a strong sense of identity and security, which in turn helps children to become more well-adjusted and self-confident.
Tradition for tough times
Psychologist Dr Steven J. Wolin agrees with this and adds, “If you grow up in a family with strong rituals, you’re more likely to be resilient as an adult.” Repeated behaviours are reassuring and reliable, and help individuals better handle change and stress.
Because of this, traditions take on even more importance when families are faced with difficult situations, which is why some family therapists encourage their practice. Research has also shown that families with an alcoholic parent who had regular family dinners together fared much better than those who didn’t – and their children were less likely to themselves become alcoholic. And in the case of divorce, the disruption of routine and the impact it has on Christmases, birthdays, family holidays and other important celebrations is generally traumatic for the child. If divorced couples are able to maintain or create regular routines as best they can, then they are likely to create a greater sense of security and stability for the child, which will help them to adapt to their new situation.
With good reason
However, not all traditions are good. “It’s not just whether rituals are kept, but how family members feel about them that determines their effect,” says Dr Fiese. A tradition that some family members dislike, but which they are forced to do over and over again, will create tension and negate many of the positive effects one could otherwise expect. So be mindful to not enforce something simply for the sake of it. And be willing to end a tradition if it is not working. Families grow and change, so why shouldn’t your traditions change too?
Types of traditions
There are three types of traditions your family can enjoy:
Daily traditions help you to connect with your child on a regular basis, and include simple and easy actions such as a bedtime routine that includes tucking in your child a certain way with all their favourite toys, and then showering them with kisses.
Weekly traditions are also aimed at connecting with your child, but only happen once a week. This could be a Saturday morning fry-up breakfast, going for a bike ride together, or going to church on Sunday followed by a big family lunch.
Milestone traditions are for big achievements or marking important occasions, such as a child’s first day at school, cutting their first tooth, as well as birthdays, Christmas or other religious holidays.
How to create your own traditions
You and your partner may need to compromise on which of your own traditions you can continue, as you are both likely to come with your own unique set, some of which may conflict with each other. Mixing and matching works well, or you can even decide to come up with brand-new ones.
To get started when deciding on your own family traditions, Meg Cox suggests using the two Ps to guide your decisions: use purpose and be personal. First ask yourself what the purpose of the tradition is – do you want to instil certain values, spend quality time together as a family or mark an important event? Once you know the purpose, you can structure your tradition so that it is personal and uniquely suits you and your family. Maybe your family is quirky and creative, or very religious. These kinds of characteristics will be useful in determining what kind of activities will best suit you.
For example, Alison Field wanted to create a tradition in her family that would encourage her children to consider those who were less fortunate, which is an important family value they have. This was the purpose of their new tradition. So they decided that in the days leading up to Christmas, they would create a hamper for a family in need, to be able to give them something to open on Christmas Day. “The kids enjoy helping to make up the boxes,” she says, “and knowing they are helping someone less fortunate than themselves is a great feeling for all of us.”
We asked our moms what some of their favourite family traditions or rituals are, and here’s what they said:
Lynn Russell Parsons – “Reading a bedtime story every night; mom and dad on alternative nights.”
Teixeira Beahte Murray – “Pancakes on the evening of the first cut tooth.”
Rebecca Seima – “Every night before bedtime I have to play hide and seek with my niece, Ruby. She always hides in the same place, so I have to pretend I can’t see her.”
Melane Naudé – “Going to Wimpy for breakfast on Saturday mornings, from when my boys were little until they were out of school. One of the waiters there saw them grow up
Carey Misplon – “‘De-briefing’ where it’s the child’s turn to talk and recall the day, and the parent’s turn to listen. My mom always did this and I didn’t realise just how wonderful a part of the day it was until it was my turn as a parent…”
Sherryl Cunningham – “Sunday afternoon walks, decorating the Christmas tree, only eating fish on Easter Friday.”