Take a moment and think back on your family during your growing-up years. What is it that you remember about your family? For some, it may be family meals eaten together, family walks, vacations, or sports events. The list could contain many different ideas. The thought that comes to mind may be more than one thing. Ask yourself, “What made that experience so special for me?” Our guess is it was something on which you could always rely. It is the foundation under your feet that gives you added strength. These are the memories of closeness that give your family its identity.
My wife, who was raised on a farm, said, “We always had dinner together, had family prayer, Dad told us stories from his life, all of us contributed to the farm’s success and I loved to see Mom and Dad holding hands in the evening as they looked over their field of crops.”
I was a city boy and remember a few different things. During my early years, we had dinner each night together and were expected to show good manners. On many winter evenings, Dad would make a fire in the fireplace, set up the card table and do some work. Mom would sew or knit, and my brothers and I would play games. Another tradition was attending church as a family.
Some of you might have experienced a family that lacked traditions. To some, it may be due to the chaotic interactions at home. To others, it may be that all you did was eat, sleep, work, and go to school with no room for any activities. Even in these families they have traditions — the tradition of family chaos and the tradition of only work. Not all traditions are positive. If that’s true in your case, you will have to be a pioneer in starting meaningful traditions in your own family.
Suggestions to be considered
Some traditions are daily occurrences others may be weekly or yearly, and some may be seasonal. You may already have things you are doing. If so, that’s great. The following are some suggestions you might consider.
Extended family dinners
As parents or grandparents, invite extended family members over for dinner and a get-together. This is normal for many families, yet may have been lost in others.
One grandmother, when her grandchildren were very young, started having a day near Christmas when they all came to Grandma’s house and made gingerbread cookies. She would mix the dough ahead of time and have portions with each grandchild’s name on it. The children rolled out their dough, decorated their individual cookies and baked them. To help the children think about others, they assembled plates with the cookies and visited some of the elderly or widowed, sang a carol or two, wished them a merry Christmas, and gave them some cookies. Of course, there were plenty of cookies to eat and take home. As the children grew into teenagers they still participated because it was so fun to be together.
Just before eating the Thanksgiving dinner one family decided it would be nice to have each family member think of things for which they were thankful. Three kernels of corn were placed on each plate since corn was part of the Pilgrims’ meal. After all were seated around the table, each one shared three things for which they were thankful. Some shared very simple things others shared very touching deep sentiments.
At family get-togethers, what do you do after the meal is eaten? This becomes a challenge because of the wide variety of ages and abilities. One family decided Bingo could involve everyone and the younger ones could be helped by parents or older cousins. Prior to the event, the dollar store was visited, and prizes purchased to match the number of people attending. Each was wrapped and placed in the middle of the table for all to see but not touch. When one got Bingo, he or she could pick a present or take one of the presents already opened by someone else and then that person got to pick a new present. It was important for each person to win a present, so Bingo rules were adjusted to make sure this happened. What a fun time to see what each ended up winning. It has become a tradition that all enjoy.
Birthday dinner with Mom or Dad
To build a strong bond with their children, parents in one family decided that, on each child’s birthday, the mother would take the boys out for dinner, and the father would take the girls. The children and the parents would dress up in their nice clothes to make it feel special. The boys would be instructed on how to treat their mom by opening the doors, holding the chair, paying the cost of the dinner (given to the son by the father), and leaving the tip. The father would hold the doors for the daughter, hold the chair, and treat her like a lady. The mother would help the daughter know how to be gracious. This sounds formal, in some ways it is, but it provided a time to teach the children how to be respectful and have fun. The one-parent-to-one-child ratio allowed for more conversation between just the two of them.
You will be able to come up with some of your own ideas. Don’t wait — start some traditions in your own family. It will provide the glue that holds your family together.