Readings

The Importance and Significance of Family Rituals

Jan Faull

Rituals can be as simple as blessing a child before sleep, or as complex as conducting a Seder or receiving communion. Symbolically rituals communicate an event that reflects a family's values. There's satisfaction in their execution because as families evolve and the world changes, repetitive rituals provide stability particularly for children. 

Even the most humble rituals carried out with love and consistency establish, define and preserve just exactly, whom your family is. Usually family members speak with pride and a sense of identity when they describe their family's traditions. "Well, in my family, Dad's the last one up Christmas morning. We wait and wait for him; he deliberately drags his feet, getting coffee, glancing at the newspaper, and then finally settling into his favorite chair. That's the signal to see what Santa put in our stockings." 

Of course, rituals aren't just centered around holidays and birthdays. Rituals occur daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly. They provide different benefits as children travel the development years. 

The rituals of infancy center around feeding, bathing and diapering. Although these activities may not register fully in the mind of an infant as rituals, their deliberate execution brings confidence to parents as they lovingly care for and nurture their baby, helping the parents adjust to parenthood. 

Toddlers and preschoolers thrive on the consistency rituals provide, for their parents they provide order and routine during one of the busiest periods in their lives. The bedtime routine including a story, prayer, song, kiss, and hug eases the child into bed and sleep in a predictable pleasurable fashion. Since young children don't plan ahead, ritualistic routines set daily events in motion whether it's for a meal, bath or getting out the door. 

School-aged kids are most receptive to the symbolic rituals surrounding holidays, religious events, and seasons. Do something twice, tell your second grader it's a family tradition including the familial, historical or religious meaning behind it, and you've established a new one. Kids during these middle years demand full involvement. Children love their very own Hanukkah in the window to light a new candle for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. 

If you desire a ritualistic family life, it's best to instill each when children are young, because teens typically resist any attempt to start a new tradition particularly if it's at all corny. A new tradition that celebrates the teen's approach to adulthood, a rite of passage, however, is another story. Oldest son will probably jump at the responsibility, once his father's, of driving Grandpa to church for the Christmas Eve service. 

Teens sometimes question set traditions. If going to Grandmas for present opening is an established ritual, despite the fact your budding adolescent balks, pouts or complains, require attendance as always. 

Families and their circumstances change, parents' divorce is the most glaring example. Then a choice must be made between hanging onto old traditions and beginning new ones. When a new member enters the family, son or daughter-in-law, or stepchild, help each feel included by asking which traditions of theirs he or she would like added to family celebrations. 

Some rituals are so down-to-earth--morning coffee, newspapers and chitchat around the breakfast table--they hardly go recognized, yet they're extremely important to the cohesiveness of the family. When a ritual becomes hackneyed, just an obligatory interaction, it's time to alter, eliminate or spice it up. Sing the Beatles tune, Birthday, instead of the old stand-by, "Happy Birthday to You." 

Rituals counter the alienation and confusion that parents and children often feel in the fast moving, stress-filled life of today. When you're busy, it's easy to let rituals slip, resist this temptation. For parents and children, rituals make living in a turbulent world simpler and more stable.

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