Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season is upon us. Connecting through rituals is common during the holiday season, but what about on a daily basis? Rituals or routines not only have a protective factor for kids but they also provide us an important sense of connection. Think about the rituals in your family and the memories they bring.
Routines vs Rituals:
It’s important for families to have both routines and rituals. Routines are predictable behaviors that help create more stability in the family. Research over 50 years has shown that having solid routines helps protect kids from any number of challenges. For example, routines help decrease stress in a single parent family. They also help children with respiratory problems be healthier. Having a routine bedtime helps kids have better sleep overall.
A routine family meal time helps create a smoother schedule that can make the evening less chaotic. Having a family meal gets people talking which creates a general sense of knowing everyone’s life struggles and joys. Being known by other family members is an important part of feeling connected emotionally. Research on family stability (and routine) showed that children who report more family routines are better protected from such adversity as the effects of a parent’s depression.
A ritual is a bit more specific than a routine. Rituals are about symbolism. They are coordinated. Generally speaking, within a ritual everyone knows not only what will happen but also everyone’s role. The most common rituals tend to occur around holidays and birthdays. Lots of family rituals involve food. Almost every family has one ritual food for Thanksgiving or other holidays. Sometimes those ritual foods are connected to the family’s heritage. As an example, my Norwegian family members have passed down a tradition of making rommegrot on Christmas morning. I will let you all Google rommegrot for more information.
Elements of a ritual:
One of my professors, Bill Doherty, literally wrote the book on family rituals. In his book, The Intentional Family, he lists four elements to a ritual. First they are predictable. As mentioned, everyone knows all the parts of a ritual. Predictability doesn’t have to be boring, it can be comforting.
Second, rituals connect. They are bringing together at least two people and often more. In my opinion, birthdays are one of the most important celebrations possible. It’s that person’s private holiday. In my family, birthday rituals mean that the birthday person not only gets to choose the main meal but also the kind of cake which is always made from scratch. Nobody gets to complain about the birthday person’s food choices that day.
Third, rituals help us create a sense of identity. I mentioned our Norwegian food rituals. The identity may be about our family. It might be about our “tribe” or our heritage. It may be our religious identity. A Jewish sedar is an excellent example of a ritual that can be about family, heritage and religion all in one meal.
Finally, a ritual is a way to enact values. Often, families may have rituals that combine values with celebrations. For example, it may be a family ritual to give a charitable donation instead of Christmas gifts for each of the extended family members. Including that extended family’s values may mean that the donation is targeted to what that other family finds important.
Are all rituals connected to holidays?
No. Hopefully families will have rituals that are daily or weekly too. Remember that rituals are about symbolism. Having a symbol every day of an emotional or family or spiritual connection helps create a sense of security. Every day just before my children go off on their day, I bless them. Giving them a blessing helps me remember they are now in God’s hands. It helps them remember they are loved and starts their day positively.
Often small children like to have something symbolic so they can “take” their parent with them all day. One example comes from The Kissing Hand where mama (racoon) kisses the child’s hand so all day long the child can be comforted by mama’s kiss. Preschoolers can be taught to take their kiss and put in on their cheek whenever they are feeling lonely at school.
Bedtime is another wonderful time for a connecting ritual. Many families with young kids have rituals around stories, songs, cuddles and more. Bedtime prayers are a common family ritual that can help signal to children it’s time to be done with the day. A friend of mine passed on a beautiful family ritual she did with her kids and she let me steal it. In the ritual she asks her kids “What do I love about you?” and they answer “Everything”. There are several questions and they are all meant to remind the kids how much they are loved and valued in the family. That really is the importance of family rituals.
Humans need emotional connection. We all need to feel loved and valued by those most important to us. Creating a ritual connects us to our roots, sometimes over generations. Rituals connect us to our communities. Rituals show us that we are important enough to have a cherished place in a relationship. Couples also need intentional rituals for the marriage to remain stable. I recommend a minimum of one night per week of having fun, just as a couple, even if the “date” happens at home after kids are in bed. In today’s hectic reality, making time for couples and family rituals is more important than ever. I welcome everyone to share some of their favorite rituals. Maybe, as happened when my friend shared her family questions ritual, you will get great ideas from each other.
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