When my husband and I got married five years ago, and blended our two families, I got a wake-up call as to the importance and meaning of traditions. My oldest child was 18 at the time, and we had certain things that we had been doing for, well, 18 years. Suddenly, overnight, we had three new people in the house who weren’t familiar with all the things we liked to do and didn’t always understand why these things were important to us. Conversely, my husband and his boys also had developed certain rituals during the years that they wanted to continue to follow. We all felt ragged and vulnerable as we attempted to put together this new version of our family. But while some traditions were lost, new traditions were born and those helped bring us closer as a family unit.
Do traditions even matter? In a world that is always changing, ever progressing, have traditions become a thing of the past? Traditions are thoughts, actions and beliefs that are meaningful and thus are repeated in some form. They matter even more in today’s world because they form a foundation of support and security in an insecure world. They are something consistent that can be counted on when so much around us is shifting and changing. It’s not the ritual itself that matters, but the meaning it carries that makes traditions so valuable.
Traditions offer consistency to those who participate. Families who develop traditions can depend on the consistency of those traditions. It tells the family members “You are important.” I know of one mother who took her kids out individually for ice cream once a month, without fail. Years later, one of her children shared the comfort he felt knowing that even if he had messed up, he knew his mom would be there to spend time with him on his special day. He could always depend on that and he knew he was a valued member of the family.
Traditions draw families together, helping them to bond and come closer to one another—sometimes even years later. One family I know started a tradition on each person’s birthday to sing “Happy Birthday” as loudly and obnoxiously as they can. This is something they continue to do today, by phone or by Skype, even as each child has moved out and is on their own. In this way, the family connects several times a year and each member knows they have something to count on for their birthday every year.
Traditions can be healing during tough times. When the road gets rocky, bringing the family together through a tradition can be grounding and stabilizing. It gives the family something to hang on to, and they learn that life goes on in spite of difficulty; they can still find joy in the midst of challenges. The bonding that occurs through traditions gives the family a unique identity and gives each family member a sense of belonging to something bigger. There is understanding among family members and a feeling of unity that develops resilience.
Traditions are fun. They make people smile. They create great memories, the kind that bring up warm fuzzies years later. They enhance positive emotions and give people something to look forward to. One of our traditions has been for all the kids to sleep in one room on Christmas Eve. Now, as the older kids have moved on and married, they still talk about the fun times they had on those Christmas Eve nights and all the crazy things they did. And the younger children who are still at home always ask if they will get to do it again.
Build a Foundation
So whatever you do with your family, be it big or small, celebrate it with a fullness of joy. You are not just celebrating a birthday or taking a summer vacation or making a Sunday morning breakfast. You are building a foundation for your children to build their own lives on. Make it strong.
My next post will be on how to create your own family traditions. It’s easier than you might think!
What are your most important traditions? How have they helped your family feel close and stay resilient?