Everyday family life can be a grind. Pack the lunches, drive to practice, do the homework, unload the dishwasher, run the bath… these and the zillion other tasks we perform are essential to getting through the day and on to the next, but they can have the cumulative effect of making life feel…unspecial. Not only that, slogging your way through individual commitments and interests can leave little time for family fun. Days, weeks go by and you catch yourself thinking, “When was the last time we did something fun together?” There’s no way to avoid the hustle bustle entirely (Quit everything, move to deserted island, become Swiss Family Robinson?) but there are ways to step back and inject some joy, excitement, and meaning into your family life.
One strategy is to practice family traditions together. Meg Cox, the author of The Book of New Family Traditions, defines family ritual as “any activity you purposefully repeat together as a family that includes heightened attentiveness and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.”
Why are family traditions important?
Think about your own life – what stands out to you as a special memory of time spent with your family? If you were to tell someone else about that memory and begin by saying something like, “Every year we would…” or “On Saturday mornings, we always…,” you are probably recalling a family tradition. Research reveals several positive benefits of practicing traditions. A review of 50 years of research on family traditions published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that family rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement, and stronger family relationships.
Family traditions, especially ones that are somehow unique to your family, enhance the sense that your family is a team. They make the members feel more connected to one another and shape your family’s identity. Shared traditions can bring together members of multiple generations and deepen relationships between family members who may be separated by age, geography, etc. Traditions can also strengthen the connection to a family’s culture by passing on particular customs, foods, and practices from one generation to the next.
Traditions can reinforce shared interests. For example, a family with a love of the outdoors could create traditions involving camping trips, hikes, or bike rides. A family that loves to travel could let each member choose an activity to do together on vacation. Traditions can also be a way to demonstrate commonly held values in a family. A family interested in community service could volunteer together in a food bank.
In addition to these other worthy reasons to incorporate traditions into your family, let’s not forget about fun. Traditions can make the ordinary extraordinary. Which do you prefer: normal Tuesday or Pizza Tuesday? They punctuate the calendar with occasions to look forward to and celebrate – who can’t use more of those?
What makes for an enduring family tradition?
There are a few things that can help a tradition become part of the fabric of a family’s life. Most importantly, it should be enjoyable. Traditions that family members dread or want to avoid at all costs don’t last. Part of the fun of a tradition is that it’s something family members look forward to.
Traditions take root in a family when they are simple and easily repeated. They shouldn’t cost a lot of money or require extensive work to carry out. This is particularly true of traditions that you wish to practice on a more frequent basis than, say, annually.
Allowing traditions to be somewhat flexible also helps them endure over the years. Members of the family grow up and interests change, so if a tradition can take this into account, it can grow with the family. For example, a family games night might start out featuring Sorry! and Crazy Eights and go on to involve RISK and Scrabble. This is also important as new members join the family; there should be a way to incorporate them into an existing tradition.
It’s also worth noting that traditions don’t have to last forever. Some traditions fade away as family members grow and life stages change, but this doesn’t mean that they were not the source of many special memories.
How can you start new traditions for your own family?
First, don’t limit yourself to holidays. You can practice traditions all through the year. Sometimes it’s during those “unspecial” times of year that we particularly need a fun tradition to get us out of a rut. There’s nothing stopping you from declaring the first Monday of every month “Sundae Monday” and celebrating with ice cream.
You can also involve the whole family in creating a new tradition. There may be something you already do as a group that you or your children would love to turn into a tradition- ask around, the answer might surprise you. It could be something small, like a beach outing as a family to kick off the start of summer.
Once you’ve thought of a new tradition for your family, formalize it somehow. Give it a name, (i.e. “The Annual Smith Family Cinco de Mayo Feast”), establish a particular time or times of year when you do it and even document it through pictures or journaling. You’ll enjoy looking back as the years pass to see how the tradition has carried on or evolved.
By following some of these tips, you’ll dial back the monotony of family life and sprinkle in more special, creating connections and memories that last a lifetime.
Some suggestions of fun family traditions:
Do something that departs from the norm. For instance, on the first of the month, serve breakfast for dinner. It may not seem like a big deal to adults, but a switcheroo like this is exciting for kids.
Choose an annual project to tackle as a team, build a birdhouse for the backyard, paint a room in your house, can tomato sauce. This can be a fun way of disguising work as play. Key to this is ensuring everyone has a job (even small children) so all members feel they contributed to the finished product. Then celebrate your accomplishment together!
Invent a holiday, then observe it. January 16th is Say Something Nice Day. On that day, family members offer each other compliments first thing in the morning and right before bed. See? Inventing holidays is easy.
Add a family-specific twist to existing holidays. Have a birthday boy or girl wake up to helium balloons tied to their bedposts.
Adopt a movie or storybook as your family’s favourite and watch or read it annually as a family.