“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.”
– Susan Lieberman
Ben and Tracy Groves’ love Sundays. Every week, Ben gets up early and takes the two kids to the local café for hot chocolates or milkshakes for breakfast, while Tracy gets to sleep in. On the way home they stop at the park for some playtime. If it’s wet, they come home and play board games or card games. And Ben looks after pancakes at lunch (where extended family often join them), and the BBQ dinner in the evening. It’s a family tradition, and the whole family looks forward to their time together.
There is one remarkable, powerful thing that the happiest families do well that most other families do not do at all. They establish traditions.
Stay with me. I know that when you hear the word, “tradition”, it can be easy to roll your eyes and think “Oh no, that sounds too hard. It’s too much work.” But it doesn’t have to be.
Family traditions help life make sense to our children. Like routines, they provide predictability and a sense of security and safety. Family traditions help children feel as though they fit in somewhere. And in time, the traditions come to define who each person in the family is, countering alienation and offering steadiness and certainty. Traditions differ from our routines or habits because we carry out traditions with a specific purpose and degree of intentionality – we are trying to achieve something very specific to:
- Create bonds
- Impart values
- Promote shared experience, and
- Build memories.
Whereas routines are designed to become automatic and to make life simpler, traditions and rituals are about being mindful of the moment, and are designed to demand attention and imbue life with meaning.
Traditions don’t need to be big things. They can be small and simple. Here are more ideas to get you thinking about starting some traditions in your family.
Some traditions become a daily habit – but with meaning. They can include:
- Playing a wake-up song every morning to get everyone moving on time and with a positive attitude.
- Saying hello/goodbye in a special way.
- Eating dinner as a family and talking about your day
- Special bedtime conversations that follow a familiar format, such as asking your children what they’re grateful for, or what they’re looking forward to.
There are some traditions that we can easily implement each week, like Sundays at Ben and Tracy Groves’ house. You can try:
- A regular Sunday roast (or any meal for that matter)
- Playing/watching a particular sport on the weekend
- Dad takes kids for a Saturday morning milkshake while mum sleeps in
- Friday movie and pizza night
- A regular games night
- One-on-one date between parent and individual child
- Watching a favourite TV show as a family
- You might even decide to have a date night once a week with your spouse or partner. They need your focus and attention too.
Other family traditions
Some traditions really do fit a particular season. Or perhaps they might occur on an occasional basis. These could be:
- Camping trips (in our home or a brief trip every month)
- Regular holidays at the same place each year
- Religious or cultural traditions that bring meaning to your family (Christmas, Easter, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Baptism or even watching the Boxing Day cricket match or visiting the Boxing Day sales)
- A trip to the beach on the first weekend of summer
- Lighting the first fire of winter
In a 2015 study involving approximately 250 teens (aged 15-20), researchers discovered that the practice of family rituals and traditions had a significant and important protective role in increasing social connectedness for teens, and for reducing their experiences of anxiety. Those who participated in family rituals also experienced less depression. It seems that the sense of family connectedness tradition and ritual provides deep roots in which our children’s self-esteem and wellbeing can develop and grow, and protects them from the stresses that so many teens experience.
Traditions are about recognising the uniqueness of our family identity, and should be fun, simple, and designed to bring us closer to the people we love.
Be mindful of what you do with your family. When you see something enjoyable, find a way to repeat it regularly and make it part of what it means to be in your family. Before you know it, you’ll start reaping the rewards of having created a new tradition
Dr. Justin Coulson is one of Australia’s leading parenting experts and is a highly sought-after international speaker and author. Find more about family traditions and other ways of making families happier in his bestselling book 21 Days to a Happier Family.
About the author: All round go-getter, Susanna Christie, is the Executive Director of Columba Cottage Early Learning Centre, where she leads a passionate team of 50 staff who love what they do, caring for children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 6 years. With a background in teaching from pre-school through to university, Susanna is passionate about all aspects of child development and wellbeing. Her qualifications include a Masters in Education, Bachelor of Teaching and a Graduate Diploma in Educational Studies. Susanna’s aim is to ensure that Columba Cottage remains the best Early Learning Centre on the Mid North Coast.