I’ve always considered traditions an important part of family. Since interviewing Meg Cox, family traditions expert and author of "The Book of New Family Traditions," for a piece on end of summer traditions last week, I’ve been giving traditions even more thought.
Cox is correct in her assertion that traditions are more important than ever to give kids a sense of what she calls “their tribe.” Given the frenetic pace of contemporary life and the far-flung way we live, I think family traditions give adults some important benefits, too.
For one thing, you have to think about what’s important to you in order to decide upon a tradition. If you decide to celebrate the invention of the toaster or the first man on the Moon, it will be because those dates hold some significance to you. It may be as simple as the fact that you’ve chosen the silliest thing you can think of, or the most profound. Either way, it says something about who you are and your outlook on life.
Establishing a ritual is also part of starting a tradition. Will you all wake up early? Dress a certain way? Observe customs that are different than the norm? Will it be formal? Informal? Silly? A mix? Whatever you decide, it will be the result of some thought on your part. Thought that forces you to examine the values you hold and want to pass on to future generations.
There’s also value in continuing some of the traditions you had as a child, even if you have to tweak them a bit. Doing so says that even though you may not have followed the likely path, those traditions are still a part of who you are. For me, the Christmas bows I made with one of my other grandmothers each year don’t quite fit in my current life, but baking is an important part of the holidays I now celebrate with my children. And we have a dishwasher in my home, but one of my favorite childhood traditions was standing on a step stool at the sink and helping my other grandmother wash dishes on the rare occasions we visited her. The warm soapy water and the quiet time with her that went with the process meant so much to me. From time to time, I hand wash the dishes with my kids. The experience seems to speak to them as much as it still speaks to me.
Some traditions are less obvious – like stories at bedtime, family dinners, the weekly trip to the grocery store, picking outfits for the week on a Sunday night, or my personal favorite: the movie marathon we hold the night before my oldest heads back to college each year.
Whatever you settle upon, each thing you do with your kids not only brings another layer to their understanding of what it means to be a part of your family, it also gives you an opportunity to pass along the things that matter most to you.