Rituals Make Families Stronger

Meaningful Traditions Create Family Bonds

Rituals provide a source of comfort for families. They keep traditions and family history alive and create memories and strong family bonds.

The most treasured childhood memories are often of some meaningful family ritual, whether Sunday dinner at grandma’s, midnight mass on Christmas Eve or weekend drives in the country.

Family rituals are especially important for the health and well-being of families in a fast-paced culture. A 50-year review conducted by researchers at Syracuse University found that family routines and rituals are powerful organizers of family life that offer stability during times of stress and transition. The review found that rituals were associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships. (A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?,” Barbara H. Fiese, et.al.; Syracuse University; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 16, No. 4.)

Incorporating Rituals into Family Life

Parents, looking to add more meaning and ritual to their family life, should first look at what routines and traditions they are already doing.

“Look at what you’re doing in the home and find a way to make it more meaningful for you,” says Nina Amur, author and speaker (www.purespiritcreations.com)

Mary Cooper agrees that rituals must have meaning for the parents. “If a ritual is contrived, the kids will know it,” Cooper is the mother of four children, stepmother to three and a Waldorf school teacher in the Chicago suburbs.

“Think about traditions and rituals you did in your childhood. Maybe you had an Advent calendar. You may also want to invent new rituals to do together as a family. Think of what’s important to you – maybe it’s relating to the natural world,” says Cooper.

“Any routine has the potential to become a ritual once it moves from an instrumental to a symbolic act,” said psychologist Barbara H. Fiese of Syracuse University.

Meaningful Rituals for Holidays

One of the most meaningful rituals for Nina Amur and her family is the celebration of the Sabbath. Her family started this ritual when her children Ariel, 15, and Julian, 13, were small. On Friday night, she cooks the best meal of the week and sets a beautiful table complete with tablecloth and the nicest dishes. Prior to dinner, they light candles, say personal blessings and petitions to god and invite god to come into their home.

“We also go around the table and talk about what we are grateful for,” says Amur. She says a ritual like this could be part of any family, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“You can sit at the table with your best dish, light the candles and invite god to join you.”

For Beena Rao’s family in Barrington, one of the most meaningful and fun rituals is the celebration of Divali, an Indian festival of lights, held on the first new moon in November. The festival is based on a mythological story of a good king conquering an evil king. “We light up the whole house with oil lamps or sometimes candles. We serve traditional food made for that day. Sometimes we have people over and the day always ends with fireworks,” says Rao. “People clean up their houses and get rid of old clothes and buy new ones.” She says her sons Gautam and Dilip really enjoy this holiday because it is so much fun.

“We try to give them a sense of where they came from. They may choose not to follow the tradition, but it holds meaning for me and Harish (her husband) and it gives them a sense of family history,” says Rao.

Everyday Traditions Strengthen Families

Rituals can easily become part of your everyday routine.

Author William J. Doherty writes, “You have to feed your children, so start with improving the quality of those feeding rituals, without lengthening the time. You have to put your kids to bed, work on making it more pleasurable.” (The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties, NY; Quill HarperCollins, 1997)

For the Cooper family, one daily routine revolves around bedtime, when the family gathers in the living room to sing songs while Bruce, Mary’s husband plays guitar. As Mary explains, this is one family ritual that has evolved. Both Mary and Bruce always sang to their children; when their families joined, they continued their personal routine of singing special songs to their biological children. Sometimes, they found themselves distracted by each other. After they had two children together, the nighttime ritual moved to the living room to include the entire family together.

A daily ritual for Amur is based on the Jewish belief to do 100 blessings a day. “They are blessings to God for what he gave us. If we see a rainbow, we say, “Blessed are you, God, for giving us a rainbow,” says Amur.

Nava Atlas has many suggestions for daily and seasonal rituals in Everyday Traditions: Simple Family Rituals for Connection and Comfort, Amberwood Press, 2005. She suggests making family mealtime more meaningful by cooking a nourishing meal, using special dishes, decorating the table with candles and flowers. She suggests starting the meal with a blessing, even if it feels awkward at first.

Bedtime rituals are not only nice but also necessary as a means to get children off to a good night’s sleep. These may include an evening snack, bathtime, telling or reading stories.

Simple, everyday rituals bring rhythm and order to a child’s day. They help ease transitions. As Cooper says, they make life more predictable, secure for children and make life easier for parents.

Spiritual Experience Opens Kids Minds

Amur believes her family’s rituals have resulted in her teenage children being more open-minded and well-versed about spiritual matters.

“My kids are very open to discussing spiritual things. Rituals give them the opportunity to talk about god and life. They have very well-formed ideas and I think they are more spiritually inclined,” says Amur.

Cooper says ritual brings reverence to a family’s daily life. “Ritual is a remedy for the fast-paced world we live in. It grounds the child and it unites the child and family with something much greater than themselves.”