It Starts With You: Creating Family Traditions
Every family has traditions. Traditions mark occasions as well as the passage of time. More importantly, traditions bind groups of people together. Some traditions are, well, traditional – singing Happy Birthday and blowing out candles on the cake. Some are situational – all passengers in mom’s car hold their noses as they drive over a bridge. And, some are intentional. When you begin your own family, you may find yourself wishing to create some traditions that are unique to your own immediate family. Creating your own traditions may feel artificial at first, but it does not take long for your new traditions to become treasured additions to your family’s life.
A wise grandmother once said that if you want your kids to remember something as a tradition you only need do it two or three years in a row when they are very young. Try it, it’s true! If you want your children to remember gathering around the table each year to make Halloween decorations even though you despise crafts, make yourself do it while your kids are 3, 4, and 5. They will call you from college one day to ask if you remember all those Halloween decorations you made every year. Voila! A tradition that’s not really a full-out tradition.
Now, if you are looking to create traditions that really do go on year-after-year, think about the things that are important to you and the things that you want your children to remember forever. Also keep in mind that you do not have to come up with a lifetime of traditions in one fell-swoop. Many traditions are born of one family member’s quirks or from happy accidents.
Mark your wedding anniversary each year by getting out alone or getting away for the weekend. Before or after this event, include the kids by having an at home “fancy dinner.” Use good china, light candles and regale the kids with tales of your dating days and pictures from your wedding album.
Celebrate birthdays as much or as little as you like. Fill the birthday child’s room with balloons (for the over 3 set only) while they sleep. Start the party early with sticky coffee cake and candles for breakfast. Let each child pick a type of dessert that will be ONLY for his or her birthday. It does not have to be cake
For “big” birthdays, 13, 16, 18, change some house rules to reflect their growing maturity – later bedtime, fewer restrictions on books, movies and/or video games, and more choices about things like hair, clothing and use of free time
Each year on your child’s birthday, take a moment and write them a card or a note and tuck it away. On your child’s eighteenth birthday, give him a stack of cards to read. He’ll learn about how you’ve changed, how he’s changed and how your family’s changed. (It’s okay to start this tradition late!)
First Day of School or “Not-Back-to-School”
Take a picture of your child every year on the first day of school. Even if you homeschool year round, pick a day that signals a new year (starting new curriculum, new co-op class, coming back from a vacation, etc). The night before school starts, mark your child’s height and grade on the door/wall/board you use (or will use from now on). Celebrate the end of the first day with a special dinner or dessert. Make a classic, age-appropriate book an annual gift each night before the start of a new school year.
Have a special way of saying goodnight to each child. Use quotes from a book (You: Goodnight, moon. Child: Goodnight cow jumping over the moon), have a secret handshake or whatever evolves – just keep it up. It may seem silly but these small rituals can keep you connected through even the most turbulent teen years and beyond.
Make one night a month open for kids to invite their friends for dinner. Keep it simple, serve spaghetti or a favorite soup and bread – anything that can be easily stretched if you end up with a houseful of kids. Make this dinner fun, but do not make it a chore. Kid guests are not like adult guests. Kid guests help with dinner preparation and clean-up. Kid guests are also subject to your family’s table rules (no talking with a full mouth, etc.)
Leave notes for each other in random places – the bottom of a laundry basket a child was supposed to empty, a bathroom mirror, inside a shoe, anywhere. When or if your kids go off to college, call or email a roommate and have them leave an occasional note on your behalf. (It’s okay, even the coolest roommates have weird parents!)
Keep a family journal. Each year, pick up a simple notebook and keep it in a central location. Encourage everyone to jot down memorable events as they happen. Develop your own shorthand and make notes often. You think you’ll remember the crazy, funny stuff your kids do, but you won’t. Additionally, don’t censor what your kids write in the journal. Them noting the fact that you attended your niece’s wedding wearing two completely different shoes will be funnier when you look back in five years.
You don’t have to force traditions to make them work. Let them grow with your family and watch them change as your own kids start their families!