When I was little, my mother would come up every night and fluff my blankets over me before telling me goodnight. It was small, it was simple, and it was profound. To this day, I have warm memories of being “tucked in.”
Researchers call such regular traditions “rituals” and these family rituals are critical in our increasingly fast-paced, too-busy-to-be-together world.
As it turns out, rituals promote a wide range of family benefits, including helping your children feel valued,[i] healing from past trauma,[ii] building a sense of family closeness,[iii] and creating a sense of family identity.[iv] Thankfully, you can gain the benefits of rituals without completely rearranging your schedule. Things you do every day—ordinary routines—can be converted into these healthy rituals.
Nearly everyone has a daily routine—such as showering, eating a quick breakfast, driving out at 7:55 AM, and so forth. A child’s routine might include brushing teeth before the nightly story and goodnight kiss. Routines are just the habits we do day in and day out in a certain typical sequence to get things done.
Meanwhile, rituals are routines with special significance. More than getting things done, they represent building meaningful connections between people.
Rituals are routines with special significance
For example, hugging your children with a smile for them before leaving for work may be part of your routine, but the hug creates warmth and emotional connection in the relationship—ritualizing this routine. Kissing a spouse at a regular time and place can symbolize love and desire. Complementing a sibling during a family dinner adds feelings of emotional well-being and closeness to an otherwise routine meal.
Rituals take extra thought and intentionality, but they do not always take much extra time. Instead, rituals can be the special threads of meaning we weave into the ordinary moments of life.
In short, healthy family rituals are created by a group of people working together to intentionally turn regular occasions into special family time by adding small and simple, but meaningful, elements. Those healthy routines can organize our day, but healthy family rituals can add the symbolic meaning that helps family relationships to endure. In fact, symbolism[v] is really at the heart of what sets rituals apart from routines, since adding those special elements invites a sense of additional or deeper meaning.
Here are a few suggestions for turning common routines into rituals:
- Make dinner time meaningful. Have everyone share a good thing and a bad thing that happened to them that day and listen closely. This time together can be a safe place to share life’s experiences. Symbolically speaking, this ritual can also connect people to the values of empathy and togetherness the family supports.
- Add meaning to bedtime routines. Find a way to add songs or stories to the children’s bedtime routines. Make this a time to share—even for 10 minutes—a personal moment together.
- Make cleaning fun. While cleaning, take turns quizzing each other on fun facts, promoting communication, or sharing favorite funny family memories.
- Listen to music. On errands, listen to music everyone enjoys. Who knows? Maybe a group sing-along will brighten someone’s day, and furthermore, it can help bring people together in a relaxed, fun way.
- Cook together. Find times, such as Saturday morning pancakes or a weekend formal meal to involves many family members in preparing for these special gatherings. Not only the time in preparation, but also the time gathered together symbolically communicates to your children that you want to spend time together and value your child’s contribution.
- Connect During Outgoings and Incomings. Coming home from school is a daily routine for most children, which makes it the perfect time to build a ritual. When you ask about their day, really listen to their experience with good eye contact to help them feel heard. Share a hug, a cookie, or a needed word of advice.
These are only a few ideas to prompt your thinking and spur new ideas. Within your family, you can find ways to initiate your own unique rituals. Focus on the everyday things you already do and then consider ways you can make that family time more powerful and memorable.
When it comes down to it, rituals are about making the most of your time together. Creating and maintaining healthy, daily family rituals can do much to improve a family’s “normal.” And while family rituals may seem simple from the outside, their impact on a family can be profound and lasting.
Submitted by Rachel Black for Uplift Families
[i] Stern, J. (2010). Creating everyday rituals that are meaningful for your family. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/parenting-is-contact-sport/201011/creating-everyday-rituals-are-meanigful-your-family
[ii] White, J. (n.d.). A study of ritual and its application in family therapy. Retrieved from https://iahip.org/inside-out/issue-19-winter-1994/a-study-of-ritual-and-its-application-in-family-therapy
[iii] Griswold, A. (n.d.). Reduce stress with family routines and rituals. Retrieved from https://web.extension.illinois.edu/grandparents/article.cfm?ID=5100&IssueID=5215
[iv] Levy, T. (2017). Why family routines and rituals are important. Retrieved from https://www.evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com/family-routines-rituals-important/
[v] Fraser-Thill, R. (2020). How family traditions can help build stronger bonds. Retrieved from https://www.verywellfamily.com/family-rituals-meaning-examples-3288187