My boys love stories. When one of the boys seem more demanding, more whiny, or is asking me to help them with something I know they can do, I know they are wanting my time and attention. So, we take time out together with a story. We do the same at bedtime. My boys have a hard time slowing down and going to sleep. Once again I turn to taking time to read several stories to help them calm down.
Stories are a way to create a cohesive and positive family experience during the holiday season. Stories are also a way to introduce children to the family spiritual belief system, long before they are ready to make a cognitive commitment of belief. Using stories during the holiday season is a way to meet both goals — create a shared family story, and share the parent’s spiritual beliefs. A family story, including spiritual beliefs, is shared among parents and children through family rituals and traditions. “The existence of and the participation in family rituals also seem to contribute to the individual’s identity within the context of the group. Through these rituals an individual may receive affirmation of his/her group membership, while at the same time being esteemed as a unique and special being,” (Smit, 2011). The desired outcome is that, through the experience of these rituals and traditions, each person in the family will experience a sense of belonging, of how precious they are, and will begin to incorporate these rituals and traditions into their life story as well.
During the holiday season we are with my extended family, and we will take the time to have a family game night. This is a way to include grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles in our family story too.
Allowing time during the holiday season for each person to share what traditions they enjoy, and then incorporating them into the family plan, includes each person in the family narrative. To revisit and participate in the traditions each year provides the potential for each family member to continue to experience a sense of belonging. Taking time, like on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, for each person to share their experiences, their story, of what it is like to live in their family, also allows the parents to hear what experiences of being in a family the children remember. This is particularly powerful as it helps address issues regarding belonging and exclusion in the family, and gives the opportunity for parents to make changes in order to increase a sense of belonging in a family.
However, the more frequently the traditions occur, the more likely a child is to remember them and include them in the narrative of their family experience. Finding ways to include daily, or weekly, or monthly traditions is a way to increase family cohesion, even if children are argumentative or don’t want to cooperate. Simple ways to emphasis rituals include the following:
- Have specific rituals upon arrival and departure of family members. When families greet each other and bid farewell to each other consistently, with affection and love, in spite of the presence of negative emotions, an increased feeling of belonging is created.
- A family experiencing change or trauma can ensure children feel safe and a part of the family by following an expected daily ritual, such as a bedtime routine that includes time with Mom and Dad before bed.
- Traditions and rituals, such as Friday night worship, to welcome the Sabbath and to talk about their week, can be helpful to each family member as they try to find meaning in their shared experience.
- Having a weekly event such as the Sabbath — including time together, food, and maybe even other friends and family — is a respite from the mundane, and creates “sparkling moments” that create a shared history among family members that is easier for each person to remember.
Shared rituals help to provide an anchor for the relationship, reminding each family member they belong. “The structured parts of a ritual anchor us to our past, whether that is our personal past or that of our family of origin, community, culture, religion, or humankind,” (Imber-Black, 2009). It’s never too late to start traditions. Even if you have children who are teenagers, you can start new traditions, maybe by asking an adolescent what is important to them. Responding to a child’s idea, by allowing it to change your plans, to include them in your rituals or traditions, is a powerful way to demonstrate a child belongs. By making these changes, parents are providing a safe haven. In fact, through the use of positive and inclusive rituals, the family is able to create a shared narrative and experience transformation, even where chaos or trauma may have occurred.
The simplicity of a shared history allows each person to experience the strengths of the family. As the family experiences a shared narrative, each person has an idea of where they came from, who they are, and what their future may look like.
Smit, R. (2011). Maintaining family memories through symbolic action: young adults’ perceptions of family rituals in their families of origin. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, (May), 355-367.
Imber-Black, E. (2009). Rituals and spirituality in family therapy. In F. Walsh (Author), Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. (Original work published 2009)
White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.