I was talking the other day with some fellow twin moms about the idea of creating rituals in our families. Not necessarily ones revolving around religion or holidays, but every day, little, family rituals that your children can think back on when they are grown, and smile about. Sometimes having twins means that you are so overwhelmed and stretched so thin that holidays and events just sneak up on you (Father's Day anyone?)! I'm an only child, with almost no extended family and my parents are not the most traditional of folks. I honestly can't think of any real traditions we had. I have great memories of wonderful things we did together, yet I can't think of anything that I can point to and say "in our family we always did that"! No famous recipes passed down. No yearly trips to the cabin by the lake. No "traditions".
I think one of the best places to start is to think about what you enjoy. No matter if it's nature, charity work, sports, the arts, cooking, travel or being together as a family, there is a family tradition waiting to be created. Here are some ideas based on things we do (or would like to do) in our family:
Back to Nature
- I've written previously about the nature walks we do around our neighborhood and the idea of making a keepsake box of some sort to keep your collections in. This can be done on any trip you take or on any type of outing, whether it's a family vacation or a trip to your local park. this is a lovely way to teach your kids about the beauty of the world around them as well as cherishing memories of time spent together.
- From "The Book of New Family Traditions": In the early Spring, birds returning home after the winter need materials to build their nests. This variation on a bird feeder called a "bird's nest basket" helps attract birds to your yard by supplying them with things they can use to make their new homes. Use a small, lightweight basket (like the plastic kind blueberries come in) and fill it with short pieces of string or ribbon, feathers in muted colors (birds won't take anything in a bright color that might attract predators' attention), twigs and leaves. Arrange materials in the basket, tie the basket from it's four corners with string and hang from a tree branch you can view from the inside of your house. Wait, and watch. In the mean time, you can take advantage of your children's interest in the process to teach them about birds and why they build nests. You can also pass the time by making these decadent Bird's Nest Cookies. Just make sure to have a toothbrush handy afterwards!
- A great combination of appreciating nature and taking care of the world we live in is to volunteer with an organization like Heal The Bay. One of the great things to do with kids is to get involved in their Nothin' But Sand beach clean ups. Children are welcome, although if they are under 18 they must either be with an adult or have a waiver signed by a legal guardian. Heal The Bay does these clean ups every month so this can easily become a ritual you do all the time.
- We have begun to introduce to our children the idea that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. It's very easy to get carried away and to spoil our children particularly when their birthday or Christmas/Hanukkah rolls around. One way to balance this out is to teach the kids that we must make room for any new gifts by clearing out old ones we no longer need and giving them to a family who has less than we do. It's not always easy for them, and each forgotten toy that is unearthed suddenly becomes a new "favorite", but each time you do it they will get better at it. You can also suggest that they collect old clothes that no longer fit. Let them come with you to make the donation drop off. A few places here in Los Angeles to make the donations are Baby2Baby.org or Harvest House in Venice, CA which houses pregnant women who are homeless. Their number is (310) 452-1223.
- The multiples club I belong to, WLAPOM, has a terrific philanthropy called Multiple Helpings which helps new mothers of multiples who may not have the financial resources to cope. Last Christmas, our family "adopted" one of the MH families; Our children shopped for, wrapped and brought gifts, clothes and baby items to bring to a very appreciative family. 6 months later, the thought that some families don't have as much as us is something that our kids bring up from time to time. One twin mom I know does this as well, but added the wonderful idea of creating a photo album with pictures of the process so the memory is really strong for her girls.
- There aren't many opportunities to volunteer with children, but one of the few that does welcome them is SOVA which has three locations in Los Angeles. Among many wonderful resources offered, they run a food pantry that provides free groceries and personal hygiene products (when needed) for every member of the families who seek help there. You and your children can help stock and sort the pantry, distribute completed orders to clients, or sort donations that come into the center through food drives. Please note that SOVA allows children as young as 8 to volunteer when accompanied by an adult, or on their own once they turn 12. However, if you have younger children, as I do, you can organize a food or book collection with your children and bring the items to one of their pantries so the kids can see where it's all going.
- One ritual I love that we do in our home is "kind brother/kind sister day". I created a "Kindness Tree" out of construction paper that we hung in our dining room. Each time one of the kids does something kind towards the other, they get a leaf on one of the branches with the act of kindness written on it. We periodically read the leaves and show it off to anyone who comes to our house (that's our daughter checking it out when it first went up). Once the branches are full of leaves, we do something special to celebrate their kindness towards each other. We actually had a kind brother/kind sister day Friday; the kids' best friend came over for a back yard play date and we made ice cream sundaes together. It was great fun....and a little insane (three 3 and a half year olds hopped up on sugar. Yikes!).
- Father's Day (or Mother's Day) is a tradition in pretty much every family's house. One of my favorite blogs, My Submarine To The Future", had a great post yesterday about a very cool Father's Day Surprise Lucky Dip Gift Box. It's an easy way to make gift giving fun and personalized while still being able to get the kids involved. Plus, it works for any birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah etc.
- Family Meetings are both a ritual and a great way to work through issues that are plaguing the family as a whole. What better thing to teach your kids than the idea that coming together as a family to talk things through will result in a happier and more closely-knit family. What is a family meeting you may ask? From the fantastic book "Positive Discipline For Preschoolers": "...children gather on a regular basis to help each other, encourage each other, learn communication skills, focus on solutions, and develop their judgment and wisdom. By far the most powerful effect of [family] meetings, though, whatever the age of the child, is to create a sense of belonging." You can start these meetings when your children are as young as two or three, but by three and a half they should definitely be ready to participate. Begin your meetings with compliments and appreciation (ie: "I want to thank david for setting the table this morning. It was so helpful to Mommy that you did that"). If there is a conflict that needs resolving, you may prefer to end the meeting with compliments and get to the pressing matters right away (ie: "I want to compliment Lisa because she brought up that she was feeling jealous about the new baby. I appreciated hearing your ideas on what would make you feel happier"). At the meeting: allow each family member to be heard, take notes about each person's feelings and concerns, read them aloud to make sure everyone understands, allow each child time for rebuttal, invite everyone to offer as many solutions as they wish without evaluating them (children go first), decide on which solutions you can live with. Most importantly: make a date to follow up. Family Meetings, especially when dealing with conflicts, are outlined very well in "Siblings Without Rivalry". From the final chapter of that book: "You wouldn't expect your car to run without periodic refueling and maintenance, yet we expect our family unit to run without regular checkups...it's a great way to make sure tensions never build up. We sit around and talk about family activities, chores, who wants to do what, who wants to trade off what, who's bothered by what...It's a time for all of us to think creatively about what we need for ourselves and how we can be supportive of each other."
What about you? What are some of the rituals and traditions you have in your family? I would love to hear about them!
Thanks for reading,
The Twin Coach
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