Saturday, June 19, 2010

Creating Family Rituals And Traditions

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". 

My husband, on the other hand, is one of seven children. Somehow in the midst of that chaos, his mother managed to create rituals and traditions that the children now carry on. The oldest of my husband's sisters cooks many of the family's favorite dishes when we all get together for the holidays; all gleaned from watching their mom cook, or from pouring over their mother's massive cookbook collection. This same sister-in-law told me once about when she first started school how her mother helped her get over her fears by drawing a heart on her wrist each morning so that every time she felt scared, she could look down and know mom was thinking of her. This ritual continued as she grew older; although it was no longer every day, if my sister in law went through a tough period in high school, had stressful days in college, took exams, had interviews, there was the heart. When their mother passed away, my sister-in-law had a hand-drawn heart tattooed on the inside of her wrist to always remind her that her mother was thinking of her. 

One of the things that will help your twins bond with each other is shared experiences. We all want our twins to look back and reminisce about a childhood filled with things they did and experienced together. So here I am, mother of two, creator of memories. I want to give our kids all of these great traditions and do all of these wonderful things and then I just sit here, overwhelmed and paralyzed. Maybe it's because I want our traditions to be so fantastic or so well thought-out that I can't even begin. Or maybe it's that I want them to be so full of meaning and a character-building experience that I get stopped before I start. But deep down, I realize that this isn't necessary. A family tradition just has to be something you do on a somewhat regular basis that your family enjoys. It can be something so simple that you create meaning and memory out of. 

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. 
Giving Back
  • 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 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.
Celebrating Your Family
  • 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'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." 
I was recently asked to make a list of 10 attributes I would want my children to possess as young adults. This was a lot harder to do than I thought; just ten??? But when I really thought about it, I realized that every single attribute I would want them to have has to come from somewhere: from something we teach them, something they learn in school, something they figure out based on the character they build growing up in our home. If I want children who are expressive, self-assured, resilient, and compassionate (and 6 other things), I have to do more than just love them; I have to teach them, expand their horizons, and give them a sense that their family is secure base from which to explore. For me, the idea of creating family rituals is all of that. I'd better get my butt in gear!

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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4 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Jackie said...

Wow! Thanks for the mention TC! Feel honored to be included on this fantastic post.

I love family traditions but end up missing out on some of the best opportunities to do them because of being too busy, or unprepared. This is a great reminder about how important they are.

I totally agree that a tradition doesn't need to be huge either. It's the fact that you do it as a family that makes it significant.

I am going to go away now and think about what our family traditions are, and also what 10 attributes I'd like my future teenage son to have (gulp!)... scary but brilliant!

joy said...

love the story about the heart on the wrist....when i was young, my mom would write a note on my lunch napkin and i loved reading it when i opened my brown sack(the good ole' days). i started the tradition in the beginning of the school year then stopped-i just started it again-thank you for the reminder.

Amy said...

This is such a beautiful post. Having just finished up Thanksgiving I realize how many rituals our family actually has and I am so inspired to make Christmas really special this year! Thanks for all the inspiration!

Jennifer Lehr said...

Thanks for the suggestions re: family traditions. We're Jewish and while we're not religious, we do love the idea of shabbat.... while essentially a day of rest, it begins on friday nights with a family dinner. a lighting of the candles and sundown to welcome the shabbat and refocus the family. it is also to be celebrated with friends. for the past almost four years we've been celebrating at our home every friday night with anywhere from two to six or so families. they all have an open invite and the kids (ages 1 -5) come to play at 4, we do a little singing, candlelighting, challah eating and wine drinking (juice) ceremony at 5 and then dinner for everyone. sometimes there are five kids, sometimes 15, and usually only one other jewish family. but they all love it. yes! sometimes it is chaotic...but it's kind of like a cocktail party/playdate for our families once a week. we all go to different schools so wouldn't otherwise see each other on a regular basis. it's very special.

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