I’ve never met a family without their own set of traditions. One of my favorite parts of getting married was combining the myriad of traditions from each of our families. Some will undoubtedly be the same, and some are ridiculously different (turns out some families never outgrow the birthday spanking machine…). Many we have saved or changed slightly for our own family. We have had a blast creating our very own. When you are deliberate in considering how you can make the most of family traditions, you will create memories that not only tie your family together, but that really mean something.
This is a topic we are going to be talking about a lot. Ryan and I feel strongly that family traditions are a central component to gathering, teaching, and being with your family. He recently wrote a post with some amazing ideas for traditions that will bring your family together.
Since we plan on sharing as many ideas as we can come up with, let’s talk a bit about why family traditions are so important, and how to really make the most of these amazing moments together.
What Do Traditions Do for Our Families
I love research – it’s the best to find hard evidence that proves what I believe. It’s not hard to find research on the power of family traditions.
One significant Harvard research study showed that almost conclusively, members from families who regularly have traditions felt closer to their families and enjoyed the holidays and other time together more than those who did not have family rituals.
The interesting thing – and I think the best part – is that it didn’t matter what these traditions were. The types of rituals had no bearing on the happiness of the family members. It was simply that they did something. The more traditions, the greater the happiness.
This is good news for all of us. Start now. Fit in some traditions. And don’t stress if you don’t feel creative. Just doing anything makes all the difference for your kids.
The main researcher in this study noted that, “[With] some rituals we don’t even know why we do them, but they still work”. Make it simple or make it crazy, random or traditional, but make it happen. You’ll be amazed at what your kids are holding you to 20 years from now.
So, since the specific tradition isn’t so important, here are a few pointers that have helped us to ensure we are consistently creating meaningful traditions before the years slip by.
Be Deliberate: Family Time Rarely Happens on Accident
Don’t take this point lightly. It’s easier said than done to make memories that last a lifetime.
Decide what you want to get out of your family traditions, and make a plan. I’d suggest that it isn’t all about the pictures. Never miss a chance to capture a moment, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out perfectly for instagram. Family time is about YOUR FAMILY and nobody else. Consider what you want to teach, what you want to remember, and what really matters – being together. This will help you simplify and hone in on ways to make the most of any moment.
I remember every single summer, just a few weeks before school was out, I’d find my mom sprawled out in our living room with large notepads and markers and stickers making a “summer plan”. She knew that she didn’t want us to sit around, watch tv, and sleep for 3 months. She wanted to make memories, teach us all new things, and make the most of each summer vacation.
Sitting down to help her make those plans is one of my favorite memories. But I don’t think I realized just how important a part it played into the overall success of our summers. No single summer ever turned out exactly as planned, but practically every single thing that DID turn out is a direct result of those planning sessions. Planning matters.
Plan Ahead, but Be Chill – Because Nothing Goes According to Plan
Maybe it’s just because I have two toddlers, but it seems like no plan is ever executed perfectly…or even close. I almost always have this “vision” of how everything will go, with beautiful glittery lights and background music. Then I’m there, and it’s not quite like the vision, the movies, or anyone else’s instagram.
But, I still plan.
Because if I don’t plan, nothing happens.
Plan for awesome success, but never let a lack of perfection show in your attitude. Your kids deserve to see you happy. Trust me – they don’t care one ounce how the pictures, the cake, or the program turned out. You are together, and they will be happy and remember something amazing.
After all, the entire point of family traditions is to make memories – and the best memories are never planned. So relax, be grateful you planned something, and enjoy those moments. Being together is what matters.
Take Advantage of the Holidays
The cheat sheet to traditions is the Holidays. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Birthdays, Easter…It’s too easy.
A lot of holiday traditions are just that – traditional. Most American homes are used to Turkey, stockings, birthday songs, and Fourth of July Parades. Keep these up! They are the basis for your traditions, and will always keep your kids close.
The traditions don’t necessarily need to be connected to the holiday to count. For example, starting when I was 16 I decided to watch The Sound of Music every single birthday. This isn’t a typical birthday tradition, but it has allowed me to remember to do something I love on an annual basis. I look forward to and enjoy it more with every passing year.
Don’t take these holidays for granted.
They are an opportunity to gather, to make memories, and to eat a lot. I have never met someone who takes advantage of holidays quite like my mother-in-law. She is a pro, and it shows in her kids attitudes towards holidays and traditions. Though every child is grown, they don’t let any single tradition, food or otherwise, slip by. Ryan’s mom puts in SO much effort to make it all happen. Her recipe book has its own section for holiday recipes, from a Halloween Skeleton to the Valentine’s Day chocolate raspberry cake.
I’ll never forget when Ryan and I were first dating. We spent the 24th of July (Utah’s founding) together. The day was filled with picnics and barbeques and family time. As the evening finally wound down, we found ourselves at 11:00 and someone pointed out that we hadn’t had homemade raspberry ice cream yet.
Though certainly exhausted, and out of raspberries, Ryan’s mom didn’t even hesitate. We ran to the store for raspberries and the ice cream was done by midnight. Keeping the tradition has become its own memory and taught me the simple importance of “making it happen”.
These holidays can sneak up on you, and they seem to come faster every single year. Make each a special day that your kids look forward to. You will love when they start to hold you to your own traditions.
Put Some Meaning Behind Every Single Tradition
This is pretty easy in theory – especially with those holiday traditions – but it can be all too easy to miss the reason behind all you are doing.
For me, the purpose behind traditions is to create extra family time, and extra family time is extra teaching time. Kids rarely want to sit and learn more than they need to. But traditions provide the perfect opportunity to “sneak it in”. Don’t make it a big deal, and don’t make it the only deal, but always teach.
Ryan is amazing at remembering and teaching the meaning behind any given holiday. When he was 15 years old, he created a binder for each of his siblings and his parents for Independence Day. Each year he found a meaningful, lesser-known, document from our country’s founding to add to the binder. He just took a few minutes from the mornings festivities to teach the significance of the document and to focus on some aspect of freedoms and peace that we enjoy thanks to our country’s founding.
Ryan loves America, and found a simple way to help others to increase their love for it as well. He falls into being a father perfectly, and never misses an opportunity to teach our toddlers anything. The results have already been amazing, as I see our children appreciate and value things I didn’t understand until I was much older.
Get Creative with Non-Holiday Traditions
Some of my favorite traditions have nothing to do with a holiday, but they allow us to sneak in extra time together all year long.
Family Home Evening
Every Monday night my family did what we call family home evening. It started in our church as a way to set time apart to be as a family at least one more time during the week. I think every family would find that prioritizing this time would bless their children and their home. We always had an activity, a short lesson, and a treat. And it was like clock work. Everyone planned their weeks and lives so that they could be there. Sometimes it was short, sometimes it lasted longer. I can barely remember what we did, but I remember that we were together and that I loved it.
In continuing the tradition with our own children, I see the joy they feel in being together. It’s natural and fun and engaging. It’s an easy opportunity to teach, and there is nothing quite like Henry screaming at the top of his lungs, “WELCOME TO FAMILY NIGHT”.
A few years ago I realized that every year at Christmas-time I promised to remember Christ more all through the year, but never really did anything to change that.
So, I decided to hold a once-a-month “mini-Christmas” where we would celebrate Christ. As a girl who is a little obsessed with Christmas, I pulled all the best parts from Christmas into one small evening. Not only did we focus on Jesus Christ, but we sang a few Christmas songs, had a special treat, and enjoyed being together. This has blessed our home and has helped us to focus more on Someone who means so much to us. We are excited to continue the tradition with our children.
Singing in the Mornings
Over the past 6 months I have watched Ryan spend 20-30 minutes every morning at the piano with our two kids – Annie on his lap, and Henry next to him – singing song after song.
Along the way Henry has learned every word and sings along. Annie and Henry each join in pumping their fists in the air during particularly exciting songs. It’s a simple routine, but Henry won’t let Ryan leave the house if they haven’t done it.
Without knowing it, our kids have learned valuable truths through these songs. It wasn’t forced, it was enjoyed. This is when learning is at it’s best.
Rushing through our weekday morning routine we rarely have time to make a fun breakfast. It’s usually a quick bowl of oatmeal for the kids.
But almost every Saturday (and Sunday, if we can swing it), we all whip together a fun breakfast. Usually anything that can be covered in strawberries and whipped cream cuts the bill. We have our favorites, and also love branching out occasionally. It makes a mess, takes up half the morning, and is always delicious.
It’s been fun to see Henry and Annie grow up with this and expect it on those days that Dad is home from work. Henry practically knows the waffle recipe by heart, and they are both front and center during every step of the process.
Family Traditions Mean More Than We Recognize at the Time
I feel like my current life is all about making the most of each moment. Each passing year with my kids is more fun than the one before. But I realize that they are growing so much faster than I anticipated. I’m constantly wishing for more opportunities to teach and be with them in meaningful ways. Traditions offer this opportunity.
So many traditions don’t seem to matter in the moment. They are small, or brief, or don’t go as smoothly as we hoped. But I promise that these moments that you put into your family – teaching them, being with them, dropping something else to gather them up – are the moments that matter most.
Nobody takes a tradition for granted more than a child, especially as they become teenagers. But then, all of a sudden, they come full circle. I think we’ve all complained as an adult when our parents try to switch something up or forget “the way it’s always been done”. Trust yourself and the time you put into being with your children. It matters infinitely more than you know.
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