If you asked your kids what they like best about your family, what would they say? Maybe, they like the activities you do together as a family—the things you do regularly—so they can look forward to them coming again and again. Perhaps, it’s the seemingly insignificant family traditions you’ve thought up that make them swell with pride and feel like an insider in something pretty important. Or maybe, they treasure most those intimate moments you have with them alone because that’s what makes them feel so special.
Go ahead. Ask them. And then try to include more of their preferences in your family life.
You see, you can develop plans and initiate activities that are just right for your family. And you have the unique opportunity to create meaningful family rituals that bond you together, give your kids a sense of belonging and make them feel valued. When you make decisions together, it strengthens family relationships, increases family support and makes family life more fun. In fact, families who talk and plan together are more successful and happier than families who don’t.
So why not start today? Tell your kids how much your family means to you. Talk with them about how you want to create a sense of family team that keeps you close—now and as they grow older. Give them some of your thoughts about things you can implement in your family and then ask them for their ideas. Listen carefully and validate each child as he shares. Even young children love to be included in these discussions because it makes them feel so important. And remember—your kids’ ideas are just as valid as yours. If they don’t buy in to the decisions you make, they won’t commit to them. So make sure there’s plenty of discussion about each suggestion, everyone in your family has an equal vote, and you make the decisions and plans together.
As the parent, you will want to guide the discussion but not impose your ideas. So here are some suggestions you can make for creating everyday rituals that are meaningful and that will bring you closer together.
1. Set aside certain days or times when you will do a family activity together. I know a family that skis together on Sundays. Saturdays are for ski classes and friends, but Sundays are for the family. Another family sets aside Sunday evenings to watch their favorite TV programs together. Neither of these activities is carved in stone, so if something comes up that’s important and gets in the way, they make an exception. But they always go back to their ritual of spending Sundays together. Other families may go to church together, go to the movies or go out for dinner. But whatever it is, when your family sets aside a specific time to do an activity together, it becomes meaningful and bonds your family together.
2. Make dinner a family event. I’ve heard families talk abut the death of the family dinner and how it fractures them not to have this regular, daily time together. By making it a family ritual to have dinner together, you can more easily protect the time to re-connect and catch up. Talk with your kids as equals rather than as authoritarians and don’t use the dinner table for reprimanding or criticizing. Instead make it fun so your kids will look forward to this special family time. Even when your kids get older and their schedules become too busy to be present at every dinner, hold on to the ritual so they are eager to get back to being together with the family.
3. Create special family behaviors—things you do with just each other. When I was young, my family had a ritual that I still remember with great tenderness. Every night after dinner and while we were all still seated around the table, my dad would pull out the tattered family Bible and read a chapter out loud to all of us. Between you and me, the reading itself bored me. But it was my time to crawl up on daddy’s lap and cuddle while he read. It’s still one of my most treasured memories because it created such a sense of warm togetherness in our family.
As my girls were growing up, there came a time when hugging me goodbye in public felt embarrassing to them. So we hugged privately at home, and then as they went skipping off with their friends, we gave each other our secret hand gesture that meant, “Goodbye. I love you.” It was a daily ritual that left us feeling loved and happy.
4. Make bedtime a loving event. Every child wants to go to bed feeling loved and secure. No matter what happened during your day—even if it was frenetic and chaotic—you can tuck your children in with the same ritual every night. It makes them feel grounded and safe. Whether you read them a book, tell them a story, say prayers with them or something more creative and unique to your family, take the time to connect with them one on one and let them know how precious they are to you.
5. Do family projects and household tasks together. Whether it’s doing dishes, folding laundry, washing the car or cleaning out the garage, ask your kids to pitch in. If you’ve developed a family value of cooperation, participation and helping each other, it won’t be difficult to get them engaged. It will teach them the spirit of generosity and the attitude of giving; the pride, loyalty and sense of team that comes from helping each other; and the value of putting the best interests of someone else ahead of their own. Your kids are part of who you are as a family and what you do together, so teaching them to become contributing members of the family increases their sense of belonging. It can be a ritual—a regular habit—to help each other get the work done because it’s just what you do as a family.
It’s exciting to be a part of a family that hangs together and enjoys one another. You can think of your rituals as strategies that are unique to your family to help keep you close and interacting with each other in positive and healthy ways.