Family Traditions Matter

The importance of being deliberate with your family

According to an article published by the Atlantic Daily, forty-seven percent of the time, the average mind is wandering. Many phycologists believe that a wandering mind is not good for ones well-being. As humans (kids and adults), we have a hard time staying focused and living in the moment. There are breathing and meditation techniques that can help us be more present in our daily lives, but chances are our minds will wander.

If our minds are going to wander (and they are), research shows that wandering minds focused on upcoming experiences or past shared experiences tend to be more happy then those without experiences to reflect on, or anticipate. By creating regular experiences for our family members to look forward to, we can help their thoughts stay positive.

Family traditions are behaviors and actions that you engage in again and again – regular rituals that you perform at the same time and/or in the same way. Some traditions happen daily, other once a week, and some just once a year. So, how do family traditions fit into the solution? An article published in 2013, Creating a Positive Family Culture: The Importance of Establishing Family Traditions in The Art of Manliness (authored by Brett & Kate McKay) gave 8 reasons why and how family traditions help our wandering minds stay positive. Below is an abbreviated version of the article.

1. Provide a source of identity.

Traditions and rituals often tell a story about a family. On the macro level, traditions can teach children where their family came from or give them insights into their cultural or religious history (e.g. eating tamales on Christmas Eve to celebrate your Mexican heritage). On a more micro level, traditions can serve as reminders of events that have shaped your family and your children (e.g. every year your family rents the same lake house, and each time you go it reminds you of all the experiences you’ve had on previous trips).

2. Strengthen the family bond.

Researchers have consistently found that families that engage in frequent traditions report stronger connection and unity than families that haven’t established rituals together. Traditions provide an all-too-rare chance for face-to-face interaction, help family members get to know and trust each other more intimately, and create a bond that comes from feeling that one is part of something unique and special.

3. Offer comfort and security.

Family traditions and rituals are the antidote to the harried feeling that comes from our fast-paced and ever-changing world. It’s comforting to have a few constants in your life.

Traditions can thus be particularly effective during times of change and grief. Maybe you’ve moved your family to a new state and everything is new and strange for your kids, but at least they know that every Tuesday is still pizza night and every Saturday morning they can still count on going on a bike ride with dad.

4. Teach values.

One of the main purposes of rituals, whether religious or secular, is to impart and reinforce values. The same goes with family traditions. Through daily family prayer, the importance of faith is re-enforced; through nightly bedtime stories, the value of education, reading, and life-long learning is inculcated; and through regular family dinners or activities, the centrality of familial solidarity is instilled.

5. Add to the rhythm and seasonality of life.

Our world and universe are composed of cycles big and small – sunrise and sunset, death and rebirth, winter, spring, summer, and fall. A circular conception of time and a desire to follow the natural rhythm of the days and the seasons is embedded deep within us, but has been flattened out in a modern age that creates its own timetable and concentrates only on the present.

In the Middle Ages, peasants had 150 days of the year for rest, feasts, and holidays; their life was hard but the cycles of work and celebration followed a steady rhythm. These days we can’t take off half the year to participate in traditions, but we can establish small, regular rituals that give us and our children unchanging wayposts both to look forward to in anticipation, and look back on with satisfaction.

6. Pass on cultural and religious heritage.

Many family traditions have been passed down through multiple generations. Continuing them in your own family is a great way to teach your children about your family’s cultural and religious history, thus adding to their personal identity. If you’re having a hard time coming up with traditions for your new family, your family history is a great place to mine for them.

7. Connect generations.

Sociologists and family researchers have found that children who have a high level of grandparental involvement have fewer emotional and behavioral problems. Moreover, high grandparental involvement is also correlated with lower maternal stress and higher involvement from dad.

Family traditions are a great way to cultivate that valuable grandparental involvement. Growing up, our family would trek out to New Mexico to spend Thanksgiving at my grandpa’s ranch. I’ve got lots of great memories of helping my grandpa with chores and riding horses with him.

8. Create lasting memories.

In her book Ask the Children, Ellen Galinsky, cofounder of the Families and Work Institute, describes a survey in which she asked children what they would remember most about their childhood. Most of the kids responded by talking about simple, everyday traditions like family dinners, holiday get-togethers, and bedtime stories.

Those positive childhood memories can help make your child a happier and more generous adult. While psychologists used to consider nostalgia a sign of depression, recent research has shown that reflecting fondly on one’s past actually provides a myriad of positive benefits including counteracting loneliness, boosting generosity towards strangers, and staving off anxiety.

Be deliberate as 2019 comes to an end, and we look forward to 2020 with your family. Think back to your childhood and make sure you are passing down those traditions you cherish and creating new ones unique for the future.