My husband recently gave our family an unexpected gift. He had all of our home movies put on to DVD’s. Many of the film clips we had never seen, others we hadn’t seen in years! As a family, we ended up spending hours together watching the home movies – laughing till we cried, as the saying goes. Our daughters know their childhood through their own memories and through pictures and stories. But hearing and seeing these movies gave them a whole new perspective on what they were like as children, how they related as sisters and what our family life looked like. They noted how their grandparents, aunts and uncles doted on them, saw friends from the past and revisited all their old Halloween costumes.
We all had the opportunity to relive some of our family traditions and rituals. We saw holiday celebrations and birthday cakes. We asked the question, “Do you remember when we always used to…?”
Tradition and ritual are very grounding for families; for kids and adults alike. Whether it is seeing the Nutcracker every December, family game night with cousins at a reunion, a favorite food at a particular holiday, mom’s double chocolate birthday cake, getting a pumpkin each October from a pumpkin farm, a vacation spot you return to year after year, or walking to the ice cream store in summer – the list is endless. It’s a combination of people, places, activities, tastes, scents and sounds. But the consistency and repetition create memories that will be recalled even without home movies. Consistency for all of us, kids and adults, gives us a sense in our fast-paced world that we can count on certain events, certain people and a particular order to the world. This gives us comfort and produces wonderful memories as well.
Traditions don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. In fact, surveys of children who were asked about their family memories were most likely to mention family dinners, holiday gatherings and bedtime stories. And why is food such an important part of creating memories and sense of grounding? Food is comfort, food engages all the senses. Think about walking into a home and smelling the aroma of bread baking or a roast in the oven. Maybe there is a connection for us between these tastes and smells, and a sense of the love that went into the preparation.
For children, ritual provides a sense of security and predictability – which translates into safety and a sense of well being. Research studies on ritual indicate that families who engage in routine and ritual demonstrate higher parenting competence, child adjustment and marital satisfaction. Adolescents who have been raised with family rituals show higher social competence than those who were raised without–although many typical adolescents will show a lack of interest in family activities and traditions during their teenage years.
Yet, there is always room for spontaneity and new activities. To be in the moment with an activity, we find new things to do, new ways to celebrate. Some of those new moments will be a one-time event. And some will turn into new traditions.
Summer is a great time for engaging in rituals and for creating new ones. Whether children are five or twenty-five, they will respond to the act of participating in rituals. And they will likely carry them forward with their own children when the time comes, creating family traditions that go from generation to generation. The gift of consistency, grounding and memories might only be one ice cream store away.