Family traditions are the most effective and memorable ways of passing on our values to our children.
But what are family traditions? They are the stories, customs, beliefs, and habits we hold dear and pass on to our children. They can relate to our religion, environment, lineage, or our individual family unit.
Family traditions are things we should consider with care so that we may
- intentionally communicate what they’re for and what they mean to us,
- use them to teach life’s lessons,
- forget about those traditions that no longer serve us while inventing new ones that do,
- further bring our families together as a team through trust and beloved shared memories.
Traditions, unlike habits, are things we do on purpose and with intent. They are often handed down from one generation to the next though we can (and should) start them at any time.
They can create a sense of belonging and give rhythm and seasonality to our lives through their regular celebration. Family traditions can help teach values and transfer knowledge to our children, but only if we explain why we do them.
In most cases, it doesn’t hurt anything. But blindly following traditions can, at best, lead to a certain level of apathy and disconnectedness from critical thinking. At worst, not knowing what traditions are really for or about can leave us and our children (as adults) going to great extremes and suffering unnecessary distress to maintain them.
If you enjoy a tradition, keep at it. But here’s an important reminder:
You don’t need to suffer through old traditions just for tradition’s sake. It’s perfectly okay to let go of what no longer serves you or your family.
How to Explain and Evaluate Traditions
To help you explain traditions to your family and perhaps filter out the ones that no longer serve you, we came up with a little exercise.
- Write down as many of your family traditions as you can think of. They can include daily, weekly, monthly, and/or annual events. See here for great examples.
- Using language appropriate for a young child, explain what is so special about this particular behavior that you choose to repeat it? Was it started by someone important in your family? Does it have a religious association? Does it honor someone you care about?
- Do you enjoy this tradition, or does it feel like a chore? If it feels like a chore, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you stop doing it?
- Is there a value or lesson you’re hoping to communicate through this behavior, or is it just a feeling? (Any answer is acceptable.)
- If you had to stop practicing this tradition in the usual way, could you convey the meaning, lesson, or feeling in a different way?
When you can answer those questions, you’ll have everything you need to explain your traditions to your kids, find new meaning and intent behind your choices, and perhaps downgrade some traditions to just being habits that you don’t need to bother with anymore.
Your relationship will be that much stronger for the effort to bring awareness to your actions and make room for introducing new traditions that bring more joy and happiness at any time of year.
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Somer is the Chief Content Officer at Raising Families living in Southern California with her husband and five-year-old son. She spent 10 years in the architecture field as a designer and medical planner and now applies her love of integrative thinking and big-picture planning to her family and career. Read full bio >>