I had an email from a young woman the other day who told me she had suffered significant abuse when she was growing up and had severed all ties with her family. She said she was doing well now, had embraced simple life, had a good job, had recently married and was looking forward to the birth of her first baby next month. Being a soon-to-be first time mother made her wonder about family traditions and what she should be passing on to her children. Having the history she has, she doesn't want to carry on any of her family traditions but wants a thread of family history to run through her new family. What could she do?
I told her she should start her own traditions.
When you think about it, every tradition, whether very grand or the small family traditions most of us enjoy, starts because one person decided it was important enough to continue and connect families over the years. We can all be that person, we can all start our own family traditions.
The easy and obvious ones are attached to the holidays - Christmas, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year etc. Often these involve large family gatherings and food, specific to that time of year. In my home, we've embraced some aspects of traditional religious holidays and mixed them with things that we wanted to include. We observe some traditions from Hanno's culture and some from mine. It doesn't have to be the same for all families. It just has to be right for yours. So with these traditions, think about what the tradition is, then modify it to suit you and your family. After that, you just have to do it.
You could easily start small family traditions such as dad reading to the children before bed. My father used to do that and I read to my sons. Go camping at Easter time or at the same time during the year when you always have a few days off. Enter food in the local show/fair using some of grandma's old recipes and see if you can improve every year. Get the kids involved too. Start some food traditions. Not just in what you eat but in preparing the food as well. Start a family preserving day where you invite all the willing members of your family to bring over a box of tomatoes or fruit and then cook and bottle sauce or jam for later in the year. Those traditions can become much loved family events where family stories and history are passed on.
A very worthwhile tradition is everyone gathering at the kitchen table to eat the main meal of the day. It is there we can really connect with our children and share what's happening today and next week. Make sure there are no phones at the table and if yours rings, don't answer it. If you're trying to teach your teens that their phone isn't as important as the family meal time, you have to reinforce that by ignoring your phone while you're seated at the table.
We all benefit from traditions. Whether it's because they give us a feeling of belonging to a particular family or because they create a bond between everyone that nothing will break. Traditions can help make us stronger and feel safe and secure, not only in ourselves but as a family group as well.
So to that young woman, I encourage you to look at what you do throughout the year and mark the important days with your own traditions. I can't think of a better time to do it than when a new baby is born into the family - it's a new life in so many ways.
What are your family traditions? Did you start any new traditions of your own?