By: Bethany Newcomb, Elementary Director Belonging is what comes out of being fully known and fully loved. As I was thinking about how belonging is formed within families with elementary aged children, I thought of family traditions. Before going on, I want to clarify what I mean by “tradition”. When we hear the word tradition, we automatically think of something that is done in relation to a holiday. For the purpose of this post, I would like to use a broader definition of tradition: “a customary or characteristic method or manner”. Using this definition, a tradition could be something done for a holiday, but it also includes anything else that is done in a predictable pattern such as a weekly family movie night, praying with your child before they go to sleep, or pancakes for breakfast on Saturdays.
Value of Tradition
I want to begin by sharing a few reasons why family traditions can be valuable. First, family traditions create a unique identity for your family. In the same way that a uniform communicates which team an athlete belongs to, a family tradition can communicate to your child that they belong because they are invited to participate in something that is exclusive to members of your family. Second, family traditions can create safety through met expectations. Things that are known and can be counted on comfort people, especially children. The pattern and consistency of family traditions can help create the safety needed for children to feel belonging within your family.
Barriers to Tradition
There are many barriers to establishing and maintaining family traditions. My hope in naming some of them is that, by acknowledging their presence, they can become less scary or intimidating, and that you can find grace in openness rather than harboring hidden guilt.
One barrier can be time. Many families that I talk to are so busy already that the thought of trying to add even one more thing is overwhelming. Another barrier can be uncooperative children. Does it ever seem that it is the times when you are trying to do the things that your children will enjoy in the long run that they fight you the most in the process? You are not alone! The final barrier that I want to mention is that of feeling like what you are able to do will never be good enough and therefore isn’t worth even doing. Living in the world of Facebook means that we are constantly seeing the best of what other people doing. At times this can inspire us with new ideas, but it can also be discouraging when we begin comparing what we are doing with what other people are doing.
Though these barriers can be daunting and challenging to overcome, it is important to remember that no parent is ever going to be perfect, and therefore you are not alone! The key to moving past these barriers id giving yourself and your children grace and celebrate the family traditions that you are able to have rather than harboring guilt over not meeting the unrealistic expectation of perfection.
Rhythm of Tradition
Don’t fall into the myth that family traditions have to be really elaborate or take a lot of time in order to be worth doing. Think about what you are already doing, what the patterns of your family are. For example, if you are already having spaghetti for dinner often on Thursday nights, start using the intentional language of Thursday night being spaghetti night and there you have a family tradition! Weekends, mealtimes and bedtime are all good places to start looking for patterns that could become your family’s traditions.
Though we have talked about family traditions being more than just things that are done around holidays, I do want to say that holidays and birthdays can be very helpful to creating family traditions. These are good times to look at traditions that include your extended family as well.
Think about it… Some of the family traditions that you establish with your elementary aged kids now will be the things that they look for when they come home on break during college to make them feel at home and part of a family where they find belonging.