Family Rituals
By Dr. Maryann Rosenthal

Family Rituals
A family ritual is a special way of doing things that’s full of meaning and is repeated over and over. Rituals show our beliefs and values in action and create a sense of belonging. They’re one of the best things we can do to help our kids—and maybe ourselves—navigate through major life changes. 
Taken together, these ceremonies give, at the least, something of a signature to a family and, at best, they weave a web of life that can support our children in troubled times. Rituals are especially good for families that are blended through divorce and remarriage and thus, perhaps more than most, need a glue to bind them.

Over time, we all learn the unspoken message of rituals: The family is important and will be there for us, no matter what.

Reflect on the role of rituals in your family. What are they? What message do they send? Do your kids appreciate them?

If meaningful rituals are lacking, begin to create them. Tradition and rituals don’t just have to be for the holidays or the first of year. Take a look at the things you do every day.

Create Christmas or birthday ‘Love Lists’. Instead of buying one another presents (or instead of buying too many presents), each family member makes a list of 25 reasons why the recipient is loved or valued. (Among the reasons one father received on his Love List: “You come up with weird ideas like this one.”)

Make a time to talk about heroes. Heroes tell a lot. Ask your child who his or her favorites are and why. And tell about yours.

Slip love notes in favorite places. None of us tell our loved ones often enough how much they mean to us. Maybe you could create a tradition of putting affectionate sticky notes—“I love you” or “You’re really terrific!”—in lunch pails, under plates, inside baseball gloves or on the car dashboard or somewhere where they’ll be seen in private.

Take control of your TV.  TV is a great destroyer of traditions. It’s so easy to turn it on and even eat your meals in front of it, letting everything else—conversations, art, chores, reading, listening to others—fall by the wayside.
Or maybe you ought to institute, say, a “No TV on Tuesdays” rule. Or some other night of the week on which the tube stays silent and talking is encouraged.

Choose a parent “date” night. The child picks one night a month to have the undivided attention or an activity with the parents. Stake out that date and don’t accept any other appointments. Do whatever your child wants to do at home or out.

Adopt a service project. Require all family members to get involved in at least one community project per year and keep the family apprised on their progress. Maybe they can regularly do chores for an elderly person. Or work for free at the library or church. Again, you’d do well to set the example.

Explore ethnicity. Choose one day a month to sample other cultures and cuisines. You might try Thai food one time, Mexican the next, and so on, and perhaps listen to that nation’s music as you dine.

Start an ‘Appreciation Day’. Pick out one family member to celebrate and get everyone to commit to being particularly nice to that person on that day.

Rituals are important not so much for what is said or done, but for the cohesiveness they build, the sense of unity that grows out of a shared, repeated experience. By creating meaningful rituals, we parents can strengthen families and help provide children with pillars of support. And with a little luck, years later your children may look back fondly on those happy times with the family and maybe even recreate the experience with his or her children.


Dr. Maryann Rosenthal’s new book “Be A Parent Not a Pushover is available in bookstores everywhere. Dr. Maryann tells how to find a balance between loving your children and setting limits for them, to generate trust, confidence, resilience, and integrity.

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