by Shelly White
Rituals are those repeated actions done again and again in the interest of things like: focus, grounding, tradition, cultural symbolism, predictable life rhythms, and feeling a part of something. The current world of today leaves in-person family together time less frequent and less personal.
Technology allows one to be able to communicate with family at the touch of a screen quickly and right now—yet relationships can be less touchy feely and personal, readily available but short, and overall more black and white. In such a society, the family needs its own personal rituals more than ever to ensure its survival in this fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world.
Rituals can ground a family and help it focus; they have been found by psychological research to actually have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In terms of the family unit, the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates that family rituals are associated in families today with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement, and stronger family relationships.
Rituals are more symbolic than simple to-do’s and actions, as they can bridge the generations and ground the entire unit in something meaningful and unique to that particular family. They can be born out of the family’s values and goals for its perpetuation.
When considering family rituals that could be at risk of extinction in today’s busy world, one may come up with family meals as one that’s threatened. This used to be a ritual performed every night by most families; without distractions such as television, cellphones, and the like.
Today, for the health of the family, it is still important to have that family meal time for sharing and communicating, but it is often more realistic to reserve certain meals of the week for family time. Perhaps a family can closely guard certain meals, such as a weekend breakfast, Sunday meal, and at least one dinner during the week. One can even reserve a ritual of once-weekly meals for extended family and bring meaning to a greater group while passing on traditions and values from generation to generation. Members not only get valuable relationship and tradition within a single-family home, but also when family comes together for interaction between grandparents and grandchildren; uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews; siblings with siblings, cousins, with cousins, and parents with grown children.
The effects will impact how each family member interacts out in the world with others as well. It is important to keep in mind the day-to-day, real-life demands of families when planning such rituals like the family meal, so that making them happen is not a stress filled ordeal. Family rituals can involve even simpler things than meals; including such things as family walks once a week, family game night once a month, family activities every other weekend that involve interaction, or even family holidays and birthdays done together at a certain time every year.
Rituals do not always have to be those things thought of as “fun” activities either. Family chore time once per week or once per day can be meaningful rituals, as can goodnight rituals and family meetings held at laid out times to allow members to give input and appreciation for one another. Whatever the family ritual, it is vital that people have some sense of routine and predictability in a world that is often unpredictable and uncertain. Such rituals allow each member to feel like a part of something and grounded in something real and safe.
For the health of the family, it is important to decide on family rituals that bring each member of the family a sense of belonging and validation while being consistent and stable. If a family takes on rituals that are too complicated or never fit in to the schedule, the family will find themselves losing them. While it is necessary to be mindful of carrying out family rituals, they should also feel rhythmic, natural, and positive for each individual and unique family. Get the family together and figure out what is important and safe for each member and go from there in identifying the best family rituals to fit your life!