The old American Dream was to build a business and successfully hand it down from one generation to the next. The mom and pop restaurant, the local car dealership or auto shop, the beauty salon. The idea of raising your children and paving the way to a lucrative career running the family business has become virtually a dead art. Of course, there are millions of other ways to pass down family traditions as well, whether it be Grandma’s amazing carrot cake or the annual holiday festivities. According to Myrna Shure’s book, Raising Pre-Teens it is family traditions precisely that give children specific levels of comfort and security in their often confusing lives, that help them to feel both the blessings and the connections to their family.
For many people the idea of ‘family traditions’ is something monumental. You may think that a certain yearly vacation or visiting relatives for Easter each year is the kind of traditions that you want to keep around. However, children see things a little differently. In fact, many of the questions that you ask you about the events in their lives – are often really about whether or not you are going to remain consistent with your own family traditions. Family traditions don’t have to be something big and they certainly don’t have to revolve around a holiday. Case in point, visiting the same restaurant after church on Sundays can become a family tradition. So can watching American Idol. So can baking star shaped cookies for Santa. And no matter how old you or your child gets, they will never quite outgrow the meanings of these family traditions.
Valerie Adams, a speaker who teaches seminars on traditions says, “a tradition involves three things - anticipation, participation, and reflection.” In fact, having lunch at Dairy Queen every Friday after school can quickly turn into a family tradition. And it is often these understated and almost silent traditions that we build in our families, which teach kids the most and give them the most security. Some traditions in your family may start out of sheer necessity. The busy family of 6 shuffling children from one ball practice to games and trying to sneak in some quality family time in the mix may start implementing certain rituals into their routine that will quickly become family traditions. Too often, parents don’t seem to recognize them as easily as the children. However, you can bet if your kids are asking you specific questions about whether or not specific events will or will not occur, they are in reality anticipating them as part of your family routine and tradition.
As your children grow older, it is normal and perhaps necessary in their own development to have urges to rebuke the traditions. They may grumble about having to go to dear Aunt Sally’s house. They may bow out of certain family functions feeling like they are too old to attend or because they simply have more pressing issues to contend with. Allowing them to do so is purely a parental decision, however in some cases parents find that when they don’t put up a fight and let the decision lay with the child, the child will ‘grudgingly’ agree to participate anyways. Why? Because it is part of the family traditions.
As you have become an adult, chances are many family traditions of your own have died out as elders passed away, family members scattered across the country and lifestyles changed. This may cause you to reminisce about things you did with your family as a child that may have been rather insignificant at the time. Fishing in the pond up the street from your house with your father. Sharing a Peanut Buster Parfait with your grandmother on Wednesdays. That rare inkling for a scrumptious dish that only your grandpa could make. Looking back, it is easy to see just how monumental they were when they were happening. It will also likely push you to renew the spirit of passing down family traditions to your own child.
Family traditions are nice in that, they give a snapshot of what your family is all about. You may not realize in the moment that you are making family traditions – only to see your own daughter do some of the same things with her own kids when she is grown. Seeing these ‘things’ or events passed down in that matter clearly magnifies just how much these little traditions, necessities of your family existence were.
For people who get divorced, often the most difficult part of the break-up is the desertion that it causes with your family traditions. You may not miss your spouse, but you will miss some of the things that you did together as a family. And your children will feel this too. Some things will never feel the same again.
Passing down family traditions, whether intentional or not – is one of those things that just seems to happen. It can be as simple as a recipe or as complex as an annual trip to a warm Florida resort for the holidays. What makes it special is that everyone in the family anticipates, participates, and eventually reflects on the occurrence. If you are sitting around with your now grown cousins, discussing some of the crazy things that went on as kids – you can bet that they were family traditions. Even if some of they do seem a tad dysfunctional looking back, they were very concrete ways that you helped grow up to define yourself as part of a family.
Family traditions in some ways can feel more like expressions of manners and grace. You do certain things at certain times because it is expected of you. Yet, the deeper meaning, the one that will always stay with you is much more complicated. Children learn how to define who they are by the rituals of their own family. They also are able to time stamp their lives by using traditions as reference points. For kids growing up, who may not truly understand the time involved in a decade – they will be able to arrange the years by looking back at family traditions. For most of us, it is these traditions that serve to string all the phases of our lives together into one.