Family Rituals Come in All Flavors

My niece had moved back after college. My mother reasoned that the best way to ensure that she’d be able to see her busy granddaughter on a regular basis would be to plan for it. So family dinner night at Mayberry’s, a local sandwich and ice cream place, was born. Over the years as family members have moved back and new people have been added to the family, they’ve joined them. Or should  I say “us,” because when I moved back I joined them as well.

It’s been an ever-changing group. First we lost my mom and then my dad. Along the way we’ve added three children. For a while we were blessed to have four generations gather together every single week.

Mayberry’s is a big deal. The other week my niece explained to her five year old son that they couldn’t go because he had open house at his new school that night. He wailed that he didn’t care about open house – it was Mayberry’s night. His friends there (the staff) would miss him. And besides, “How will Aunt Peggy go on?” (I managed to soldier on.)

The importance of Mayberry’s demonstrates the importance of rituals for children. They create a boundaries, a place in which they can feel safe. It is a routine that can be counted on, even when one is faced with new schools or siblings or a fight with a friend. Structure is important for children, and while they may protest structures like bedtimes and chore expectations, the truth is that they thrive with them.

Actually, adults need rituals as well. Do you get up and make a cup of coffee first thing in the morning? That’s a ritual (and for many of us, a life saving necessity.) I am one of the dinosaurs for whom reading the morning paper is a ritual.

The problem for we adults is that sometimes we find ourselves adopting rituals that aren’t so helpful to us. Like using food or alcohol or drugs to self-soothe when we’re upset. Or starting our days in a way that puts us behind and agitated before we’ve even really started. Or staying up too late which sabotages our attempts to get up early to have time to walk, read or journal.

What are some of your rituals? Are they helping you or hurting you?