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5 Traditions for the Modern Family

5 Traditions for the Modern Family

It's funny. We thought of ourselves as fairly non-traditional before we had kids. Coming from two different cultures, we didn't follow any particular traditions as a couple. We lived from day to day, we responded to whatever life threw our way. Once we had kids, that changed, fast!

Watching our firstborn crawling around and hungrily taking in the world around him, we realized that an enormous part of what our son would experience and understand about life as a child would depend on us. His childhood memories and his resulting view of the world... were up to us.

With our little one looking to us to shape each day of his life, we started to wonder what would make our family, our family. When our son looked back on his childhood, what would he remember as typical?

Family traditions say I love you, our time together is sacred

The glue that binds families together

We all remember certain family rituals and traditions we grew up with. Bedtime stories. Sunday lunches. Perhaps taking part in religious or cultural events. When we think of our childhood, these are the things we often enjoy looking back on – the good things that happened repeatedly and deliberately.

Family traditions are moments when family members get to focus fully on each other. Taking part in a family tradition shows a commitment to the lifelong relationship between the members of the family. It says, "I love you and our time together is sacred". Family traditions are a reliable reminder to turn towards each other regularly and celebrate life together.

Research has shown that in families in which rituals and traditions are upheld, children are generally more well-adjusted, marital satisfaction is higher, and parents are even better at parenting...! [1] 

But are traditions outdated?

We felt a pull towards establishing some lovely family traditions for our children, but we weren't sure what to do. We liked many of the rituals and traditions we had grown up with, but our lives were so different from our parents'.

To start with, our household is a culturally blended one. Some of the cultural and religious rituals we experienced just don't apply to our modern, multicultural children. Secondly, we are (or at least feel) busier than our parents ever were. Would we be able to orchestrate the elaborate family rituals our mothers often organized? And third, our children's living environment and expectations are so different. We didn't grow up being able to play back a slideshow of photos on a big screen just ten minutes after they had been taken, for example.  We didn't grow up saying, "See it! See it!" the second a video had been shot.

The truth is, family traditions are still important, but perhaps it's ok if they are not passed down from generation to generation totally intact. Each young family has its own lifestyle and needs, and it's fine for a family to come up with its own, updated family traditions.

5 modern family traditions

Here are five modern family traditions that work for us and might work for your family, too. We like them because they focus on the meaning behind the experience rather than on a fixed required activity. This way, you can adapt them to work for your family and your unique needs.


Outside time - modern family traditions

1)  Outside time

Why: In this time of constantly accessible screen-based entertainment, time outdoors has become rare and precious. We want to pass this healthy family ritual on to our children.

What your family gets: Fresh air and sunlight, Vitamin D, movement and family interaction

How it works: Once a week, head outdoors as a family. Don’t take any toys to entertain the kids. (If you do, take toys that get kids interacting with their environment – such as a shovel and bucket, or a ball). Explore a park or playground, play tag, hold hands and run together as a family, roll in the grass, play silly games. Just enjoy being together, exploring as a family, and feeling the sun and wind on your face. Enjoy being alive together in this most simple way. The effort to get outside, all together as a family, and have some unstructured time is really worth the pay-off…we promise. When possible, invite grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins along!


Learning by reflection

2) Memory time

Why: In our busy lives, we often don't take enough time to talk to our children about their previous experiences - their memories. Discussing (even in toddler language!) and reflecting on past experiences are an important part of how children develop an understanding of how the world works and their place in it.

What your family gets: Reinforcement and enjoyment of shared memories, an understanding of how the world works (for the kids)

How it works: Establish a regular time (at the end of each month, or every time it's someone's birthday, for example) to sit down as a family and talk about past events you have experienced together. With children, it really helps to have photos or videos to look at. These will help to trigger their memories and get them talking. Look at some online albums, or even better, your own family heirbook, and talk about a recent family holiday, a birthday, or the birth of a sibling. Make sure the whole family is together and everyone gets to enjoy contributing something to the conversation.


3) Hands-on time

Why: In the pre-television, pre-digital days, young children had to entertain themselves almost entirely with hands-on play. Nowadays they often don't get enough. Hands-on play is the most important way children learn about concepts like cause and effect and other basic understandings that lead to the development of maths, science, literacy and creativity skills.[2]

What your family gets: Fun, messy, creative time together – and a wonderful way to bond as a family

How it works: Once a week, or once every two weeks (whenever you can regularly get mum, dad and kids together) clear a table that you can all sit at. Choose a hands-on activity you can all do together, such as making playdough animals and putting them together to form a zoo, making a large handprint painting using all family members' handprints, preparing dough for cookies, or making a salad together. Key is to enjoy the process and not expect perfection! The bonding experience is what matters.


Inspiration time - modern family traditions

4) Inspiration time

Why: It's so easy to find out about the world through television and digital media that we sometimes forget to go out and get inspired by real experiences. Sharing inspiring moments as a family gives you lots to talk about and think about. These are the kind of experiences your kids will still want to enjoy with you as they become teenagers and adults with kids of their own.

What your family gets: A long-lasting tradition of exploring the world and its wonders together

How it works: Visit a museum, attend a concert, take a weekend trip to another city. Sample food at a farmer's market, go to a musical, learn how to make pottery. Think of activities both mum and dad and the kids will enjoy. Try to do this at least once a month if you can. To tie this in with "Memory time" (above), you could even put together an heirbook that tells the story of your family's most memorable "Inspiration time" adventures. This is a great way to share your family's adventures with grandma and grandpa, too.


5) Storytelling time

Why: Stories are all around us… in books, on television, in children's apps… People never have to tell their own stories anymore. Some of us still remember our parents telling us stories off the top of their heads, making them up as they went along. There is something totally irreplaceable about a story your mum or dad has made just for you. What about a story told by mum and dad?

What your family gets: The ultimate bonding moment… storytime with a story made up by mum and dad.

How it works: Mum, dad and kids all cuddle up at bedtime. Mum (or dad) starts by saying.. "Once upon a time, there was...". Dad (or mum) continues with a sentence, and so on and so on… taking turns to each tell a sentence of the story, until one of them decides to end the story. This sounds harder than it is. Once you get started, you won't be able to stop. It can get unintentionally hilarious, and kids love this. When kids are old enough and if they want to, they can join in, too. Although sometimes, kids just like to lie back and listen to the loving voices of their very own mum and their very own dad, telling their very own story.


We hope these ideas provide some inspiration!

Which of the traditions above have you tried or do you want to try? Or do you have other family traditions you would recommend? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments.

[1] Fiese B, Tomcho T, Douglas M, et al. A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: cause for celebration? J Fam Psychol. 2000;16:381-390.



Anonymous - 16-Apr-2013 10:04 PM
Nice i well try to do all this for my lil girl...Muuaaah thank you guys.

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