Every family has its own family routines that are passed down through the generations. Rituals help us connect to our families and communities in meaningful ways.
What is your family’s history? What makes your family unique? When did you start practicing these traditions? Why do they matter to you? These are all questions to consider when establishing or re-establishing your own personal ritual practices with your entire family.
Family rituals can include everything from holiday celebrations, passing down heirlooms, honoring loved ones on special days, or simply reciting a phrase …the possibilities are endless! It’s all about spending quality time with the people you love most.
How can you make time for rituals in your family?
Family rituals don’t always need to be elaborate or take up a lot of time. They just need to be intentional and meaningful to all involved. For example, you could include an activity with each member of the family that is special only to them (e.g., weekly bike ride, Saturday night hot chocolate, nightly bedtime story).
It could be as simple as one day out of the week, everyone gets together and cooks a meal together. A meaningful ritual is one that is special to everyone involved. How much tastier will dinner be if everyone was involved with the process? Especially if during the preparation, no devices were allowed so a conversation could be had! This mealtime ritual is one I am sure everyone will look forward on a regular basis.
Try writing down some ideas you have about how might incorporate bonding moments into your family’s daily life, and then share these ideas as a group. To help get your family started on your own personal quest for ritual creation, below is a list of ideas to build from:
Meaningful Family Rituals
The benefits of family rituals are incredible, but if you don’t even know where to begin, here are a few ideas to get you started. These everyday activities that you can fold into your regular routines will help strengthen your family unit without extra stress or worry. Some of these line items can happen during family meals while others will need to take place during another part of your day.
- Assembling the complete set of cutlery from Grandma’s wedding registry for Thanksgiving dinner. Or simply using the same pattern every year at Christmas!
- Here’s a bedtime ritual – set aside 15 minutes before bedtime each day to read stories together as a family. On Mondays that means Paddington Bear, Tuesdays are Dr. Seuss, Wednesdays are Harry Potter…and so on!
- Spending an afternoon in the park together each month during springtime when it begins to warm up outside and enjoy several family activities as a unit. Here’s some nature journaling tips.
- Taking turns every other Sunday night to put on a performance.
- Taking a regular family photo every year on your child’s birthday. And then re-creating that same photo each year on their birthday!
- Making one weeknight each month “movie night” where everyone gets together, eats popcorn, and watches a family-friendly film. This can feel like a very meaningful time for little ones. Here are some movie night snack suggesstions.
- Offering to take your kids to school/camp in the morning instead of sending them off alone, even if you have to set an earlier alarm! Make this a part of their regular routines.
- Hosting a personal garage sale for just your family at least once per year, or setting aside one weekend day for yard sales with extended family members only. Or maybe selling lemonade at the curb when it’s hot outside! Who can?
- Eating breakfast together every day, even if that just means cereal at your own kitchen table. This falls into one of their predictable routines, which gives them a sense of safety at home.
- Setting aside one Sunday night per month for “game night.” This can be board games or video games, depending on the family!
- There are different levels of family ritual dedication and this one is pretty bold. How about celebrating birthdays all week long? Send cards in the mail to out-of-town family members. Decorate with homemade birthday decor on the front of the house to spruce it up a bit! Go out to dinner once or twice. Make it a big deal. In my house, we do a birthday month.
- Hiking/walking each Saturday morning together before breakfast as a way to start the day off strong can almost feel like family therapy. You will be surprised at how much the kids open up once on a trail. Once everything is done, head to brunch! This is a great way to strengthen family ties. Here’s a nature scavenger hunt.
- Every family member commits to reading five books for the year. Try to keep that goal by December 31st! Families of children can then sit down together and have a reading hour. Here’s a book scavenger hunt for little kids.
- Rearranging your weekly schedules to have a family dinner together every Thursday night.
- Baking something together once per week as a family, and then enjoying the treats during “family breakfast” on Saturday mornings. Try this bacon french toast casserole. YUM!
- Taking one road trip each year somewhere new! Or even doing a themed road trip where you drive around looking at Christmas lights after Thanksgiving, or drive to all of the state parks in your region…the possibilities are endless!
- Walking into church/mosque/temple arm-in-arm with your child each Sunday morning. And then going for brunch once done.
- Hosting a monthly poetry night with a strict 8 p.m. start time where everyone is allowed to share one poem that has moved them recently…or their own original work. Some rituals in families can be highly educational as well.
- Making up a new family tradition each month that involves everyone pitching in and then enjoying the fruits of your labor together later on!
- Going to see one movie every three months as a family, and then discussing it over dinner or ice cream sundaes once done.
- Having family board game night once per week instead of watching TV.
- Putting aside $10 or $20 per month for something fun like bowling, karaoke, mini golfing, etc. And then doing this activity without kids during one evening each month!
- Creating a “bucket list” for the family that includes at least 10 things you hope to do together before your kids are 18. Then agreeing as a family to split up the items evenly and checking them off, one by one!
- Organizing game nights each month with extended family members. This can include all kinds of board games, card games or even outdoor lawn games like bocce ball or badminton!
- Taking an annual vacation together as a family (and extended family members) somewhere new.
- Creating unique “go-bags” for everyone in the car ahead of time every single holiday/vacation season. These should contain water bottles, granola bars, books, magazines…anything you think people might need while traveling!
- Eating one family-style meal per week where everyone can sit down and enjoy the same food at the table together.
- Making s’mores every single Friday night all summer long as a family, and then sitting around and talking about your day while roasting marshmallows over the fire.
- Every single morning before school/work/life, making breakfast as a quick “family meeting” for 10 minutes…and then saying something positive to each other as you pass by on your way out of the house!
- Putting aside $5 per month for one Saturday every three months that is designated as “Pizza & Movie Night.” Letting everyone pick their own toppings and then watching a movie together.
- Going on a weekly date night with each parent for one hour, where they can do anything they want – a manicure-pedicure, a walk in the park, going out to dinner…the possibilities are endless!
- “Secretly” picking up flowers from Trader Joe’s while running other errands once per week and using that as your family’s centerpiece!
- Hanging up one new piece of art created by each child every single month on the wall. Then talking about the piece and why it was created, together as a family.
- Taking one night every week during which no electronics are allowed on-and-everyone is expected to talk with each other that entire evening…about whatever they want!
Why are family rituals important?
In a time of ever-increasing individualism, rituals can be a great way to make your family feel connected and secure. It is also an easy way to create family memories that will stay with you for a lifetime! Rituals can bring up feelings of belonging and togetherness. They can be a great way to teach your kids important life lessons in a fun, meaningful context.
Rituals provide security and stability across generations. They are an emotional safety net for families. There is something wonderful about knowing that we will always mark certain events or milestones in the same way. This provides comfort and security over time, allowing us to focus on the moment instead of worrying about planning ahead. And besides… they are FUN, too.
HOW TO CREATE FAMILY RITUALS?
The good news is that rituals can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be! There are false perceptions of family rituals that they have to be difficult and hard to maintain and that is simply not the case. For instance, one huge one that I do in my house is that we have bagels every Sunday before church. I’ve been doing this for 20 years with my husband. It’s as easy as that!
Another tradition we hold is heading in NYC every Christmas and going to see the tree and Santa at Macy’s with the kids. That’s what I used to do as a child and now we make sure to do the same with our little ones. Naturally, that takes a bit more work than getting bagels, but the thought process is still the same. It’s something special and meaningful to us and we make it happen. It’s also something everyone looks forward to. I suppose that’s the formula.
However, if you’re looking for something a bit more concrete, here’s what you need to do to start your own family process.
Step 1: CHOOSE EVENT/MILESTONE TO MARK
Choose an event or milestone from your child’s life to mark with a ritual. Some events may include: first day of school, birthdays & holidays, changes in height or weight, sporting events, performing arts milestones, awards ceremonies at school…the possibilities are endless!
Step 2: CHOOSE A PHRASE OR ACTION TO MARK THE EVENT/MILESTONE
The action you decide upon should relate to the milestone. You could do a family toast, create a family hand gesture, visit a special location, or eat a specific meal. The choice is up to you.
Step 3: REPEAT THE RITUAL ONCE A YEAR (OR WHEN YOU WANT TO CELEBRATE!)
Rituals are meant to be repeated over time. You can even make up your own ritual to mark new milestones or events that feel extra special! Just remember…the most important thing is to start this tradition and create a space for your family to come together, honor each other’s strengths, laugh, and be a little silly.
IDEAS FOR DAILY FAMILY RITUALS
Typically, the practice of family rituals happens naturally. All of a sudden you find yourself pulling for the same set of Thanksgiving plates every year and then it becomes a habit. But perhaps you want to start doing things for your kids with intentions. Are you looking for daily ideas to bring into your family routines?
If you are hoping to strengthen your family relationships – with preschool children or those in college – here are some great ideas to get you started.
Family Breakfast Conversation: Sit down together for breakfast every morning at home or when you’re traveling. It’s a great time for everyone to connect before school/work/camp etc. The goal is not to plan activities but rather to chat about each person’s thoughts on what they are looking forward to during the day ahead or what they are grateful for in their lives. o Bonus points if you do this at the same time every day.
Give Thanks Every Day: Write down three things you are thankful for each day before bedtime. It doesn’t have to be related to one another. Bonus points if you do this at the same time every day!
Family Joke Hour: Every night, each person can contribute one joke to finding a way to laugh together as a family for 15 minutes. It’s not about being perfect or about trying to make everyone happy all of the time.
Family Book Swap: Each person can contribute one book they think the family will like to come together and share in the same space at least once a week (or when you’re traveling!). You can keep track of what everyone brought in a notebook or on your favorite electronic device.
Family Art Night: Create an art night where you come together as a family to share your creativity with one another. You can keep it simple by drawing or painting on big pieces of poster board, working on your favorite craft project together, using fabric paints and stencils to decorate t-shirts, etc. The idea is just to give everyone the experience of stepping into someone else’s creative world for a bit…and seeing where that takes us all 🙂
Free Write Together: Everyone gets ten minutes in the morning or evening (or both!) to write about whatever they want without judgment. No idea is too bizarre! This can be done using pen and paper, online in your browser (try Google’s blogger.com), or with special notebook paper. The goal is to find a space where each person feels they can contribute without pressure…the goal of this game is the journey itself.
World Cafe: This game is all about taking turns sharing what we are curious about during family meeting time or at dinner time before bedtime.
Family Memory Jar: Every family has a unique story to tell. It’s important for us to share the ups and downs, victories and losses, fun times and hard times because it is through our family stories that we get to see ourselves differently…and hopefully together!
To create these memories, make a glass jar or box filled with slips of paper each time something special happens. Write down what happened on the slip of paper before you put it in your memory jar/box. Each person can contribute their own account of big events to help others get a better sense of how everything unfolded.
Monthly Family Ritual Ideas:
Grocery store scavenger hunt: Before you head out on a shopping trip, get everyone’s input about what kind of items they’d like to find at the grocery store. Come up with some clues together and send each person off in their own direction throughout the store while one family member stays with the cart! This is a great activity for all ages because it allows some independence but also provides a built-in conversation starter once you’re all back home again.
Sunday Scaries Cure: You can’t control when Monday morning strikes or how much sleep your kids got last night, but you CAN show up ready to start the week off right by coming together as a family to break bread on Sunday night before bedtime. You can make your own challah bread together or buy dinner from a local restaurant. The more you involve the whole family in this routine, the better off everyone will become Monday morning.
The Bucket List: Make a list of all of the things your family loves to do together. Try doing something new together every month or so and check them off as you go until your bucket list is empty!
Meal Planning Night: Come up with 2-3 menu ideas for the week ahead using leftovers, new recipes, etc. Everyone should chip in around making shopping lists and coming up with different options on how/when each meal could be prepared. Once everything is decided, create an official calendar so everyone has what they need to make it happen!
Picture Day: Create a routine of taking photos of your family (either by yourself or with all members using an app like Frontback ) before bedtime every night. This is a great way for everyone to drop their screens and just be present with what’s happening each night. The morning after, pick out your favorite photo of the bunch and frame it somewhere where you’ll see it throughout the day. It will surely put a smile on your face.
Family Handshake: Create ways that each member can show the others they are thinking about them during school time, work time, etc. Something as simple as giving someone’s hand a squeeze could say so much even when there aren’t words!
Coffee Date: Why not try getting everyone together once a week for an hour or so during coffee time?! If you don’t like coffee, that’s OK (haha), I’m sure you all can find something to love about the local cafe/coffee shop in your area.
TV Ban: Sometimes it’s important to unplug and unwind after a long day of work or school which is why banning TV on weeknights is such a great idea!
Family Newspaper: Have everyone contribute to a family newspaper or blog! You can make it in your favorite word processing program, online in your browser, or on special notebook paper. The point is to use words to honor one another’s strengths and share how their actions are making the world a better place for someone they know/don’t know. Once finished, take turns reading aloud your way through the “newspaper” at dinner time or when you are snuggling up together before bedtime.
Spice of Life: The next time you cook dinner, throw in a new spice or herb that everyone can try. It doesn’t matter if it turns out to be yummy or not because the process is what matters most! Also take some time to talk about where this new ingredient comes from, who uses it in their cooking, etc.
Kitchen Dance Party: Time for some fun! Turn up the music and let your family dance together around the kitchen counter while you’re making breakfast/lunch/dinner or even cleaning up those dishes!