30 Dec UFI: Without Our Traditions
From the Desk of Laura Bunker
Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas decorations, New Year’s fireworks — the holidays are filled with much-anticipated traditions. Family traditions are more than just fun, they are powerful sources of family strength and unity. Even simple, everyday family traditions such as good-bye hugs or bedtime stories give important structure and rhythm to family life. They bring predictability, cohesion, and comfort — especially during times of transition and stress.
Today’s interesting alert by UFI writer Beckie Mann, discusses the important benefits of family traditions. “Traditions or family rituals are actions that are performed repeatedly and have meaning for family members. . . Not every family needs a formal crest and motto, but every family needs good traditions.”
What are your family traditions? What new ones could you start? We invite you to join Beckie’s New Year’s resolution “to use family traditions to stabilize and strengthen [your] family.”
We also invite you to join the tradition of remembering UFI in your end-of-year giving, to support our critical work at the UN, state legislatures, and our educational and internship programs. Click here to make your tax-deductible donation to this important work, because everything worth fighting for begins and ends in the family!
Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year,
United Families International, President
“Without Our Traditions”
By Beckie Mann
“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Thus declares Tevye in the opening sequence of Fiddler on the Roof. Does your life seem shaky? My family life certainly seems chaotic lately with many changes and challenges. As a university student of family life, I have learned that traditions really do help stabilize and strengthen families.
The end of the year brings a variety of holidays with their accompanying traditions. Every family creates its own unique celebration that brings the family together and defines what the holiday means to them. Some families have traditions that have been passed down for several generations. These traditions help connect families to their roots and understand where the family came from. Other families may be building new traditions because things are always changing. Perhaps the family is growing or the grandparents moved into a small apartment or maybe the family feels a need for a new focus. New traditions help family members remain connected through transitions and renew their commitment to each other.
Traditions or family rituals are actions that are performed repeatedly and have meaning for family members. Many family rituals revolve around holidays or life events such as marriage. Other family rituals are more mundane, but are just as important- reading a bedtime story, or saying goodbye with a kiss. Rituals help family members stay in touch, confirm family values, and define family roles. Gilda Berger’s thoughts about the importance of Jewish holiday traditions describe the importance of all family traditions:
“The stories and holidays help bind the Jewish family together. They strengthen and deepen their unity and purpose. They keep alive their memories and way of life. They put them in tune with nature and the changing season. They give the Jewish people ideas about how to live their lives. They make them think about the kind of people they are and the kind of people they would like to be.”
Dr. John Gottman has led one of the most extensive studies of marriage relationships. He has defined seven principles that create lasting marriages. One of the principles is to “create shared meaning.” Gottman teaches that couples need to create a vision of who they are as couple and develop rituals to support that vision. For example, when a restaurant host wants to seat my husband and me on opposite sides of the table, we insist on being next to each other. At home, we sit next to each other on the couch and not even the cutest grandkid gets in between. Even when we are angry and give each other the silent treatment for a week, nobody sleeps on the couch.
What is your definition of couple? What rituals support that definition? How do your rituals strengthen you in times of stress?
Families also need to create shared meaning. In medieval Europe some families had family crests and mottos that displayed important family history and values. The Shackleton family motto was “by endurance we conquer.” Earnest Shackleton named his ship Endurance and set off to make a third attempt to conquer Antarctica. He failed to even reach the continent, but he valiantly helped his crew endure nineteen months of extreme polar conditions and brought them safely home. Shackleton had learned early in life “Difficulties are just things to overcome after all.”
Not every family needs a formal crest and motto, but every family needs good traditions. Research during the past century has found that family rituals are associated with many good outcomes for all family members. Kansas State University’s Connections Newsletter lists a few:
• Protect high-risk teens from unhealthy behavior
• Raise self-esteem of children and adolescents
• Help immigrants adjust to a new country
• Provide meaning to personal and family identity
• Increase physical health
• Help family members cope with stress of poor health
• Provide more order and structure to families which increases security and stability
• Decrease incidence of mental health issues in teens
• Long-term positive effects for dealing with life’s stress
• Increase family and marital satisfaction.
Researchers during the Great Depression and World War II wanted to find out why some families survive a crisis and others fall apart. Researchers concluded that family unity and adaptability enabled families to successfully overcome challenges together. One way to build family unity is through traditions or rituals. Rituals help families feel connected to each other and to value family relationships. Continuing research confirms that family rituals strengthen families and make them more resilient. Further research shows that maintaining family rituals and routines during major disruptions, such as divorce, can help protect children from negative effects.
Family rituals help families to organize their time and live more intentionally. Good traditions ensure families take the time to connect with each other. If our family did not honor the Sabbath, my husband would work seven days a week. He would never find time to make popcorn and watch a movie with the kids. Spending time together strengthens family relationships.
The Need to Connect
Humans have a strong need to be connected to other humans and to have a place where they belong. Dr. Sean Brotherson teaches that connectedness is important for the healthy development of teenagers. When teens feel connected to their parents, they have greater self-worth and social confidence. They are more likely to adopt the values of their parents and are more likely to avoid risky behaviors. One way to foster connectedness within a family is through family rituals.
Some of the most important family rituals are parting and greeting traditions. In the movie Ever After, the father always turns and waves one more time at the gate. For couples reuniting at the end of the day, Dr. Gottman suggests a six-second kiss. As family members venture out into the world, parting rituals remind them they have a home waiting to welcome them back. Homecoming traditions help family members reconnect.
The recent chaos in my family has left me feeling that my family needs more connection and order. In keeping with the cultural tradition of the New Year, I resolve to use family traditions to stabilize and strengthen my family.
Beckie Mann and her husband recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of six children and have one grandson. Beckie just graduated with a degree in marriage and family studies from BYU-Idaho.