“You are kind and loving.”
“You share your bears with me.”
“You are so artistic! I love your sense of creativity.”
One by one, my daughter read the words aloud, a happy smile blooming on her face. My children had been aggravating each other all day, and I had decided it was time for a change. Gathering up colored paper, crayons, and stickers, I dumped the supplies on the table and called everyone over.
That’s when one of our family traditions—Compliment Cards—was born. The idea is simple: Each person decorates a card with their name, then passes it to their neighbor. The person who receives it then writes something kind about the person listed on the card and passes it on, repeating the process until it’s returned to the card’s creator. Then, each person takes turns reading the sentiments aloud.
Over the years, it’s often been those small shifts—those tiny traditions—that make up the fabric that weaves our family together. Many of us do traditions on a regular basis without thinking much about them: praying together, blasting favorite songs in the car, listing the day’s highs and lows at dinner, and snuggling at bedtime.
As parents, none of us need one more thing to add to our to-do list. Yet if we’re honest, sometimes our busyness interferes with our ability to create points of connection and lasting memories with our children. We long to cultivate intentional, consistent traditions into our lives, yet many of us don’t know where to start.
One method to incorporate family traditions is by focusing on weekly, monthly, and quarterly/seasonal traditions. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Choose a themed night. For example, our family gathers ice cream, marshmallow fluff, whipped cream, sprinkles, sauce, and cherries to make Sunday Sundaes every weekend.
- Connect the “event” to something recognizable, like certain food or specific music. My kids know we’ll eat cheese, crackers, and fruit when it’s Family Game Night, and Family Movie Night always includes “fancy” popcorn (with marshmallows and Reese’s).
- It’s okay to think small. An impromptu dance party during dinner prep, a karaoke or “talent” night, a walk around the neighborhood, star gazing, or trips to the park can all be meaningful traditions.
- If weekly themed nights are too challenging, make them monthly. Family Movie Night or Family Game Night are just as meaningful once a month.
- Having chosen a theme, switch up the details once every 4-5 weeks as part of your “monthly” tradition. For instance, eat different treats for Family Movie Night (cotton candy, caramel popcorn), switch the location (project it on the garage), or make it an outing (visiting the local theatre).
- Incorporate a tradition that already occurs monthly. We love subscription boxes. Our family has tried craft boxes, baking boxes, and book boxes, but our favorite is Universal Yums, a monthly snack box that highlights another country. One Friday night a month, we’ll read about the country and its snacks (my husband’s job), unwrap them (our 9-year-old’s job), cut them up into equal portions (my job), and catalog how well we liked them (our 11-year-old’s job).
- Start by considering your full year before deciding how much or how little to do each quarter/season. In the fall, we are busy reacclimating to school and gearing up for Christmas, so our activities are more low-key. Spring is often more low-key, as well, as we are busy gearing up for summer. Knowing our overall schedule is essential to making sure we don’t overcommit.
- Choose a few events or activities to highlight. Our Summer Bucket List is easily one of our favorite family traditions, full of at-home activities, day trips, and lots of opportunities to eat ice cream. In December, our family does an act of kindness each day from December 1-25. Because I know how much planning the Summer Bucket List and Advent Acts of Kindness requires, I don’t try to squeeze in anything else during those time frames.
- Consider how you might incorporate traditions you already have in place. For instance, if a Family Movie Night is something you do weekly or monthly, a larger tradition like a Summer Bucket List could include items that overlap, such as watching an outdoor movie with the neighbors or visiting a drive-in movie theatre.
Though it can be exciting to decide how you’d like to orchestrate traditions in your own family, don’t forget that it’s okay to start small, fail spectacularly, or readjust if things aren’t working. When my kids were tiny, most traditions revolved around things we could do at home. Now that they are elementary-aged, it’s easier to do more things beyond our four walls, but we constantly readjust.
But with a little planning, it’s possible to incorporate traditions that will help build connection and create lasting memories for years to come.
A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She now is an author of five truth-telling books, including the latest 100 Days of Kindness, and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin served as a newspaper and magazine editor and her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including USA Today. She still works behind-the-scenes as an editor for others while writing her own series on kindness, friendship, and living with intention. Find more from Kristin at theruthexperience.com.