December 15, 2010

Rituals Give Hope, Add Dimension to Family Life

If you're a parent, I suspect you can remember saying, “If we can just get the baby out of diapers, things will be so much easier.” Perhaps you were a stay-at-home mom who uttered to herself more than once, “I cannot wait until the kids are in school all day.”

Fast-forward 15 years. Your baby turns 16 and he has a driver's license. You wish he were still driving his Cozy Coupe around the cul-de-sac. Fast-forward another five years. Your daughter turns 21 and she stays out all night partying with friends. You get misty-eyed remembering when she used to toddle around the house and take afternoon naps.

You ask yourself where the years went. What you wouldn't give to sit in your grandmother's rocking chair and sing your son to sleep one more time. You rummage through a stack of old VHS videotapes in search of the one with the footage of your daughter getting on the school bus for her first day of kindergarten.

Parenting is a journey full of momentous occasions. Some of them are happy, some are sad and some are bittersweet. Moments don't have to end. As a parent, you can keep these moments alive by establishing family rituals.

For my son's first birthday, I bought a personalized audio cassette of a space creature singing Happy Birthday greetings to him from the moon. Every year on his birthday -- he's now had 18 of them -- that audio cassette awakens him. He grumbles about how juvenile it is, but there's a smile on his face that tells me he would be disappointed if one year I didn't play that birthday greeting for him at the crack of dawn. I really need to have that cassette transferred to CD to extend its life if I want to be able to continue to play it for many more years.

I always insisted my children eat dinner before they would go trick-or-treating on Halloween. I suppose the maternal side of me was convinced that dinner would cancel out the sugary treats they would be enjoying later that evening. The year my children were 2 and 4, I made Sloppy Joes and served them with barbecued potato chips and dill pickle spears. It was an easy dinner to prepare, and one they could eat quickly before heading out the door. I've made that same meal every Halloween. My daughter calls from college each Oct. 31 and says she wishes she were home for that traditional meal. I hope my future grandchildren will enjoy eating Sloppy Joes.

Each year on the first day of school, I would position my children on the front porch. With their new lunch box in one hand and their new backpack in the other, I would snap a photo that would go into the family photo album. The day I overheard my two teenagers flipping through photo album, talking and laughing about those first-day-of-school photos, I paused, smiled and told myself that this moment is what parenting is all about.

Rituals can be serious. They can be funny. Rituals build memories that last forever. In times of stress or sadness, they can provide hope. Rituals give us something to look forward to. By incorporating rituals into your family life you will be adding another dimension to your parenting journey. Now sit back and enjoy the ride.

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