What makes a family culture?
Every family has a culture. And whether you plan it or not, your family is going to develop its own unique culture too. That’s just the way it works!
Many factors can contribute to a family’s culture. These include external influences such as ethnicity, religion, socio-economic conditions and the physical environment of wherever you happen to live. Events such as births, deaths, illnesses, marriages and separations can also have an impact.
Many of these factors are hard to control. However, one area that we can influence, which has been shown to have a big impact on the family culture, is family rituals and traditions.
How do rituals and traditions impact culture?
We usually think of culture as something associated with a particular country or ethnic group.
And it’s pretty easy to identify rituals and traditions that form part of a country’s unique culture. For instance, the German ritual of donning their lederhosen and getting together to drink beer each year at Oktoberfest. This one makes perfect sense right?
There are also some lesser-known and slightly harder to comprehend cultural rituals such as the Nordic sport of wife-carrying. Did you know there’s even a Wife Carrying World Championships, where the winners receive the wife’s weight in beer?
However, the award for the wackiest rituals definitely goes to Spain. Some of their cultural traditions are a little ‘out there’ including the rituals of jumping babies in the Sasamón, burying sardines in Murcia and wearing red underwear for good luck on new year’s eve. For some reason, they also find excuses to throw random items at each other, such as Tomatoes in Buñol, talcum powder in Tolox, dead rodents in El Puig and a very strange (now illegal) ritual of throwing a goat from the Church tower in the small town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa.
But just as countries and villages have rituals that represent their unique culture, the same applies on a much smaller scale to an individual family’s culture.
Whether it’s a country or a family, the rituals it practices both influence and define its culture.
And sometimes these family rituals can be slightly wacky also. Remember Festivus anyone?
What makes a family ritual?
So, what actually constitutes a family ritual? And how is it different from any other event or repeated behaviour?
According to Dr William Doherty, in his book The Intentional Family, for an event to be a ritual, as opposed to a habit, it must provide its participants with four key things: predictability, connection, identity and a forum to promote the family’s values.
How are family rituals formed?
Many family rituals are passed from one generation to the next. This often happens subconsciously without it being discussed or agreed. We just automatically carry over some rituals (both good and bad) from our family backgrounds and repeat them in our new families.
Other rituals will develop naturally over time as we go about our daily lives and form habits and repeated behaviours based on our interests and our circumstances. Again, this is often done subconsciously.
And all these rituals have an influence on our family culture over time.
How can we influence our family culture?
If you want to be a bit more intentional in shaping your family culture, then focussing on developing new rituals and family traditions is a very effective way to have an influence.
And if this is something you are interested in exploring, here are four steps you can follow to proactively develop positive family rituals.
1. Start by understanding your family values.
Every family is unique and we all have our own unique values. But if we can link some of our rituals to our family values it helps reinforce them and subtly guide the family in the intended direction.
So, sit down and have a think about what’s important to your family. What are some of the things you would like your kids to learn and remember as they get older? What are the values you want to instil in them?
For instance, if you think it’s important for your children to appreciate the outdoors and to have an understanding of nature, then you can develop rituals and traditions that help promote this. You may want to develop a tradition of camping or hiking, or visiting a farm.
If teaching your children the importance of gratitude or social service is important, then you could look to do some volunteer work as a family.
Or if you decide fitness is a core family value, then try to develop rituals that promote this value such as family bike rides or annual fun runs.
If healthy eating is important to your family then you could create a tradition of growing vegetables or visiting the market, or cooking together.
These are just some random examples, but hopefully you get the point. By tying your rituals to your family values you will be helping to ingrain these values in your children.
And the best bit is that it will happen naturally over time. It’s much more effective than simply telling the kids what you think is important because you give them the chance to repeatedly experience it for themselves.
2. Discuss your respective family backgrounds with your partner.
As mentioned previously, we all carry traditions from our backgrounds, whether we are aware of it or not.
So a great thing to do is sit down with your partner and discuss the different traditions you each had in your families when you were growing up.
Some of these may be things you want to continue and some may be things you decide you want to stop. But at least you’ll be on the same page (hopefully).
In my relationship we each come from very different backgrounds. My partner grew up in a small town in Argentina, whereas I’m from an Australian family with a British background.
Whilst this creates some challenges at times, it’s also one of the things we both really value. In fact, we’ve made this one of our core family values. We want our kids to experience the best from both our cultural backgrounds.
From my side, I’ve already begun taking my one-year-old son to watch the Cricket on boxing day each year (one of my family traditions) and he’ll definitely be learning to surf as soon as he’s old enough.
But even if you and your partner come from the same cultural background there are likely to be family traditions that you each remember from when you were growing up. So discuss them. You may even learn something new about your partner.
And then, adopt the ones you want to continue and agree on the ones you want to drop.
3. Observe what other families are doing.
You may also look to other families for inspiration. There’s nothing wrong with copying a good idea and you can always put your own spin on it over time.
For instance, we know a family who makes a big deal out of celebrating birthdays. Whenever a family member has a birthday the whole family take the day off work (and school) and spend the day together. And the person celebrating their birthday gets to choose the activity.
Personally, I love this idea. So we may adopt something similar in our family.
4. Create some new family rituals in these four areas.
Stephen Covey talks about family traditions in his book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective families’
In particular, he believes family traditions are the key strategy to help families achieve the 7th habit – ‘sharpening the saw’. And he defines four key areas to focus on.
“Every family must take time to renew itself in the four key areas of life: physical, social, mental and spiritual”.Stephen R. Covey
Just as it’s important for each family member to sharpen their individual saws (including dads), it’s also important for the family to do shared activities that sharpen the family saw.
And the best way to do that is to create family rituals in each of the four areas.
Some ideas for inspiration
Whilst every family will be unique, if you are looking for some inspiration, here are a few ideas of potential rituals you could develop in each of the four areas.
- Family bike rides
- Family hikes
- Sporting activities
- Swimming classes
- Going to the park
Build a tradition of visiting specific friends and family on certain days of the year (e.g. every Easter holiday we visit our cousins). If you make it a ritual and put it in the calendar, it’s more likely to happen.
Get involved with your school, kindergarten or local community
Join a club
- Reading as a family
- Playing board games
- Family challenges – e.g. name all the capital cities
If you are religious, this one is easy – there are usually various family rituals tied to your religion
For those who are not religious, you can look to other spiritual pursuits e.g.
- Yoga and meditation
- Family holidays to spiritual places
- Spending time in nature
The importance of mealtimes
Most of the “experts” agree that family mealtime is one of the most important opportunities to create connections and enhance communication.
Preparing food and eating together has been a part of human culture for thousands of years.
If you think back to your own childhood, many of your family memories are probably related to mealtimes and food.
However we also all know some of the difficulties and distractions that modern families face. Busy work and social schedules can make it difficult to have everyone in one place at one time.
But, if you agree mealtimes are important, by being proactive and intentional you can implement some rules and rituals that will help ensure family mealtimes are a positive part of your family culture.
It’s up to your family how important this is. Although an obvious place to start is to turn off the TV during meal times and to avoid using devices at the table. And as always, the example starts with the parents. If we can display impulse control we are more likely to develop this skill in our children.
This is not to say the TV should never be on. You might want to create a family ritual of watching a movie and eating in front of the TV on Friday nights for example. But try to make it the exception to the rule – not the norm.
No matter how busy your lifestyles are, try to maintain at least one day a week when everyone is together for a meal. And then do something unique to make it a memorable family ritual.
Whilst you are building a family culture and establishing family traditions it’s also important to maintain some ‘couple rituals’.
Your relationship with your partner has its own microculture within the broader family culture and this too requires some focus.
Remember, you don’t need to stop dating your partner once you are married!
You probably had some relationship rituals that you stopped doing once the kids arrived. If so, then maybe it’s time to start them up again. Or maybe start something new.
Many couples have the tradition of a ‘date night’, which is a great way to nurture your relationship and ensure some quality time together.
But even something as simple as spending 10 minutes together at the end of each night to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea can form a couple ritual.
Again – see if you can turn the devices off for a while and focus on each other!
Every couple is different. I don’t want to tell you what’s right for your relationship. My point is that you should also include your relationship when you are thinking about rituals. You probably want to maintain some traditions and rituals just for the two of you.
What about single dads and separated families?
If you happen to be in a situation where you only have your children part-time there are still plenty of opportunities to create rituals and traditions.
In fact, it’s possibly even more important in this situation, as you can use these rituals to build your own unique memories and connections with your children. You may not spend every day with your kids, but some well-planned rituals can help ensure the time you do have with them is high quality.
Daddy rituals and 1:1 time with each kid
Both single dads and married dads should consider creating some specific daddy rituals, independently of whatever you do as a family.
If you have multiple children, it’s important to form individual rituals with each child so you have opportunities to connect and bond on a more personal level.
Daddy-daughter or daddy-son dates can be a great way to do this. If they aren’t happening organically, then maybe try and create some new ones and put them in the diary.
These can start from a very young age and will evolve over time. By establishing the rituals early in life, it will hopefully make it easier to maintain them as the kids get older.
Currently, I have a ritual of bathing our son each night. I’m fortunate that my work hours allow me to be there. I’ve been doing this since he was a baby and it’s a great tradition as it gives us some allocated time together at the end of each day (not to mention giving mum a precious 20 minutes of respite).
I’m also taking him swimming on weekends. It’s no coincidence that these are both water-related activities. I’ll be looking to create more of these traditions as he gets older and we can hopefully develop some shared interests.
Daddy rituals don’t need to be complex, they can be very simple things. So it shouldn’t be hard to find some ideas that suit your lifestyle and interests.
Culture happens – whether you plan it or not
Remember that every family has a culture, whether you are aware of it or not.
And many aspects of your family culture will develop by themselves or be influenced by factors that are out of your control.
This is okay. You don’t need to control everything that happens in life – right? (Actually, there’s a name for that you freak!)
Likewise with rituals. Be aware that rituals are going to evolve and change over the years and there’s nothing wrong with sitting back and letting some of these rituals develop of their own accord
However, by focusing on a few key areas and being intentional, you can proactively develop some of your own rituals and traditions that will help steer the family culture in a direction that aligns with your family values.
And hopefully, you’ll create some impactful and lasting memories for you and your children along the way!
And with that in mind, I’m off to find my aluminium pole. Festivus is just around the corner!