Linda & Richard Eyre: Family traditions, narrative and genealogy
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It," by Linda and Richard Eyre. The book will be released at the end of August.
Everyone, particularly every child, needs an identity larger than himself — something he belongs to, feels part of and gains security and protection from. It is kids who do not get this identity from families who are drawn to the rituals, “colors” and traditions of gangs or other substitutes for families. Strong traditions exist in every lasting institution. Nowhere is this more true than in the family. Traditions are the glue that holds families together. Kids love and cling to family traditions because they are predictable and stable in an unpredictable world.
Almost all families have traditions that often center on holidays or other special occasions. But parents who come to real ize the importance of traditions and their ability to teach values to improve communication, to give security to kids and to hold families together can refine and redefine their family traditions and give them true and lasting bonding power.
Start by assessing and analyzing your family traditions. What do you do on each holiday? How do you celebrate family birthdays? Are there some things you do on each special day each year? Are there some monthly traditions, such as going over the calendar and the family’s schedule for the month ahead? Do you have some weekly traditions, such as a special Sunday dinner? Make a list of your yearly, monthly and weekly traditions.
Then, as a family, ask yourself three questions: How much joy, how much fun comes from each tradition? What values are taught by each? Are there some gaps— some months without a holiday or birthday tradition? With these questions in mind, revise and redesign your family traditions. Formalize them by writing them down on a chart, calendar or in a special book.
Here’s a sample of what happened to us as we went through this reassessing process.
• We revised some traditions (i.e., our Thanksgiving tradition had essentially been to eat way too much and watch football all day on TV). We decided to shift the emphasis to thanks by making a collective list (on a long roll of cash register tape) of all the little things we are thankful for. Each year, we try to “break the record” of the previous year for the number of things listed.
• We decided we needed at least one major family tradition each month — to look forward to and anticipate. Most of these centered on a birthday or holiday, but we had no set event to celebrate in May or September so we started a “Welcome Spring Day” (a hike) and a “Welcome Fall Day” (a picnic).
• We listed all the traditions, by month, in a big, leather-bound book. A little description of each tradition appears on the left and a child’s illustration of that activity appears on the right.
• We worked some of our ancestors (the kids’ great grandparents) into our traditions because we wanted our children to have that extra layer of identity of knowing where (and who) they came from. We wrote some simple bedtime stories based on real experiences of these ancestors (especially experiences that illustrated honesty, courage or other values), and we now have a little “ancestor birthday party” for them which includes “their story.”
The other thing that can help is a family narrative built around family genealogy,
Columnist and family advocate Bruce Feiler wrote a column in the New York Times in 2013 called “Stories That Bind Us.” He had become interested in what held some families together while others were falling apart.
After several years of gathering information, along with other researchers, a surprising theme emerged: The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: Develop a strong family narrative.
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