Connecting Families through Daily Rituals
By Jenny Webb, MA
Here’s the thing about parenting: I often want to go big or go home. I want to make grand gestures so big that they will ensure my children know they’re loved and important, not just today, but every day for the rest of their lives. I want to cook a dinner so amazing that no one’s hungry for the rest of the week. I want to earn a bonus at work so huge that I can quit my job tomorrow and take us to Disneyland for a month.
You may have noticed the flaw in my logic.
In most circumstances, parenting doesn’t work that way—you can’t “fill up” your family through a single grand gesture. They’re still going to need your love, encouragement, and support (and food!) tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.
But life can get busy, and schedules can fill up. It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing parenting “catch-up” by offering a future reward for present postponement: “Oh, wow, guys, we aren’t going to be able to have dinner together all week this week. Tell you what: I’ll take you out to a movie on Saturday to make up for it. Ok? And you can get popcorn! Ok! Now quick, get out of here and go clean your rooms up before school!”
I do this way too much.
So this year, I’m focusing on finding daily “ritual moments”—small moments where I can connect with my kids in a meaningful way by developing a new pattern in my behavior. While bigger events like outings or vacations can provide wonderful opportunities to connect with our families, that connection often occurs because we are stepping out of our daily routine. What I’m after are ways to foster connection in our daily routine because, let’s face it: that’s where we spend an awful lot of our time together.
10 Ideas for Family Rituals
These daily ritual moments don’t have to be big. In fact, they’re more effective if they’re simple, flexible, and reasonably consistent.
1) Best and Worst
At our dinner table (or during our bedtime routine if it’s been one of those days), we take 2–3 minutes to go around and say our “best and worst” moments of the day. It’s simple and short, but it can offer insights into moments we otherwise wouldn’t hear about in each others’ lives.
2) Express Gratitude
At bedtime, especially when our kids are younger, we like to ask them to name three things they were thankful for that day. When they’re snuggled down in their covers and all ready to fall asleep, a positive focus on gratitude helps them to feel safe, secure, and blessed.
3) Family Walks
Weekends have their own rhythm, busy with sporting events and birthday parties, sure, but also (hopefully!) a little more time to do something together, like walk around the block after Sunday dinner.
4) Hello, Goodbye!
How do you greet each other? How do you say goodbye to each other? These moments are so quick and common it’s easy to overlook their potential for connection. But establishing some sort of pattern for your family is an easy way to help kids feel like they’re part of something special and that they belong together.
5) Do a Happy Dance
When dinner is over and no one wants to do the dishes, we’ll often strike a deal: dishes after a family dance party. It’s not as hard as it sounds! For us, a family dance party means turning on a special song (right now, it’s “Uptown Funk”) and then dancing together like lunatics around the kitchen. That’s it. Three minutes, song’s over, we’re laughing, and we move on to our chores.
6) Stretch Your Morning Routine
When my eleven-year-old asked me to wake up with her each morning to do ten minutes of pilates, I was not thrilled. I really like sleep, and I’m not a morning person. But just making that commitment to be there, together, for those ten minutes gives us a good moment together each day.
7) Eat It
We all know that family meals can be an important daily ritual and provide a setting to converse and connect. But other moments involved with our meals can connect us too. Maybe you sprinkle sugar on their morning oatmeal in the shape of a smile. Maybe your family always has pancakes on Saturday … night. Maybe you just trim the crusts off their sandwiches. Whatever it is, help them realize it’s something that makes your family special, together.
8) Write It Down
A written note in their lunchbox on Wednesdays. A text before their big game. A family message board in the kitchen with space for extra “I love you” messages. Give them a nickname or invent a silly sign-off phrase (“love, your Dad, aka, The Awesome”). Just let them know they are loved.
How do you recognize success as a family? If someone has big news, invent a silly family cheer to celebrate. (Ours is ridiculous: “Oh yeah, Oh yeah, We’re the Webbs, We’re Awesome, Oh yeah, Go Webbs!” See? Not a great cheer, but the kids love it.) Or, celebrate at dinner by clinking glasses in a celebratory “cheers!” My kids are always begging for that one.
10) I Love You—I Know
Invent small ways to say “I love you” and “I love you too” that work for your family. It can be a silly phrase (we use “I love you more than peanut butter!”), or a simple gesture (my daughter favors making a heart with her hands and loves it when we follow suit). Or just a hand squeeze: three times for “I love you” and four times for “I love you too.”
You’re likely already doing a lot of these things already. Or maybe not; maybe different ideas work better for your family culture and patterns. The point here isn’t so much what we’re doing, but rather recognizing when we’re doing it. Small moments can bring connection by creating a sense of identity and community within your family. Find those daily ritual moments, and mindfully engage with those you love. Sure, there will be grand gestures somewhere along the line, but let’s enjoy our “regular lives” together too!
For more great ideas on connecting with your kids check out 30 Days to a Stronger Child, available on Amazon. The book includes great questions, lessons and challenges to help your kids learn to fill their emotional, intellectual, social, physical and spiritual “accounts.” Some of the topics include: respect, accountability, positive self-talk, empathy, addiction, gratitude, critical thinking, and many more–30 lessons in all. All our our awesome books can be found here.
Jenny Webb is an editor and publications production specialist who has worked in the industry since 2002. She graduated from Brigham Young University with an MA in comparative literature and has worked with a variety of clients ranging from international academic journals to indie science fiction authors. Born and raised in Bellevue, Washington, she currently lives in Seattle with her husband, Nick, and their two children.
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