Got Rituals?

A number of years ago, my four-year-old daughter was starting to say our grace before dinner. “Daddy, fold your hands like this!” she shrieked. Everyone at the table was startled by the intensity of her outburst.

But if we consider the world from the standpoint of a four-year-old girl, it may make perfect sense. She wakes up in the morning and isn’t always sure if she’s going to school or not. She’s not quite sure of which clothes she should wear, and she’s not always sure who she’ll be spending time with each day. She’s not all that comfortable with the language yet, so it’s not always easy to get her point across.

In other words, she lives with a lot of uncertainty in her life. Having rituals in your family creates certainty for your kids. It’s an opportunity for your kids to feel secure and to feel equal in the family. It’s a time in which nobody will tell them what to do and everyone knows their role. It represents certainty for kids who live in a sea of uncertainty.

Contemporary American families are entropic, meaning they drift toward falling apart," says William Doherty, head of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Minnesota. "Rituals combat that entropy and help hold families together. Whenever you do a ritual, you are saying “No” to other activities or people, and becoming what I call an intentional family. Most of us just drift into habits, doing what is most convenient. But ritualizing means to take a hold of activities and ask: does this meet the needs of our family? If it's something like sitting in front of a TV night after night for dinner, then the answer is “No.”

So whether your kids are toddlers or teens, make sure you’re holding and creating rituals which have meaning for your family. Family dinners, weekend trips, or family laundry day on Sunday can all have an important impact on your family.

Here are some ideas:

  • Create a time each week to do a family chore together and then order pizza.
  • Plan a “recreation time” for your family at the same time every week, and rotate who chooses the activity.
  • Create your own special activities on established holidays—on Thanksgiving Day, bring food or clothing packages to families who may need them.
  • Have a regularly scheduled family meeting in which you talk about problems, negotiate solutions, plan fun activities, and acknowledge each other. Make it sacred. Turn off the phone and make it happen.
  • Make sure that you include your kids in planning the rituals. The more invested they are in creating it, the more meaningful it will be.

There’s a tendency for parents today to throw up their hands when “together time” with the family is mentioned. With dance lessons, baseball practice, piano lessons, and homework getting in the way, there may seem to be little time left for the family. Parents in the middle of an avalanche of activities seem to have lost the choice along the way.

And while it’s inevitable that family life will be busy these days, parents can never afford to lose the choices available to them. Because the very “soul” of your family is expressed in meaningful rituals that parents choose to undertake.

It’s difficult to decide against the extra piano lessons that your son or daughter could be taking, or to have your child participate in only one sport instead of two. But by doing so, you’ll teach them a lesson that’s far more important than the ones they’ll learn from these other activities: You’ll teach them that their family comes first.

And as their parent, you’re the only one who can make that happen.

© 2007 Mark Brandenburg

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To this day I can remember my father's voice, singing over me in the stillness of the night. - Carl G. Jung

Mark has a Masters degree in counseling psychology and has been a counselor, business consultant, sports counselor, and a certified life and business coach. He has worked with individuals, teams, and businesses to improve their performance for over 20 years. Prior to life and business coaching Mark was a world-ranked professional tennis player and has coached other world-ranked athletes. He has helped hundreds of individuals to implement his coaching techniques. Mark specializes in coaching men to balance their lives and to improve the important relationships in their lives. He is the author of the popular e-books, 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers , and Fix Your Wife in 30 Days or Less (And Improve Yourself at the Same Time ). Mark is also the publisher of the “Dads Don’t Fix your Kids” ezine for fathers. To sign up, go to or E-Mail

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