Jenna, new to Middle School, is not new to kitchen practices. She has learned to set and clear the table, load and empty the dishwasher, much like her older sisters. Because she has shown an interest in cooking, she has also learned to read and follow the directions on the box for ‘tuna-helper casserole’ (among other things). She may not end up as a professional chef, but she’ll always know her way around a kitchen to her own satisfaction and delight – and to benefit others.
Jenna knows how to read and follow a recipe, how to measure ingredients, what equipment is appropriate to a given task, and how to safely operate a kitchen range. She didn’t learn all this by poring over cook books, memorizing vocabulary words, or even entirely by watching her parents, both of whom are good cooks. Motivated by an inherent interest, she learned, primarily, from observation, instruction and participation – by practice.
When we practice certain practices over and over again we find that we’ve created rituals – acts or series of acts regularly repeated in a precise way. In most families these repeated acts usually fall under broad categories. Manners (showing respect), health (keeping well), academic (succeeding in school), safety (in the house and travel outside), celebrations (observing holidays), to name a few.
These practices emerge and develop as a family grows; they are not static and, sometimes they are outgrown, discarded or replaced. Still, most parents make clear their expectations and provide resources, instruction, drill and rules enforcement to follow them – more easily done when the children are young. Some rituals survive into the second generation – those shifts that come when kids leave home and start their own families.
Here are some activities you can do with your family to explore the topic of rituals:
1) READ the first two paragraphs above aloud at a family meeting. Invite responses with questions like, “What ‘rituals’ do you think were common to Jenna’s family and why do you think this?”
2) Depending on the ages of your children, consider a celebration of family rituals. Organize the time by LISTING your family’s common practices on poster or white board. Which ones are appreciated? Which ones are dreaded? …hard? …easy? Be glad for the positive structure these give!
3) ORGANIZE your family practices under headings. Something like: Physical wellbeing, academic success, sports and creative arts, character development, spiritual growth, etc. Be sure to draw the kids into this activity and give them plenty of time to express themselves.
4) ASK, “What ritual would you like to keep when you grow up, and why?
Finally, Mom and Dad, make some time to evaluate the ‘spiritual column’ and determine how well you are incorporating spiritual disciplines into your family’s structure. How well are you measuring their lasting, positive impact?