Working Parents Creating family traditions

Creating family traditions: an expat view

February 11, 2018

By Tammy Furey – Tammy Furey Coaching | www.fureycoaching.com – Taking the Stress out of Family Life
“Family traditions old and new what works for me may not work for you. The important thing is we work together to make memories that will last forever.” – Stacy Coles

Ritual and traditions can also connect us back to our homelands; to act as reminder of where we came from and what is important to us. This may be a small activity, such as cooking the meals our parents cooked, or big, such as a spiritual festival.

A review of 50 years’ of research published in the Journal of Family Psychology* suggests that routines and rituals may contribute to the health and well-being of families. Family rituals and traditions give structure to what it means to be a family — no matter where you are in the world. This structure creates a feeling of love, safety and security for our loved ones (and indeed ourselves). It also creates fond memories for our children to carry forward into their own families when they have grown.

Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories.
– Miller Williams

In my family, we do not celebrate winter or spring holidays in the same way that I did when I was a child. However, I do not feel a sense of loss from this change; some rituals and traditions can become, when followed with obligation and lack of appreciation, a hollow affair. We have treated moving to a new country as an opportunity to create our own, unique set of family traditions to celebrate holidays. We have the freedom to adopt new ways and change the old, creating a beautiful balance of a little tradition from our homeland and a little from our new land.
One of the reasons for creating our own traditions is that our family is made up of different cultures to begin with. With understanding and respect, we negotiate how we can create a blend of all the traditions that make our family special. It need not become a source of conflict or tension, as long as everyone is heard and understood, and one aspect of the blend is not overly emphasised at the expense of another (know as ‘skewed ritualisation’). This blend of rituals and traditions can help to forge a family’s unique identity.

We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising…
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

The new traditions and rituals we have created are centered around fun and creativity. Celebrations for the spring holidays include the annual “Hauling back from the Forest of the Spring Tree” (which is then ‘planted’ on the balcony and draped with tiny wooden eggs); the “Painting of the Eggs” (creating a smeary mess that is held aloft with pride); and of course “The Stuffing of Chocolate Bunnies into Mouths”. We have found that this element of creativity helps us to bond as a family; being guided by what makes us smile, not by what makes us feel like slaves to the traditions of our homeland.
Injecting fun into family time ensures that you create lasting memories which can become the basis for happy, long-lasting family traditions. For example, my colleague used to create hugely elaborate and long-winded chocolate egg hunts for the whole family. I heard such tales of giggles, mud and chocolate; so much so that I thought we could try it as a new tradition within my own family. For our last spring holiday, we travelled to Spain to visit the grandparents. Unfortunately – forgetting that Spain is hot – many of the eggs were found in puddles of their former chocolatey goodness. Not a raving success, but it has guaranteed that we have created a unique family memory!

The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.
– Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

However, rituals are not simply for seasonal holidays. They can be scattered throughout the year to mark those occasions, transitions and events where time needs to be slowed, marked and savoured. They create a sense of who we are and what bonds us. Rituals can be as big as old branches pretending to be a Spring Holiday Tree or as small as a bath-time puppet that blows bubbles.
On one of the expat mum groups on Facebook, we recently had a wonderful discussion about the everyday rituals that expat mums have developed to cope with lone parenting whilst their partners travel. These rituals have helped to turn this challenging and exhausting time into something special; a positive rather than a negative experience. We discovered that a common ritual among expats is to watch movies that would make our partners roll their eyes, often in our PJs with chocolate, wine, or both. My daughter and I have a ritual of hiring a movie, snuggling down together on beanbags and scoffing popcorn. It’s how we turn our sadness about Daddy being away into a time where we appreciate each other.

Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.
– Susan Leiberman, New Traditions

As expats, family rituals can help our children when they are experiencing unsettling circumstances such as moving or changing schools. Rituals and traditions supply the ‘constant’ when everything else is in flux. There may be a ritual of waving from the window as your child goes to school, or a special meal on certain days of the week. These are the rhythms that give structure in their lives when all structure seems to have gone. They are even more important when the family is in upheaval. As a parent, it may seem like the last thing you want to do (yet another thing to do on the To-Do list) but the payoff is worth it. Family rituals can be the stability and glue that holds the family together.
Your family is completely unique; what rituals do you have? What rituals would you like to develop to celebrate life and the passage of time? What would you like to borrow from Switzerland and what would you like to keep from your homeland?
Rituals could be common interests within your family that you enjoy together, for example:

  • Do you have your own special words in your family that no one else understands? Little insider jokes that you share?
  • Songs that you sing or invent the words to?
  • Stories that you always read or make up together?
  • What do you do at birthdays that is always the same? Are there decorations you always use? Songs or activities you always do?
  • What cultural or religious festivals do you celebrate? How are these a blend of family traditions?
  • Do you have family games you always play?
  • Meals that you always cook together?

If you look at the habits of your family, you will spot the rituals and traditions that have organically arisen over time. The question is how to add to these, and attach a significance to these times in a way that your children will remember for years to come.


Submitted by Tammy Furey
*Fiese B, Tomcho T, Douglas M, et al. “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally-Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?” Journal of Family Psychology. 2000;16:381–390.

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