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May 20 2013

My Only Parenting Advice Comes Down to One Word: Rituals

By at 9:35 am

keren brown ritualsEverybody is ready to give you advice. Give them a pacifier. Put them to bed early. Learn to take care of yourself.

Most of this advice has many different sides to it and a lot of it is based on your personality. The only advice I ever needed and want to give is: Rituals. Make them happen. It is the little rituals that have changed my life. Rituals build the moments. Smaller ones and bigger ones that shape who your family is and how they interact.

I was at a funeral/celebration of life for a woman who I truly admired. I was a few months pregnant with my twins, hormonal to the max and ready to absorb anything that would make my life easier, deeper, anything that would remind me to experience the little things in life and not let mundane tasks keep me from the people I love. This woman’s brave son got up and talked about how every dinner time, they had to talk about their day. He talked about how those were the moments he most enjoyed. They came together every evening and everyone would talk about their day. Common sense, you would think, but when life is so busy, you forget the simple things.

Another ritual we adopted was a lesson in empathy. Our pediatrician told us about this one at our two-year well check appointment. Make it a habit to ask your son every night to tell you about two good things that happened to him and two good things that happened to a friend of his. That’s how it started. Then I would ask him to tell me about something bad or sad that happened to him and something bad that happened to a friend. That is where the conversation opened up for us. I found out about the kid who bit him, I found about a friend’s grandma who died. I found out about the time that he found a snail and picked it up in his hand. I found out about the laughing fits he had with his best friend. The first time he didn’t talk much but with time, stories would unroll, giggles would come out,and empathy was there–he felt for his friends, he felt for others. I heard things like, “I was sad because Emma was crying.”

As a teen, I envied those friends of mine who could only come out later at night because of Shabbat dinner. They always came out with inner peace, a kind of an aura, and it was almost as though the embrace of their family followed them through the evening.

Friday night dinners have become a special ritual in our house. We don’t “observe” in the Jewish religious sense of the word but I try to make it the night that we all eat together no matter what. We pick up a loaf of challah, sometimes we light candles, and then we hang out together. Friday nights we know that it is family time and I have always loved this part of the Jewish culture.

Every family makes up their own tool box of rituals. I turned to my friends for ritual ideas:

Movie nights with popcorn or pizza nights.

Dance parties to your favorite soundtracks.

Good night songs to each other.

Board game nights, playing “what movie is this line from” and “I spy.”

Capitals of the world game, teach your kids to memorize all the capitals and then quiz each other.

Going out for taco night, chicken night, or any other food themed night.

Warm drinks in bed on Sunday mornings with books.

Notes under the kid’s pillows or in their lunchboxes.

Family pasta making party or pizza making party once a week or on holidays.

Brunch Sundays.

Saying a toast before dinner.

Now when people ask me about my best parenting advice, I don’t hesitate. Build rituals. All the rest will fall into place. What are your rituals?

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