Thanksgiving is upon us. In the spirit of sharing what we are grateful for, I am grateful to you for your thoughtful responses to a survey we put out last week inviting you to share topics that are on your mind.
One soulful parent wrote in with some questions about how to establish new family rituals that can keep the family connected around holiday time, especially as the kids get older.
Rituals, especially in a spiritual and religious sense, are the things we do with some regularity, and can elevate and link our mundane lives to something more. That sense of “more” can be a feeling of connection to each other, to values that your family holds dear, or to the transcendent.
When my kids were little there were so many rituals we introduced at home. A specific song and set of prayers at bedtime, a blessing for the children each Friday night, and ice cream parties at home every Rosh Chodesh. I wanted them to experience transitional moments where there is uncertainty as moments when they can feel held. I also wanted them to feel how Jewish holidays, no matter how minor, can be times for celebration.
As my kids get older, these rituals need to evolve and grow as they grow. Bedtime has turned into a check-in about the day’s events, our Rosh Chodesh ice-cream parties have turned into a monthly family meeting, with ice cream served and allowance distributed. It is also a time when everyone can raise an issue they want to bring up with the whole family. And while my kids sometimes roll their eyes when we bless them on Friday nights, I still focus all of my hopes and prayers for them at that moment when my husband and I say the traditional prayer.
Set New Rituals
New rituals require a level of participation and cooperation from our older kids. When so many of them are so much more attuned to their devices than to each other, how can we create the atmosphere and conditions so that a new ritual may take hold?
I think a lot about the framework of Shabbat celebration and shamor (guard) and zakhor (remember). These are two kinds of commandments that are related to Shabbat. Shamor relates to the set of negative commandments (or the things that we are meant not to do on Shabbat) to guard the day and keep the day of rest holy (e.g. turning off our phones, not kindling a fire.) Zakhor on the other hand, relates to all the positive commandments (or what we are meant to enact to elevate the day), for example, reciting kiddush over wine, eating three meals, and enjoying ourselves, or oneg. Any kind of new ritual we create requires attention and inner strength to say ‘No’ to some things so that we can put our creative energies into saying ‘Yes’ to others.
In my family, a practical application of a Shamor mindset and boundary setting around screens involves programming our wifi to turn off at a certain time at night. There was certainly considerable pushback when that boundary was set. However, we saw that after a few weeks, it became a norm.
So as you set out to establish a new ritual to strengthen the family connections in the coming months, keeping Shamor (boundary setting) and Zakhor (creative content) mindsets in mind, consider the following:
1. Think about one family ritual that you have (it might be at night, around a holiday table). Where are you with it? What is working well and what is working less well?
2. What is one quality in your family life that you want to enhance? (Meaningful connections, kindness, care, consideration, other?)
3. Observe your family’s natural rhythm for a few days. What are the natural moments of connection? (When they arrive home from school, wake up in the morning, go to sleep at night, around the Shabbat table, other?)
4. Think about a ritual that starts with that quality and think about when to apply it into the natural rhythm of your family. (For example, if you want to enhance meaningful connections, try handing out cards around the Shabbat dinner table with different prompts like: “Share something they noticed someone else in the family did for you this week.” or “Share something that happened to you this week that was hard for you.” )
Over the next few weeks, take a step toward implementing your new ritual.
I remember one mother of teens sharing with me that as her kids got older she stopped agreeing to go to evening meetings and instead would bake cookies several times a week. Her teenage boys would gravitate toward the delicious smells coming from the kitchen and naturally share what was on their minds.
With Thanksgiving this weekend and Hanukkah coming up next week, there may be some opportunities to observe our families and where we might want to introduce a new ritual that nourishes more moments of connection.
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and a Hanukkah filled with light,