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Using Family Traditions to Transfer Family Values


28Nov 2010

A common issue for most of the families with whom I work is the desire to pass their core values on to the next generations (children and grandchildren). Utilizing family traditions, especially during the holidays, can be extremely impactful in this process. Let me share from our family’s experience — how family traditions can intertwine with reinforcing important family values.

This weekend we had the pleasure of having all of our adult children plus our new daughter-in-law home for Thanksgiving. As those who have multiple adult children, this is no easy feat (and can be an infrequent occurrence). So, our twin 27 year old sons, one who is in the Army stationed about two hours away, one who lives locally; our 24 year old son and his wife who live in Texas; and our 19 year old daughter who is in college — all were home for part of the weekend. (This is a key concept — not everyone can make it for the whole time, and that is okay. They have other important things in their lives.)

We had been planning the holiday weekend for a while (key phrase: planning for a while) and requested (key word) that our kids come home, if possible. We were pleased that they were able to work out the arrangements and chose (key word) to do so. So the family value reflected is: importance of nuclear family relationships, as reflected by choosing to spend time together.

On Thanksgiving Day itself, there were two important parts that happened. First, we reinforced the importance of gratitude and thankfulness by having each person share an important part of their live for which they were thankful. Not rocket-science but this practice, especially when modeled and repeated over several years, can imbed significant memories in family members’ minds. Secondly, we had an international graduate student friend share the meal and evening with us. In various years, we have had local friends with no family around, international students, single friends, and young couples join us for family and holiday gatherings. Hospitality and sharing with others is important to us.

Additionally, on Saturday our family traveled to my hometown (about two hours away) to visit my mother, siblings and their spouses, some of my nephews and their children. We shared a meal together, visited their homes, and sat around and talked, giving updates to what has been going on in our lives. Although it was a relatively quick trip (up and back in one day), we concluded that some time was better than no time. Part of our goals was to communicate that extended family relationships are important. And I am thankful for the willingness and positive attitudes our children chose to demonstrate.

Although there are other aspects of our family gatherings and holidays which could be expanded upon, let me briefly share three others that strike me as important from this weekend.

First, prior to the weekend holiday, my wife contacted each family member and asked them what food they would especially like to have to eat for Thanksgiving. With seven of us, we wound up having quite a spread: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, traditional bread stuffing, cornbread dressing, corn, a familiar green bean casserole, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, whipped cream AND ice cream! The point? My wife wanted to make sure everyone felt valued and their unique desires were attended to.

A second family tradition we continued this weekend was a family shooting contest (shooting clay pigeons in a friend’s field with shotguns). This tradition connects to my family’s past heritage — my father, uncles and grandfather would hunt for food when they were growing up. And we have held informal shooting competitions for years — so there are a number of family stories generated from these experiences. The specific event isn’t that important . Many families have different things they do together — go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving; go to college football games together; play board games. . . The important aspect, I think, is having shared life experiences that serve as the context for relationships to be built.

Finally, the importance of serving and helping one another was demonstrated in a couple of specific instances. On Friday, we went to one of my son’s homes and helped him in the remodeling he is doing and also the whole family banded together and “attacked” his lawn — raking up several bags of leaves. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work”. Then on Saturday at my mother’s, a number of us worked together on a few projects around the house. The work together provided time to talk and “catch up” as well as build some bonds — feeling good about working together to accomplish a task.

Let me finish by saying that these events did not come without cost — people giving up some of their time to do other things that they would have preferred (watching football, playing video games, hanging out with friends or texting). But that is what “values” are — they are activities and choices that a person makes because they value the activity (or result of the activity) more than some other choice they could have made.

Prior to the upcoming holidays, I would encourage you to try to do a little planning and see what activities you can orchestrate that may reinforce beliefs and values which are important to you. The results in your family can be powerful.

P.S. I am aware this entry can sound a bit idealistic. Our family isn’t like the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie (or some other idealized family). We clearly have our challenges — ask my wife and kids. But we did generally have a good time together this weekend.

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