At this special time of the year, I am pleased to welcome a well-known keynote speaker, behavioral transformation consultant, communications accelerator and a licensed mental health counselor as guest contributor to the Front Porch. This outstanding professional happens to be my sister from Jacksonville, Florida. I hope she will stop by on a regular basis.
Patty Mohler, MS, LMHC
A tradition represents a part of a culture that is passed down from person to person or generation to generation. Traditions can be what binds a family or friends together. Some traditions are big and grand, while others are small, yet equally meaningful. Traditions are the glue. They give our lives structure, but also help define a world that otherwise might seem chaotic. They help us feel safe, like a warm blanket. Traditions and rituals allow us to settle in as if we belong and have a purpose. They help us do what is more essential today than ever: celebrate our human connections.
While thinking about this article, I fondly recall special memories from my own family and friends. When my son was little, I bought new Christmas sheets for his bed. Every Thanksgiving, I snuck into his room and put on the holiday sheets. That night he put his head on Santa and his sleigh, being led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of course! To this day (yep he’s 27!) if he’s home on Thanksgiving he still gets the early Christmas gift.
Santa also brought my son a unique Christmas ornament to represent his year. One day these will be on his tree! Once the turkey was prepared and in the oven, we would go off to play hours of tennis! It was a sad day when, at the end of high school, he looked at me and said, “Too bad; this is our last time to play!” “What??? Are you dying and I don’t know about it?” He laughed, and I remembered he was going off to college on a basketball scholarship, and we knew this tradition had run its course. The sadness I felt knowing it would be a while before we played again was enormous. A sense of peace and calmness would return the day we played again; it was as if everything was in its place.
There was the dying of Easter Eggs and perhaps one of my favorites: carving our family pumpkins. When the kids grew out of this ritual, the parents carried it on as if not willing or wanting the tradition to die.
Another ceremony with my son began when he was in kindergarten. On the first and last day of every school year, we would go for ice cream. Ice cream day allowed us to celebrate both the beginning and end of each year.
And believe it or not, we actually ate meals together as a family. Unfortunately, this tradition happens less and less with every generation. There are basketball games, baseball, music and ballet lessons, homework, play practice: no wonder there is no time to sit down together to simply say, “How was your day?” This is a valuable time to connect and to celebrate one another. Yes, celebrate those we love. “How was your day? What was fun today? What went right today? What didn’t go right today?” Simple questions that bind us together. Family dinners together may not seem like an important family tradition, but indeed they are.
Okay, I know it can be difficult to juggle schedules and share a meal. Yes, it is 2019 and not 1950. But there are other ways to gather for 15-30 minutes 4-5 days a week. What about dessert at the end of a long day when everyone is back home? Offering root beer floats, popcorn, or ice cream is a perfect time to reconnect. For the little ones, how about sharing a bedtime story? It is about the time, not the activity. That’s what really matter. We know this: families who have this precious time together have less depression, less anxiety, and fewer eating disorders. During this time, a parent might recognize an issue that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. Traditions allow us to connect. They do create memories of our shared experiences.
Personally, being a member of an extended family with amazing celebrations is an incredibly life-affirming experience. Some of my favorites are July 4th and Beach Week. My family lives in a small community in Baltimore, and the 4th of July is an experience to behold. The community parade is famous; residents put their chairs out along the parade route weeks ahead of time. Almost every house is adorned in red, white, and blue. Barbeques get organized and the floats come alive. For the kids, there is the decorated bike contest, lollipop scramble, wheelbarrow and sack races. And yes, if you own a pickup or vintage car, you too can be part of this special day! Afterward, families gather for their annual feast of food, fun, and connection.
Like so many families, Beach Week is special for us. Imagine, 40 years of gathering together in Ocean City, Maryland! It started when my nieces and nephews were young children. It was a week to reconnect with adult cousins too. When the family gathers, it is nothing short of a miracle just collecting all of the all the toys, beach gear, and food! The candy is loaded on the counter like a sweet mountain of deliciousness, and there is always homemade lasagna. It is a week to reconnect, to remember what binds us all together. Most importantly, time slows down and the pace is leisurely. Whiffle ball is the main activity of the day, and it is time to watch the little ones dip their toes in a roaring ocean and explore the world with very few boundaries.
And it is time for the older kids to be silly again and not worry about being judged. It’s time for long naps, ice cream, sunburns, and popsicles at 7:00 AM. The most significant stress of the week is organizing the family photo. The 40-year collection of these will one day make a fabulous book. Although I am not always regular, this one week holds a special place in my heart. I feel connected, I feel loved. It is family week.
So as we enter another holiday season, let’s remember that family is about caring for those we hold near and dear and that families come in all shapes and sizes. There is no “one size fits all.” What are your family traditions? Thanksgiving is the perfect time to grab onto them and hold them close. It might warm you up even more than some holiday turkey and homemade gravy.
Patty Mohler, MS, LMHC is a highly renowned Keynote Speaker, Behavioral Transformation Consultant, Communications Accelerator and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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