family fun

Family Fun: How To Make New Family Traditions

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Do you have special traditions with your children? Do your kids know their grandfather as “Pop Pop,” “Abu,” or do they just call him “Grandpa”? Do you go apple picking every October? Put a tangerine in the bottom of your kids’ Christmas stockings? Visit the zoo on the first day of spring break?

Journalist Meg Cox, an expert on family traditions, writes “Ritual in general, all the little and big things we do together as families, works as a safety net, a security blanket, and an ongoing promise of protection.” (From The Book of New Family Traditions) Some of us observe rituals our parents kept when we were growing up. Others are inspired to create new traditions by living among people in other cultures or friends we admire or books we’ve read.

How To Make New Family Traditions

When my oldest child started school, he was overly concerned about making mistakes. The occasional “yellow card” or frown from a teacher for talking in class filled him with angst as a five year old. I decided to reward him for “coloring outside of the lines,” so to speak.

All through elementary school when he missed a word on a spelling test or was reprimanded by a playground supervisor, I took him out for ice cream. A root beer float soothed the sting of having made a mistake and, I hope, helped him realize that messing up isn't the end of the world. Now, as a teenager, he takes setbacks in stride. Did the ice cream ritual help? I'll never know, of course, but I have a hunch it did.

That ritual, I should note, only applied to my oldest; his younger brother or sisters never received ice cream after getting bad grades or into trouble at school.

The traditions we keep, then, don’t have to apply to every person or situation. Some rituals are ones my family keeps most of the time—sometimes sports schedules, the weather, or other factors keep us from them.

And that’s okay.

Cox writes, “In family ritual, perfectionism is the enemy. The more outrageously imperfect a ritual is, the more kids love it and remember it.”

Wishing you joy as you invent and maintain your own “outrageously imperfect” family traditions.

What are some of your favorite family traditions?

Big thanks to Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day to permission to quote her work. Read more about Meg or subscribe to her free traditions newsletter at

Parenting writer Jennifer Grant’s first book, “Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter” was published in August 2011. Her second, also a memoir, is titled “MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family” and will be released in May 2012. “MOMumental” is a “humorous and candid memoir that shows would-be supermoms how to create a realistically balanced family life without losing their minds.” Find Grant online at

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