I don’t remember an evening that we didn’t gather around the dinner table growing up. My dad would sometimes come in a bit late, tired after a long day of physical labour, but always, we ate together. Our lives, our day, revolved around our evening meal.
After dinner, my dad would pull out the big children’s Bible with it’s peculiar and familiar smell – sort of like yogurt. (I’ve looked everywhere for a copy of that particular Bible to read to my own children, to no avail.) As we grew older, we would work our way through a devotional book or passage of Scripture, something age-appropriate. We would eat dessert and listen to the cadence of my father’s voice as truth and beauty etched themselves on our hearts.
And then we would pray.
On Saturdays, the whole family pitched in around the house. We’d dust, vacuum, sweep, polish my father’s Sunday shoes, mow the lawn, rake leaves, scrub toilets, bake – whatever needed to be done.
And then there were Sundays. We ate our hot meal after church, a habit that I still have a hard time breaking all these years later, much to my husband’s annoyance. Afternoons were spent relaxing, and dinner consisted of sandwiches or leftovers. At six o’clock, we would watch The Wonderful World of Disney, and it was delightful.
No matter what happened in life – and believe me, we went through some rough seasons – our rituals were a constant. I was teased mercilessly at school, but when my mother prayed with us in the mornings and hugged and kissed us goodbye, I knew deep down that I was loved. And when pain and suffering touched us in our own home, those of us living there never lost our sense of connection to each other and to Jesus.
We were a typical family, messy and imperfect, but my parents always made sure that we had a rich spiritual heritage and deep roots.
Over the past few years, I’ve written about some my rituals with my own children: Morning Times filled beautiful books; Monday tea times with simple snacks; and plenty of longer read-alouds on cozy winter afternoons. There are some that I haven’t written about, like church, weekly pizza night, and regular prayer and scripture. As parents, my husband and I want to give our children a rich spiritual heritage and deep family roots, just like my own parents did for me.
When I read books like The Life-Giving Home by Sally Clarkson, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins, The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie and Better Together by Pam Barnhill, I’m reminded of the importance of ritual. The daily and weekly rhythms of our lives provide our children with a sense of security.
According to research, family rituals help reduce anxiety in children and are linked to better mental health and “fewer delinquency” in teens. An article in the Washington Post cites several studies to show that family mealtime is directly linked to vocabulary development in young children, academic success in children and teens, better physical and mental health across the board, and stronger parent-child relationships.
In a day and age where mothers are working, younger children are in daycare, older children bounce from one extra-curricular activity to another, and an increasing amount of time is spent in front of screens, family rituals are more important than ever.
Every family is unique; therefore, every family’s rituals will be unique. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Morning Hot Chocolate: Years ago, a visiting speaker at church shared how she would make hot chocolate for her children every morning before school and they would take a few minutes to connect before rushing into the day.
Weekly Family Day: Friends of mine used to set aside one day each week to connect with their children and each other. No matter how busy the week was, there was always an entire day devoted solely to family time.
Books, Games and Movies: Some families listen to audiobooks together on the way to sports practices or schedule a weekly board game night or movie night. If your children are young, read a story together before bed. All of these things create strong family bonds.
Sunday Evening Tea: Before heading into another busy week, take some time to connect over a cup of tea and a snack.
Family Dinner: If those other ideas sound overwhelming, start with the easiest and most important ritual. Eat together and pray together. Make it a priority.
No matter what your lifestyle, the most important thing to remember is that the smallest thing, when done consistently, can have a lasting impact.