CNN Parenting

This is us: Holidays, rituals and routines that define your family

Story highlights

  • Family identity — what the family collectively does and cares about — is deeply grounding for kids
  • Research links family routines and rituals to children's health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships

Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. Share your insight at the CNN Parenting Facebook page.

(CNN)Our family, like yours, has all kinds of rituals we perform with our children. Some are handed down. Most we started. A few may live on for our future (and hypothetical) grandkids. These are the activities "our family does."

At bedtime, we tell stories, sing and read books to our kids. We play board and card games over some meals. We have a weekly "movie night" even if we watch the movie in the morning. We tend to eat croissants for birthday breakfasts. My younger daughter says goodbye and good night with a prescribed sequence of kisses, hugs and "nosey nose" rubbing (the "nosey nose" having been handed down by my wife's dad).
Take a routine, add special meaning and a sense of what it means to be your family, and you have a ritual. Dinner + shared prayer or reflection = ritual.

    Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. It considers old problems in new ways, and new problems that previous generations didn't face.

    Holidays also come with their own set of personalized rituals and traditions. We open one present on Christmas Eve, and the next day, we open presents from youngest to oldest (both passed down from my wife's family). I make eggnog French toast in December (which I'm pretty sure I invented). "It's a Wonderful Life" is an annual screening, at least for me but eventually for the kids. We read Jon Muth's "Zen Ghosts" at Halloween, and my wife agrees to watch one "scary" movie a year at that time. On New Year's Day, partly out of superstition, we eat black-eyed peas for good luck.
    These activities make the ordinary special and the special memorable. There are more traditions waiting to be invented, adopted or adapted, and each one, no matter how long it lasts, brings our family closer together and may even improve our mental and physical health.