Building traditions

Traditions and family rituals give children a sense of belonging and predictability. They're important because they strengthen family connections, provide a sense of security that comes from knowing what to expect, and reinforce family values. Traditions and rituals also help us through challenging times. They can be special, such as celebrating a birthday each year with a chocolate-frosted layer cake, or more routine, such as sharing an evening meal together, taking walks, or reading the paper on Sunday morning. Opportunities like these also provide a good time to talk.

For single-parent families, traditions and rituals are especially important because they help children feel part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than their nuclear family unit. Traditions and rituals build a sense of family and wholeness, something to count on, regardless of how many parents live at home.

Children cherish traditions. Here are some ways to create family traditions that tell your child, "We are a family":

• Regular family meals. Prepare dinner together. Even very young children can help cook and set the table. Prolong the mealtime; a half hour together is better than 10 minutes. Each of you can report one good thing and one bad thing that happened that day. What's important is that you spend this time together.

• A family night once a week or once a month. Create repeated family traditions, whether it's Friday dinner when you are always together, a special Sunday morning breakfast, or having a movie and popcorn night at home. Have a campout in your own home—use mattresses to all sleep in the same room and play games, bring out the guitar and sing, and just enjoy each other.

• One-on-one time together. Try to create a tradition individually with each of your children. Have a "just you and Dad" video time, watching movies that reflect kids' individual interests. If your child likes to walk or bike, set aside a special time to do this together weekly. One woman's daughter actually loves to do errands with her. They go to the grocery store together every Saturday morning. A chore that could be a nuisance is transformed into quality time. One dad prepares an indoor picnic for his daughter on special rainy days when his older son is visiting his grandparents. Another mom collects leaves with her son and has birthday parties for her daughter's pet hamster.

"One of the most valuable things parents can give their children is memories of times shared. These precious memories are the roots from which the family tree grows. And for single parents, special moments are a way to bind the family together, to heal, and to

—Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Carol Delzer, Positive Discipline for Single Parents

• Family meetings. Weekly or monthly meetings allow you to share information and plan schedules. They also foster cooperation and responsibility, allow you to communicate your values, and offer a forum for resolving conflicts. Family meetings work best when they are kept to 30 minutes or less and are held in a place without distractions.

• Annual traditions. These might include hiking a nearby mountain every Columbus Day or going to the same cottage every summer for your family vacation.

• Building a history. Creating a photo album, collage, or timeline together of events, activities, and pictures of friends and family helps your children see how they're connected to your past and others' lives.

• Movie day. Just before school starts, go to the movies together. Having a date with your children tells them how important they are to you.

• Volunteer together. What better way to instill a sense of closeness and social responsibility than to volunteer regularly with your children in a soup kitchen or food bank, or to walk the dogs at the local animal shelter?

• Traditions with your extended family. Write letters together to older relatives each month. Get together with aunts, uncles, and cousins for reunions and vacations. Spend time with family friends—your mom's best friend who babysat you as a child, your dad's secretary who showered your new baby with gifts, or your best friend's family to whom you've stayed close.

• Bedtime. Continue reading stories until your child is a teenager. Even then, close each day with a positive message, a kiss, or a hug. Say, "I love you." One mother has a lengthy ritual that involves telling her child six or seven reasons she loves him each night. He finds this so comforting that he starts to doze off before she finishes.

Single Parentings Guide

Single Parentings Guide

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