Research shows that doing simple rituals enhances our feelings of togetherness and family belonging by almost 20 percent
I loved reading that research because it proves that SIMPLE things we do with our kids on a regular basis not only work best but also–let’s get real on this one–are what our kids often remember most.
We get so darn caught up in trying to “do it all” or spend money on the fancy outings or vacations. And years later when you ask the kids, they usually tell those researchers it’s not the pricey events they loved most (we’re usually stressed on those, right?), it’s the simple, fun stuff they did with us. Best yet, those moments were often unplanned, just “spur of the moment” happenings…and the kids never forgot them.
I don’t know if you got the memo, but the kids do grow up, and much faster than you think…take that one from me! It may be a good time to stop and ask what you’re doing to preserve memories of your times together for your kids. Here’s one fun way to assess how well you’re doing right now in the “making memories” department.
Use the Family Reunion Test: Pretend it’s twenty years from now and you’re at your family reunion. The kids are talking about your family memories.
So now be honest: what would your kids be saying about your family memories lately? Don’t get caught up in the elaborate stuff – instead think of simple, fun rituals that involve all the kids–and you.
10 Easy, No Cost Ways To Make Happy Family Memories
I started asking moms and dads to pass on some simple, no-cost secrets they use to create happy memories. Here are a few easy no cost-ideas they shared and I’ve also added a few of our own family traditions:
1. Use nighttime rituals
Read a nighttime story; remind each other of the best part of the day; give hugs and kids goodnight. Don’t worry if you read the same book over and over and over. The routine is what kids remember!
2. Create special greetings and ways to say “I love you”
Rub noses for an “Eskimo kiss” or whatever…create your own family funny hugs.
3. Celebrate successes with a simple ritual
Hang a flag on the front door when something special has happened to a family member; use a “fancy” plate at the table when a family member has done something to deserve recognition.
Another girlfriend, Cindy Morse, gave me the all time best shower present: a red dinner plate that says ‘You are special.” Anytime someone does something special, that member is served dinner on that plate. To this day it’s the greatest family honor there is. When my son served in Iraq, I sent a red paper plate with cookies to him. He said his whole unit wanted to eat off that red plate. Sigh. Some memories continue no matter where your child is.
4. Develop unique birthday traditions
Each family member chooses his or her favorite birthday dinner menu, cake, outing, and song to be piped through the household as a birthday “wake-up” call. Some families even hang the family member’s shirt on a flagpole or broomstick stuck in the front lawn to let the world (or at least the neighborhood) know it’s that person’s special day.
My girlfriend blares out on the stereo every year per kid: “Today it’s your birthday….” to wake up her family and start celebrating that child’s special day.
5. Do frivolous fun (and sometimes silly) rituals
Fly kites on Groundhog’s Day. Play practical jokes on April Fools day. Come up with a silly Saturday morning ritual like serving “Monkey pancakes” that look like monkeys…just put two little dops on the top of the circle to look like ears. Run and jump on the bed and watch your favorite cartoon together. Have a “backwards meal” and eat hamburgers for breakfast.
Have a “giggle run” when you walk in the door. My husband started with this idea only because we had a long hallway. Dad would stand at the door and yell, “Giggle run” and the boys would just run the whole way –like 20 feet — into his arms for a tickle and a giggle…and then always want to do it again and again and again. Sometimes those spontaneous ideas are the best ones.
Meredith Viera’s family has a first day back to school ritual: they all stand at the door and on a count of three run to the mailbox and back. How easy is that? And it’s an every year ritual they always do the same simple thing. Just come up with one silly little ritual and do it again and again because you all enjoy it.
6. Utilize sports and the great outdoors
Go fishing on Father’s Day. Be die hard Giants (notice where I grew up…feel free to change this one to your favorite team – I just couldn’t resist) fans together. Go berry-picking every spring. Go to the pumpkin patch every October. Have relay races and egg tosses at family picnics. Whatever! Just turn that little event into a ritual to remember again and again.
7. Volunteer and do service projects
Bake an extra turkey for Mrs. Jones at Thanksgiving. Serve Christmas Eve dinner at to the women’s shelter or help out at another, less “popular” time of year. Make a commitment to help a favorite charity as a family once a week or month, but turn it into a routine.
My girlfriend, Jaynie Neveras, has her family every Thanksgiving serve dinner together at a homeless shelter. The kids look forward to eating turkey at the shelter far better than her own gourmet meal she serves at home later that evening.
8. Just enjoy each other’s company
Spread a rug or towel on your living room floor and gather the troops, serve simple sandwiches, finger food, and boxed drinks, put up some upbeat music and have an indoor picnic. Who says you have to go anywhere to have a good time together?
9. Have a family game night
Dust off the Chutes and Ladders, Yahtzee, Monopoly, Candyland, or that old deck of cards. Older kids might like Trouble, Uno, Kerplunk, Risk, or poker. Some families hold Family Game Night once a week for thirty minutes to an hour. Have an assortment available and let a different family member choose what you play each time.
10. Just develop one fun memory and repeat it over and over and over
One warm Saturday evening my sons had friends over for a sleepover. I admit I was too tired to take them to the movies, and I also admit I’d promised…..So on a whim I suggested a “drive in movie” outdoors. Of course, the kids were clueless as to what the heck a drive in could be, but all I had to do was throw a blanket on the grass and bring out a DVD and TV outside, pop in “Top Gun” and serve popcorn. And suddenly that became the “coolest” thing I could have ever done. All the boys — and their friends — still talk about (and request) another “Drive In Movie Night” and that was ten years ago. Ya just never know, do you?
If you have other great family traditions, please share your favorite in the comment section below. Remember the secret is “NO COST, simple ideas that kids — and parents — love doing and can repeat doing to keep those Happy Family Memories alive.
So how do you think you’d do on the Family Reunion Test?
All the best to you and your family!
These ideas were adapted from my book, Real Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids