Family Rituals Prepared by Ronald B. Cox, Jr. Ph.D., CFLE
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Family Rituals Prepared by Ronald B. Cox, Jr. Ph.D., CFLE

Family Science Extension Specialist. Oklahoma State University. OHCE Leader Lesson. March 2010. Objectives. What is family ritual?. How do rituals help my family ?. Why are family rituals important for divorce and remarried families ?.

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Family Rituals Prepared by Ronald B. Cox, Jr. Ph.D., CFLE

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Family Rituals

Prepared by Ronald B. Cox, Jr. Ph.D., CFLEFamily Science Extension SpecialistOklahoma State UniversityOHCE Leader LessonMarch 2010



What is family ritual?How do rituals help my family ?Why are family rituals important for divorce and remarried families ?How do I create a family ritual ?How can a family ritual become a community ritual?


Topic I:What is family ritual?

Family rituals are repeated and coordinated activities that have significance for the family.

There are different types of rituals coordinated around different events and circumstances.


Routines Vs. Rituals

Routines typically involve communication that says “this is what needs to be done.” Rituals, on the other hand, have a practical component of organizing the group but also involve a symbolic communication that says “this is who we are” as a group or family.


Routines Vs. Rituals

Consider family mealtimes as an example: A mealtime routine may involve communication regarding who needs to pick up milk on the way home from work. The mealtime ritual, on the other hand, involves conversation as a group that may include inside jokes, symbolic objects (like grandma’s silver), and things that may only be meaningful to the family (where each member sits).


Group Activity – Rich’s story

For many years, on October second my back was sore. That was because every October first our family spent the night on the floor! Spending the night on the floor became a family tradition because many years ago on October first we arrived at our new home in Denver several days ahead of the moving van – not intentionally mind you. Rather than get a hotel room the kids convinced us that we had everything we needed to live for a few nights – a floor, a roof, a fireplace, a refrigerator and stove. So we filled the family room with sleeping bags and camped out in the family room. That would have been the end of the story except the following year, as I was tucking my youngest son into his warm bed, I reminded him that last year at this time we were on the floor in front of the fireplace. “Hey, that’s right! Let’s do it again!” We did and we have and it soon became a tradition. Now every October first we camp out in the family room and tell stories and eat popcorn and remember those first few days “roughing it” in our new home. As I think back, that special time over the years helped us form a special bond that strengthened our family.


Topic II: How do rituals help my family?

Families who have established rituals do better in a variety of ways:School performance Mental health issues in childrenReducing conflict and divorce in couples. Improving preschool children's health, Protecting against the transgenerational transmission of alcoholism.


Rituals Strengthen Families

Having a number of family rituals will not necessarily determine whether or not your family is successful. Family rituals do help to strengthen families in four important areas:


Rituals Strengthen Families

Predictability. The sense of regularity and order that families and couples require.Connection. Family rituals are a time when the family can re-connect and assure one another of their love and commitment to one another. Identity. They provide a sense of belonging and what is special about the family. A way to enact values. Family rituals allow us to demonstrate what we believe and hold dear.


Rituals Strengthen Families

There are many things that I remember about growing up in those cold Michigan winters. However, the one that shines the brightest in my mind has to do with my Dad and how he taught me what it meant to be a neighbor. Every year in Michigan there would always be a few of those menacing snowfalls that made it difficult for people to get home. At that time, we lived on top of a hill that was part of a ridge of sorts that separated the front half of the neighborhood from the back half. When it snowed a lot, almost no one could make it up that hill without a little help. My dad worked the early shift at GM and was usually home by 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon, which was often before the worst of snow had accumulated. On those nights, as the evening progressed and the snow got deeper, I would, without fail, hear the sound of spinning tires followed by, “boy get your boots and your shovel,” and out we would go. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many cars we pushed and shoveled out of ditches and back onto their way home over the years. One thing I do remember, though, the grateful smiles and appreciation of the countless neighbors who were the recipients of my Dad’s sense of community – a sense that later became my own.


Topic III: Rituals with Divorced & Remarried Families?

Family rituals to a large degree are like writing a new chapter in the book on your family The “co-creation” of new stories empowers family members to: heal the pain of losses and other wounds, connects group members through a sense of belonging, and provides continuity between past, present, and future as people navigate through life’s transitions and change.


Do you know this family?


How many of you can relate to this couple?

“Well, the children are grown up, married,divorced, and remarried. I guess our job is done.”


Rituals in Stepfamilies

Stepfamilies do not experience a gradual progression of developmental stages as occurs in first marriages. Instead, they come together withchildren already present from the previous marriage a residue of disrupted rituals from the divorce Needing to function as though they had pattern rituals – at the very least – in place (e.g., daily routines regarding mealtimes, bedtimes, chores and responsibilities, money management, etc.). Functioning as if these rituals were already in place can promote misunderstandings, conflict, and frustration.


Rituals in Stepfamilies

For stepfamilies rituals can be powerful tools that help them overcome the obstacles in their path. However, there are several dangers involved in the process of ritual formation which include:Remaining “under-ritualized.” Incongruent rituals Rigid rituals Skewed rituals

Hollow rituals


Topic IV: How Do I Create a Family Ritual?

Holidays are a great time to develop family traditions. There are great family traditions hiding in some simple activity Whatever the activity, the key to developing a family tradition or ritual is to do it together, consistently and with meaning. If the meaning isn’t readily apparent, don’t worry it will come.


Types of Rituals

Four different types or categories of rituals: Family CelebrationsFamily traditions. Life cycle ritualsDaily patterns of interaction.


Ten tips for forming new rituals:

When developing a ritual it is important to be sensitive to other’s needs and circumstances. The ritual needs to be inclusive of the entire target group. In other words if the target group is the family then care needs to be taken to include everyone.Family rituals can be formed among any naturally occurring group or subgroup – just the girls, grandparent/grandchild, godparent/godchild, cousins, etc. For example, males in the house cook on Sunday. Family rituals don’t always have to be entertaining, fun, high-powered, or exciting. Sometime, just being together is enough without having to plan, direct, manage, or entertain.


Ten tips for forming new rituals:

Naturally occurring events are ideal because they take less effort to establish. Keep things simple and tailored to your family's lifestyle. Mealtime is a great opportunity.Family rituals don’t need a big time commitment. Ten minutes a night reading to your daughter before bed, or fifteen minutes after dinner to play catch, color, or do a puzzle together can mean worlds to you and your child.Be flexible.


Ten tips for forming new rituals:

Although rituals do convey considerable meaning, they are typically not cognitive exercises and should not be overly examined or analyzed by the participants. Don’t force it. Allow the relationships to develop naturally. When the phone rings in the middle of your family time, take a message. Consistently interrupted family rituals are destined to become simple activities without meaning because they lack commitment. Be creative!


Topic V: Family & Community Rituals?

Family rituals are repeated and coordinated activities that have significance and meaning for the family. Families who have established rituals do better in a variety of ways including:School performance Mental health issues in children Reducing conflict and divorce in couples. Improving preschool children's health, Protecting against the transgenerational transmission of alcoholism.


Family Rituals

Family rituals help families in a number of ways: Provide a sense of regularity and order Provide a time when the family can re-connect and assure one another of their love and commitment. Provide a sense of belonging and what is special about the family. Allow us to demonstrate and transmit our to others.


Community Rituals

Family ritual can be linked to a community event like the Special Olympics, walks to support breast cancer research, or annual church events. Communities that are able to create and promote involvement in community-wide events foster a positive and healthy family-focused atmosphere for rearing children. The Family Festival of Desserts is one of many possible ideas that can bring families and communities together in a charitable event.


The Family Festival of Desserts

Family CompetitionFamilies compete against each other for awards related to a family prepared dessert.

Families should work together to create the dessert (for example, deciding on a recipe, picking berries, cleaning up the kitchen).

Desserts should be made at home – no commercial entries.

Judging criteria should include points for family involvement. A panel of “experts” could be selected to judge the different desserts. Also, people who attend cast votes to select the best dessert. The winner is selected through a combination of the panel of experts and the popular vote.


The Family Festival of Desserts

Entries should be designated by the family names, such as the “Smith Family Blueberry Supreme.”A picture of all the family members involved in the project should be on display by the dessert.

Families could also be allowed to recruit people to come and taste their particular dessert.

Depending on how many entries there are, desserts can be judged by categories such as, cakes, pies, etc.

Awards could be divided by categories such as taste, presentation, health consciousness, etc. with an overall grand prizewinner.

Awards should be presented to the entire family, and the family should be present to receive the award.


The Family Festival of Desserts

Fund raising aspectA local charity should be chosen as the beneficiary of all proceeds from the event.

Entry fee for the family to enter the competition with their dessert is simply the cost of the dessert.

Community members pay an entrance fee that would allow them to taste a certain amount of desserts. For example, $4.00 entitles a person to a taste of 3 desserts of their choice, multiple entry purchases could be discounted, for example ten entries for $35 for families.

Upon entry the person would be given a ticket. The dessert contestant marks the ticket in some way when they give the person their “taste” piece (the taste piece should be small the size of about 3 bites). If more tastes were desired the person would have to purchase another ticket.


The Family Festival of Desserts

Tickets should be sold in advance and at the door Some people may not be available to come, but would like to support the charity;

Others might want to buy tickets for someone who wouldn’t normally be able to afford it, e.g., single mother with 5 children;

Or a business benefactor might purchase 50 tickets for every child who makes an “A” in math or science that semester in the local schools.

Awards could also be given to the families who sell the most tickets.

Marketing should target 4-H, Scouts, etc. to help sell tickets.


The Family Festival of Desserts

Local radio stations and newspapers could be approached to:Provide public Service Announcements for the event,

Cover the event as it occurs including the awarding of prizes to winners,

Cover the awarding of the cash prize to the charitable organization.

Selling tickets in advance will also serve as a marketing tool to promote the event.

The creators of the desserts are encouraged to print up copies of their recipes in order to sell them.

Local restaurants could be encouraged to bid on “exclusive” rights to the winning dessert to be featured in their restaurant during the next year.

Awards for the best dessert categories could be donated by local businesses.


The Family Festival of Desserts

Other ideasFor those members of the community who are widows, or whose family lives afar, intergenerational teams could be formed.

Restaurants and other professional organizations should be discouraged from participating in order to promote family and community cohesion.

A variation of the activity could place men against women with male family members and female family members competing against each other in the same competition.


The Family Festival of Desserts

The entry fee for the competition is the dessert. The dessert should be sufficiently large to accommodate the expected attendance (you should have an idea of attendance from advanced ticket sales).Music, balloons, decorations, etc. could be provided to make the event celebratory.

Local businesses could be recruited to provide for other expenses such as advertising, paper plates, forks, drinks, etc.

A volunteer organizing committee would be selected to be in charge of facilities, printing of tickets, etc. The organizing committee could be rotated each year with different organizations taking the lead each year.



Thank you!

Go Cowboys!!!