Family Matters

By Leslie Chatman

On the day Hannah McCue came into the world, her dad gave her a pink pacifier Limoges box. And so began the tradition. Hannah, now 23, has gotten a Limoges box every year on her birthday. “We always give something that represents a significant event from that year,” says her mom, Cheryl McCue, who lives in Dallas. “The year she turned 16, we found a Texas driver’s license box; the year we got our dog, Hannah received a Collie box; and the year we moved into our house, she got a moving box with china.”

This small token, an established birthday gift, takes the McCue family on a trip down memory lane every time they look at — and add to — the collection.

Decades of research prove that traditions and rituals like this aren’t just fun for kids, they actually make families happier and healthier.

“Anytime you can create traditions that connect children with their family or others outside of the family, it improves their self-efficacy,” says Courtney Guhl, a licensed professional counselor in Fort Worth.

Theresa Ambrogi involves more than just family in a tradition that started when she was a little girl. “My family vacationed in Durango, Colorado every summer, and we frequently invited friends to join us when we’d go,” Ambrogi says. “As a rite of passage, we made first-time visitors take an old-fashioned family photo, the kind where everyone dresses up, with us. It’s a tradition I’ve continued with my kids — 8-year-old Hudson and 4-year-old Ashlyn. My parents retired near Durango, so we routinely bring friends when we go. We now have a wall of 20 or so of these photos.” Not to mention the memories of each of the trips.

But traditions don’t have to be this thought out or involved to be impactful. Any routine or set of behaviors that has symbolic meaning and says, “This is who we are,” as a family, qualifies. Maybe it’s a weekly movie night or game night, an annual reunion or trip or a monthly day of serving together. These seemingly small practices help create a small respite in our fast-paced, high-stressed, busy lives. These are the things that children will remember as they grow older and will likely pass on to their offspring.

“Children thrive and feel safe in environments with expectations, structure and routine,” Guhl says. When children know what to expect — and have something to look forward to such as regular Friday pizza nights with the family — it helps them make sense of the world and create a predictable and soothing system.

And kids aren’t the only benefactors either. Psychologists consistently link family traditions with better overall emotional well-being and lower anxiety levels in all family members, plus greater marital satisfaction for couples and higher academic success and a sense of belonging in kids.

So if you’re reading this and having a hard time pin-pointing your own family’s traditions, start one. It’s never too late.

Growing up as an only child, Gretchen Stofer Darby admits that her family didn’t have much that they did with any sort of regularity. So when she started dating James, her now husband, they started a tradition together.

“James and I went to the State Fair of Texas [every year] when we started dating in 2003,” says the Dallas mom of three — Presley, 7, and Jax and Jagger, both 2 ½. “We’ve continued every year since. Now our little family loves to go to the State Fair together. We really love the bonding and family time this gives us.”

The special moments spent together become the glue that bonds the family. “Children like having something to look forward to and they need stable, consistent opportunities to bond with their family,” Guhl says. So when it comes to starting traditions, she suggests keeping it simple.

Andrea Gorsegner started an easy, sentimental tradition for her girls — Hannah, 9, and Natalie, 7 — last year.

“I created an email account for each of them, and I’ve started writing them little notes, sharing funny memories and uploading photos,” the Southlake mom says. “I’ve also given these email addresses to grandparents to do the same. The plan is to give Hannah and Natalie the passwords to the accounts as a surprise when they leave for college.”

Other ideas that might already be ritual for your family include eating together at least once a week and reading together nightly before bed. Whatever you do, preserve it. Tradition is nothing without you, your family, your laughs, your ideas and your memories. So make it something you can commit to.

Cheryl and her husband plan to continue the Limoges box tradition at least until Hannah gets married. And maybe, just maybe Hannah will pass the collection, the stories and the tradition on to her children one day.




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