Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home
I am a great lover of family traditions. In fact, my entire master’s thesis was built around the theme of tradition and legacy. I love the stories that are passed down from generation to generation, the bits of family legend, as well as the tangible items: our grandmothers’ china, the old grenade and bayonet from World War II, Aunt Mabel’s jewelry, old books inscribed in elegant handwriting, and threadbare quilts with my mother’s old dresses.
In our own family, my husband and I decided early on in our marriage to deliberately cultivate traditions. We had one or two of our own before the kids were born and then added to them yearly. We have collected a solid stash of them in these 20-some years, from candlelight dinner every Saturday night, to the bedtime reading ritual, to taping numbers all around the house each birthday eve in celebration of a child’s new age.
Most holidays have their own traditions: decorating Christmas cookies, doing a Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt, hosting an annual October soup-and-pumpkin party.
Tradition anchors us. We take joy in unpacking the beloved ornaments each year and comfort in knowing there will be hashbrown casserole and cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning breakfast. Human beings, especially the very young and the very old, are naturally creatures of habit and order.
But what happens when our kids outgrow the traditions, or just don’t want to take part? It will most likely happen, friends. Those of you who are just beginning this journey may find it impossible to believe that your wide-eyed little angel will someday be a 15-year-old who won’t want to sing Christmas carols around the piano or go with you to the annual performance of The Nutcracker that you have always attended. Together. As a family.
Before you launch into a lecture, arms akimbo, to your teenager about “spending time with family” or shake your head in disappointment that your child would be so selfish as to choose his friends over his family, take a deep breath and think.
Why did we create these traditions in the first place?
For joy and legacy or for obligation and guilt? To foster family ties or to force a reluctant unity? What do we want our children to carry with them into their own adult lives—the memories of magical candlelight and laughter, or the desire to escape from rigid traditions?
As writer William Somerset Maugham cautioned, “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” If you are entering into that season when your kids begin leaving behind childhood and reaching into their future, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for this transition:
- Be flexible with your traditions. You may need to adjust certain traditions to make them more appealing to older children.
- Resist demanding that older children take part in activities that they deem babyish.
- Respect them. If they ask to opt out of caroling at the nursing home or going to the Christmas parade, that doesn’t mean they are selfish.
- Don’t nurse hurt feelings. If your teen doesn’t want to sit in on the annual viewing of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his family.
- Be receptive to new traditions. My teenagers, completely of their own accord, started their own tradition of making us a gourmet meal during the week before Christmas.
You might feel that all of your years of cultivating tradition are lost when your kids enter the teen years. And for a few short years, they may be completely resistant to family traditions.
But the memories are still there, and chances are, if traditions are done with love and courtesy, your child will come back to them as a young adult. And the legacies you started, combined with ones you took from your own families, will continue to the next generation.
What are your family’s most beloved holiday traditions? Have you encountered the reluctant teenager syndrome yet?