I wish I was the kind of parent that provided nap time at exactly the same time every day; that had a sit down dinner with the whole family every night; that had everything organized every day in a neat little box. But I’m not. As a working mom – and let’s be honest, is there really any other type of mom? – I find myself juggling a myriad of commitments and activities that has my calendar looking anything but orderly. I do however, recognize the value of consistency and predictability in parenting and there’s nothing like New Year’s Eve to remind us of the power of tradition.
We count down the days and the dropping of the ball not just to mark the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another, but also to provide meaning in an otherwise chaotic world. At a time in history in which there is much uncertainty – the economy, public education, food safety, the climate – the certainty of ritual provides an anchor and stability important for adults and children alike. In today’s world, the New Year is akin to what older cultures call a Rite of Passage: a ritual event that marks a person’s progress from one status to another. It is a universal phenomenon reflecting what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific families and cultures.
While modern times and modern family life allow fewer of us a June Cleaver predictability in parenting, children thrive with consistency and the holidays, New Year’s in particular, provide ritual, tradition, and an anchor for our children that allows them to grow and evolve with a solid sense of place and belonging.
“Ritual inevitably carries a basic message of order, continuity, and predictability. New events are connected to preceding ones, incorporated into a stream of precedents so that they are recognized as growing out of tradition and experience. By stating enduring and underlying patterns, ritual connects past, present, and future, abrogating history and time.” – Barbara Myerhoff (2006).
It’s not so much that holidays and rites of passage actually change things as much as they give meaning to changes that are occurring.
As parents, we can use tradition and rites of passage at any time of year to help our children grow up with a sense of purpose, integrity, and responsibility.
To wit: birthday parties, weddings, funerals, holidays.
Last month, my father – a clinical psychologist who has spent his career studying the traditions of indigenous cultures as they may be applied to meet the challenges of modern life – took my son, who had just turned ten, on a rite of passage with five of his buddies, also just ten or about to turn ten. The boys were assigned a task of reflecting on what kind of person they hope to be over the next decade of their lives. “Over the next ten years,” my dad told them, “You’ll learn how to drive a car. You’ll be able to vote. You could be drafted into war. You could become a parent. What kind of teenager – what kind of man – do you want to be?” Throughout the course of an overnight hike and a sunrise ceremony, the boys completed a series of undertakings designed to instill self-confidence, respect, and a sense of peer responsibility. The morning after, there was not a parent or child who had not been positively effected by the experience.
There are as many family traditions celebrating the New Year, as there are families. The commonality is the intentional experience and annual ritual. With New Year’s we remember that which for which we are grateful and look toward that which we hope will be different. We honor the passing of one chapter and the beginning of another. And it’s important not only to the well being of your family, but to our global citizenry.
How we progress as a society depends largely on how we maintain tradition and utilize ritual to meet the demands of modern life. Explains noted psychologist and author of five books, including New Traditions: Redefining Celebrations for Today’s Family, “Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are and provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.”
How you celebrate the New Year is not as important as recognizing and repeating a tradition that is meaningful for you and your family. So whether you write out resolutions as a family, go on an annual ski trip, make yearly time capsules, bake New Year’s cookies, or watch the ball drop together with hats, streamers, and noise makers is not the point. Rather, follow – or establish – yearly rituals that help your family grow, learn, celebrate and honor that which you value and cherish. For whether you realize it or not, the traditions you share with your children today will be passed on for generations to come.