Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review: The Book of New Family Traditions

This week's book is The Book of new Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday, by Meg Cox.

Cox breaks rituals into holidays, family festivals and ceremonies (such as birthdays, first day of school), daily, weekly and monthly rituals, (such as bed time stories, family game nights, monthly pizza parties), and rites of passage rituals. For the most part, these are collections of "here's a neat idea this one family did" that may or may not work for you. For instance, while I love the idea of marking a young girl's first period in some positive way, I really don't see me hosting a dinner for my pre-teen daughter with a group of women who share stories about their periods.

However, I might let her take the day off or buy her a special ring - two of the other suggestions in the book.

What struck me about many of the rituals in the book is they did not start out as conscious efforts to create tradition - and I think that's true of most rituals. You do something once, and it creates memories, so you do it again because your family liked it. Or you do something because your family did it. Rituals evolve, and anytime I've tried to just create one, it's backfired on me.

But rituals are important. Cox lists 10 good things rituals do for hildren - and I would add families. Among the list is impart a sense of identity - a pressing issue for families in a society that favors the individual's pursuit over the family. Rituals can also help heal from a loss or trauma, teach values, help us natigate change and provide comfort and security, according to Cox. But more than this, I think traditions and rituals bind us as a family.

There are certainly some ideas I plan to try. For instance, one of my goals is to widen my family circle by inviting friends and family into our home for dinners and board games. I've been struggling with how to do this - we're always too busy or the house is too messy or we're too exhausted. The book mentioned that one woman held Soup Dinners, where she issued an invitation to family and friends to stop by on a specific day from fall until spring for soup. She used paper bowls and plastic spoons and people could come and go as they pleased. She offered hospitality, a warm home, conversation and soup.

So in the New Year, my family will have Soup Sundays. Sundays are perfect because the house is usually clean and we're well rested. Soup is perfect because I can make it in a crockpot. But for now, I think I'll reduce the guest list from 60 to a few families, but invite different people each week.

I also loved her ideas for family prayers, since this is an issue for us. She suggests a moment of silence or a very simple, Quaker prayer: "Us and this: God bless."

There are some great puberty rituals, but you need to be pretty New Age or free spirited to try them.

For example, the book offers advice on going on a vision quest. The suggestions are great - have your teens do community service and discuss what it means to be a man or woman in society - but I just can't see ritualizing that. It seems like your results might be better if these discussions were more informal.

The book also seems to miss several opportunities, such as a ritual for marking family deaths or remembering loved ones, a ritual for a new baby, or a ritual for moving to a new home.

And some ideas are just silly to me. For instance, the book tells you how to make a talking stick for family meetings. Anybody who's seen Absolutely Fabulous will never be able to take that idea seriously. I also hated her section on chore rituals, which largely involve you distracting your children instead of them pitching in.

I liked this book - I really did. And I'd love to recommend you buy this boo through this blog so I can get credit from Amazon. But, to be honest, you should probably just check it out at the library and skim through it. Or, you can sign up for a free newsletter on family rituals through Cox's website. You can also view a sample newsletter online.

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