That Sunday walk at 6pm

Yes, the walk starts at 6pm every Sunday unless it pours. No, not with the dog but with your son and both of you will return in an hour with new-found secrets and the smirk that never fails to amuse your spouse. Is that a familiar scene in your life? We call it the family ritual effect and it is good.

Not only for special occasions

Mention rituals and we often think of traditions, ceremonies and things of enormous significance like celebrating holidays. Yet, many of us conduct some form of rituals at home without realising it. For some Singaporeans, the weekends are flooded with rituals of ferrying kids from one enrichment class to another. Others prefer to hang out at a fast-food joint on a lazy Sunday chatting up their loved ones or it’s that snuggle with your princess just before bed time. Regardless of your ritual types, they set a specific pattern especially for your family members to either shy away or look forward to. The most significant outcome of such family or home rituals, applied appropriately, is increased family bonding.


The doing or togetherness

Family rituals are not about what you do. It's more about doing things together. There need not be too much preparation involved but it should preferably be performed at regular intervals or at specific occasions where family members ‘religiously’ set aside time to come together. It need not be celebrative though the ritual of putting up the Christmas tree and unwrapping the presents is often deemed one of the most anticipated occasions in my family. I think the most heart-warming family rituals are those that serve to cultivate a spirit of belonging by making the ordinary sacred. A mum once told me, “Even if I had to drag myself out of bed, I would still do so just to give my son the morning kiss before he goes off to school.” That’s a ritual. Simple yet sustainable and powerful! The physical action of kissing the boy before he leaves the home is transformed into something so personal and memorable throughout his lifetime. In fact, he is likely to continue this ritual with his children.

A child’s play to unique identity

Children relate to rituals easily because they understand the world of play and symbolism. My daughter enjoys the process of lighting the candles and incense in the hall for the family’s movie day. The watching of the movie is good and relaxes us but the concept of lighting the candles and blowing them out after the movie symbolises family warmth over a common activity that all enjoy together. So playing up a family ritual with interactivity will make the whole experience even more meaningful and special giving the children a strong sense of identity. Rituals being predictable also provide children a sense of security, comfort and control over their lives. Hence rituals serve as great vehicles for parents to help develop important values that define and bind the family together. Often the rules that ‘govern’ the households are results of rituals. My children know that dinner time is sacred and will not be interrupted by the television programme (unless it’s that Olympic match between Singapore and Korea) or the phone call which can be taken after the meal.

The soul of the family

More often than not, we subtly create a structure at home without knowing it. The way of things, the respect for each other’s space, the manner in which we express ourselves and many other behavioural responses that we have so often taken for granted, these are possible effects of how we spend our time conveying our beliefs and values through family rituals. And while it’s inevitable that family life will be busy these days, parents can make the difference with their choices to avail that hour for the moments to last a lifetime. That ritual, regardless of its form, will certainly promote parent-child communication, relaxes one another, deepen understanding and facilitate catch-up time on each other. Do not be too caught up with the swimming practices, music classes, tuitions and more enrichment lessons that will rob you the pleasure of family rituals. Apart from God, it is those meaningful rituals that parents choose to undertake that establish the ‘soul’ of your family.

Easy Ritual Ideas

  • Bid your loved ones goodbye and if you are a believer, pray over them and bless them for the day.
  • Receive them with a smile and hug when they return home no matter how long your day has been.
  • Bed time with warm-down ‘activities’ like a snuggle, a pillow fight, read a chapter of a book, say a prayer or just a peck on the forehead. No amount of entertainment from the television should stand in your way.
  • Shared meals at least 4 to 5 times a week and it should be uninterrupted be it the phone, the television or the comic book. During this time, let your domestic help answer the phone.
  • Dedicate an outdoor day when the entire family engages in a sporting activity together such as cycling, bowling, badminton, swimming or roller blading. Sundays need not be sleep-late day. Work your body!
  • Hide a surprise ‘present’ for your child to seek out whenever you are out of town just to show him how much you will be missing him and hopefully, the ‘present’ will make up for your absence. Do not spoil him by splurging on expensive gifts. The ‘present’ could just be a riddle note or brain teaser you set aside for him to unravel while you are away.
  • Resolving unhappiness before sunset by assuring your loved ones of your love for them regardless of the unpleasant event or encounter of the day.

Bad Ritual Ideas

  • Turning your meal time into reprimands and endless reminders of lists of homework not completed by the kids.
  • Greeting your child after school with “what’s the homework for the day?”
  • Placing priority to your work or pastime such as reading the newspaper or watching your Korean drama series over your children’s ‘complaint’ - what you perceive as a minor issue.