How to Create Meaningful Family Rituals

By Jess Friedman

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My mom recently asked my sisters and I to share our fondest memories from growing up. I loved reflecting on my childhood and reading the answers offered by my sisters: riding horses together, stopping at a specific gas station to get hot slices of pizza bigger than our heads, spending summers at the cabin my grandparents built on the shore of a lake in Huntsville, Ontario. So many good memories were wrapped up in that one simple question, and family connection was at the heart of each one.

Family therapist William J. Doherty wrote, “Family rituals are repeated and coordinated activities that have significance for the family.” In the same vein, The Family: A Proclamation to the World states, “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” In our practice of these good things, it’s easy to fall into the trap of going through the motions. We get into a checklist mentality or do things purely out of habit, and some of the significance is lost.

But when we’re intentional about making them special—turning them into rituals rather than routines—something magical happens: we strengthen bonds and create precious memories that will last lifetimes. We may even create traditions that will be carried on to future generations, essentially turning “the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers” (Mal. 4:6).

So how do we create intentional family rituals that build true and lasting connection in our families? Here are some tips for establishing or reviving rituals in your own family, plus some ideas for family rituals that you can start today.

Parents and kids cycling on forest trail.
Photo by Elizaveta (Adobe Stock)

Identify Your Family Values

Doherty explains that “[to] be a ritual, the activity has to have meaning and significance; otherwise, it is a routine.” That meaning and significance are going to look different for each family, so the rituals your family creates aren’t going to look like anyone else’s.

To start, you could sit down as a family and discuss what matters to you. Are you a religious family? Do you like to spend time outside? Do you love to try new foods or learn new things? Are you active? Social? Artistic? Musical? The different aspects of your collective family identity should play a major role in creating your family rituals.

You could also consider what kind of family you would like to be and create new rituals that help instill those values in your family. Maybe you’d like to be more grateful as a family, so you create a ritual out of writing thank you letters after birthdays and Christmas or serving in your community. Maybe you’re not very active but you’d like to be, so you create a ritual out of going for a bike ride together every weekend. Or maybe you’d like to know more about your family history, so you set aside time on Sundays to research your ancestors together.

It’s also worth noting that there may be individuals in your family that don’t feel as strongly about certain things as others do. Make sure to create rituals that consider their interests, too, so that they never doubt their place in your family.

And as your family grows and changes, so too will the things you value. It’s okay to take time to reassess the rituals you have in place and make adjustments so that your rituals continue to align with your evolving family identity.

Ideas

  • Pray and study the scriptures together daily
  • Hold weekly Family Home Evening or family night
  • Go to the temple together every month
  • Take an annual camping trip to your favorite spot
  • Have weekly game/movie nights
  • Set a goal to spend 500 hours outside during the year
Little girl helping her mother in the garden
Photo by Jacob Lund (Adobe Stock)

Create Connection

When I was a teenager, my dad served as a clerk in our church. He would drive me to my weekly youth activities and attend to his clerking duties while I was with my youth group. Afterwards, we we would often stop at Dairy Queen on our way home. Some of my fondest memories of my dad are of time spent talking and joking with each other while we enjoyed our Blizzards, and then rocking out to oldies on the drive home. Those DQ dates were integral to building my relationship with my dad.

Whether our rituals are one-on-one or involve the whole family, they should center on creating connection. Sitting in a room together quietly reading books might be a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but it’s not going to strengthen any familial bonds the same way sitting together and reading the same book would—especially if part of the time is spent discussing what individual family members think about the book.

Ideas

  • Share a long, meaningful kiss with your spouse every day
  • Hold regular family councils
  • Have one-on-one parent/child dates doing activities your child enjoys
  • Turn off the TV and play games instead
  • Grow and tend a garden together
  • Keep a jar full of questions in the car and take turns answering them whenever you’re on a long drive (Brett and I do this and it’s a lot of fun!)
  • Share a joint journal like these from Promptly
Family cooking together
Photo by rawpixel (Adobe Stock)

Keep It Simple

The traditions each family has for celebrating big holidays certainly fit the definition of family ritual—they’re coordinated, repeated events that have meaning to that particular family. But as we create everyday family rituals, we need to avoid thinking they all need to be as grandiose or time-consuming as holiday traditions tend to be. There’s a reason we don’t have Thanksgiving-level feasts every week, after all.

But with a little creativity, you can find ways to fit small, simple rituals into your existing schedule. Doherty wrote, “[Find ways to] make better use of the time you already spend on family activities. You have to feed your children, so start with improving the quality of those feeding rituals, without lengthening the time. You have to put your kids to bed; work on making it more pleasurable. You probably have birthday parties, holiday celebrations, and countless other family activities. You can enhance their quality while not adding to their number or extending their time requirements.”

Ideas

  • Share your “Roses, Thorns, and Buds” (daily highlights, frustrations, and something you’re looking forward to) while you share a meal
  • Use the “good dishes” and light candles to make Sunday night dinners special
  • Read stories together for 10 minutes before bed
  • Go out for a treat after supporting a family member at a sporting event or other extracurricular activity
  • Cook dinner together—and do the dishes together, too
  • Celebrate one or two “silly” holidays, like National Donut Day, Dinosaur Day, or Go Barefoot Day
Couple walking along the shore of a lake in the winter
Photo by Syda Productions (Adobe Stock)

Stick to the Schedule

Part of the reason a ritual needs to be repeated is so that it creates a sense of stability and predictability. This is especially important in families with young children, who typically need a regular schedule to thrive. It can also help foster feelings of trust and dependability if you know that you can count on your family members to be there when you expect them.

If we let other commitments encroach upon our family rituals, we send the message to our loved ones that these rituals aren’t important, and by extension, neither is our family. Familial bonds that aren’t nurtured can become entropic, leading to disengagement and a breakdown in family connection.

(That’s not to say that rituals can’t ever change. As our families age and evolve, even long held, beloved rituals may need to be adjusted or dropped. The key is to make that decision carefully and together.)

If we have let family rituals slide, we can recommit to being more intentional about sticking to the plan. It may require making adjustments to other time commitments or eliminating distractions that aren’t as important as strengthening family bonds, but it is vitally important that we do so. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf put it succinctly when he said, “In family relationships, love is really spelled T-I-M-E.”

Ideas

  • Go on regular dates with your spouse
  • Themed dinner nights, like Spaghetti Wednesday or Pizza Friday
  • Commit to a regularly scheduled service opportunity, like serving in a soup kitchen or walking dogs at the animal shelter
  • Watch General Conference together
  • Go for a walk, run, or bike ride together every day
  • Ensure your children get special Priesthood blessings at the beginning of every school year
  • Have a special photo shoot commemorating special events like religious rites, coming of age celebrations, or the first day back to school

Strike a Balance with Solitary Time

My grandmother used to say that fish and company stink after three days. Even in our immediate families, if every moment is spent surrounded by other people, the novelty of “togetherness” starts to wear off and can cause tension and conflict. Just as we shouldn’t expect every ritual to be as time- and labor-intensive as holiday traditions, we also shouldn’t feel the need to ritualize everything. Children should be allowed unstructured time to play and use their imaginations, and parents should give themselves time to work on personal goals and enjoy solitary pursuits. By allowing every member of the family to have some alone time, it will make the time spent together even more special. 

Recommended Reading

Want to learn more about creating or improving rituals in your own family? I highly recommend Dr. Doherty’s book The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties.

What family rituals do you enjoy in your family?

I’d love to hear what you do to create meaningful connection! Share your ideas in the comments below.

Jess

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Jess Friedman

Jess Friedman

Jess is a Canadian-American who's always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about strengthening families by empowering women to make space for things that bring them true and lasting joy. You can read more posts by Jess here.
Jess Friedman

Jess Friedman

Jess is a Canadian-American who's always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about strengthening families by empowering women to make space for things that bring them true and lasting joy. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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