Marriage Matters

Family Ritual

Have you developed any parting or reconnecting habits that confirm your love? A goodbye kiss or welcome home hug is a great start. Save the first five minutes of reconnecting to check in with your spouse.

Rituals like this can bring your family together with meaningful interactions. What is a ritual? A ritual is a routine that is done consciously and with meaning.

There are many areas of family life where rituals can add meaningful connection. Take some time to add some rituals in each of these areas.

Greeting Rituals – Create little rituals that reinforce how much you mean to each other whenever you come back together after being away from each other. The rituals described above are great examples of greeting rituals – verbal greetings, hugs and reconnecting.

Leaving Rituals – Create little rituals that keep you connected whenever you leave each other. Leaving rituals can include some of the same rituals you use to greet each other – verbal goodbyes, hugs, etc. A more creative leaving ritual might be a goodbye huddle. Especially before you leave for work and school, do a football huddle and say a quick prayer for each family member, then break with a family cheer. The most powerful ritual that could be used in a number of these areas is a blessing. Did you know that parents can give official blessings to their children? This isn’t a modern invention to make lay people into priests. Parents have the authority as the heads of the Domestic Church to call on the power of the Church to bless their children. Take advantage of that!

Meal Rituals – Eating a family meal together is an important ritual in and of itself. But you can also add rituals surrounding the preparation of the meal, setting the table, prayer, and eating the meal. One powerful ritual at mealtime is to find ways to celebrate members of your family. Don’t do it every night, but once in a while pull out a special place setting or placemat for one family member and celebrate that person. The celebration can be for an accomplishment, for showing growth in a virtue, or just because you want to celebrate who they are.

Prayer Rituals – Whenever we hear the word “ritual” our thoughts almost automatically turn toward prayer and liturgy. This isn’t the only place for ritual, but it’s an obvious place to insert it. The specific prayer ritual formula you use will really depend on your family. Family prayer with little children is very different than it is with teenagers. For my family with pre-teens, our ritual involves one decade of the Rosary using a Scriptural Rosary, then going from person to person to say one thing we’re thankful for, then one way we exercised respect or another virtue, then anything somebody needs to ask forgiveness for. This is the flow for our bedtime prayer. We also have little rituals for mealtime prayer (before and after).

Talking Rituals – This is an area that many families don’t consider. Building in rituals for quality communication is so important, especially in cultures like ours that stress busyness and productivity. We need to be very intentional about protecting time for intimate communication. For my family this ritual time is Sunday brunch and the time after. I start the conversation asking each family member what he or she learned from the readings or homily at Mass. We then allow the conversation to flow from that starting point wherever it goes. Some ground rules for the ritual include full, undistracted participation (no electronic devices allowed except for my iPad to be sometimes used to look something up that comes up in the discussion) and no planning, problem solving or other “business” (that rule is mainly for my wife with her Type A personality).

Community Rituals – Your family rituals don’t all need to center on your family. Two of the tasks of the family given to us by Saint Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio is to participate in the life and mission of the Church and to contribute to the development of culture. So we should have family rituals that help us do those things. Your community rituals should certainly include shared involvement your parish life. They may also include participating in neighborhood activities, or activities with friends. It could also include regular ways to serve the community or to participate in a community effort to meet the needs of others.

These are areas of our life that we can fit rituals into in order to increase our connection with each other. Let’s roll out with a quick formula for creating a ritual. As you’ve seen from these examples, rituals don’t have to be long, drawn-out, formal events. They can be quite simple. But we want to make sure that they remain intentional and meaningful. Here are the necessary elements of any ritual.

Defined Roles – Defined roles ensure that everyone knows how the ritual proceeds and what their part is. But more importantly defined roles show that everyone has an important part to play in the ritual. The same person doesn’t always need to have the same role. When it’s well defined, anyone can step into a role and know what to do. The roles for our after meal prayer are leader and respondents. We take turns leading the prayer. We begin together by praying the after meal thanksgiving, then the leader chooses a name of a deceased loved one and says, “especially for” and says the name he or she drew, then says, “eternal rest grant unto him/her, oh Lord.” The respondents reply together, “and let perpetual light sine upon him/her” Pretty simple, right? But the role of leader and respondent is defined, and any of us can step into the role of leader.

Active Participation – Ensuring that every member of the family participates in the ritual is important to ensure connection. This can be tough when you enter the sulky and aloof teenage years. So it’s important to explain why they need to participate.

Significance – Routines are common. But not every routine is meaningful. A ritual should be meaningful, and that meaning should be understood by every family member to the extent they’re able to get it. Answer the question (which you’ll undoubtedly get sooner or later), “Why are we doing this?”

Positive Emotional Meaning – A family ritual shouldn’t be a chore. Its purpose is to provide your family meaningful connection. Sure, you’ll likely get some resistance from your children, that’s natural. But for the most part a family ritual should be a pleasant experience. My children may not always admit it, but they actually look forward to their bedtime blessing. Family rituals can build fond memories that bless your children into adulthood.

You can connect with Jeff Arrowood at jarrowood@diolc.org

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