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8 Awesome Family Traditions to Build Stronger Families

One of the keys to having a strong family is to have strong family traditions. The rituals we develop together with our spouses, kids, and extended family become the anchors that keep us grounded through the storms of life. For example, Mike and I have moved six times since we started having children, but we have a certain rhythm to our life, which makes anywhere feel like "home".

I realized just how important this was when we moved 2000 miles from California to Tennessee a couple of years ago. We didn't know anyone, and we're not related to anyone in Tennessee, so all of a sudden, we were very alone (that is, as alone as a family with eleven kids can actually be). Suddenly, tradition became a very big deal as we all felt a little discombobulated from the move:

"You're making poppy seed cake for breakfast on Thanksgiving, right???"

"We're opening one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas Day, right???"

"You're making a flag cake this year for the 4th of July, right???"

"We're going to Easter Vigil Mass like always, right???"

I have come to realize that having certain rituals associated with the various celebrations of life, and even with ordinary every day things, ties us together and provides a framework for our lives. Out of these seemingly ordinary traditions, interestingly enough, many extraordinary memories are formed that give each family its own unique story. Here are some of our rituals for both holidays and every day to help you get started with or augment your own traditions:

1. Have dinner together as often as possible

This is huge. Statistically, very few families ever have dinner together as a family anymore. It's difficult with activities encroaching on our evenings, but if you prioritize it, you can make family dinner happen at least a few nights a week. It doesn't have to be complicated; it can be as simple as a one dish crockpot meal or some pizza. The main thing is that everyone is there, and you do your best to keep it fun and conversational. Keep everyone off their phones during dinner. Make dinner about the people who are present. Otherwise, what's the point?

Also, dinnertime is not a good time to start grilling each other and yelling about bad table manners. Yes, you have to teach good manners, but you can do that gently and then switch the subject to something more fun. You can talk about what each person did that day, or you can pick a theme and start a conversation around that. Ask questions like, "What's your favorite TV show/video game/movie/book/song/band/vacation spot/etc and why?" You can learn a lot about each other while also teaching the kids conversational skills.

Now that our oldest six children have moved out, we try to get everyone here for a family dinner at least a couple of times a month (fortunately they all still live close by!). It's a great way to keep everyone connected as a family, even as they are individually branching out and finding their own ways.

Hanging out after a family dinner

2. Have certain dishes only on holidays

Our Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meals share a few dishes that I only make on holidays: poppy seed cake at breakfast, a sweet potato and apple dish, mashed potatoes, and fresh cranberry sauce for dinner. The main course is always either turkey or ham, and other elements can vary, but those are a given. On Easter, I always make an Easter Bunny cake. My mother made it every year when I was a kid, and I make it for my kids now. Pumpkin pies are a given on Thanksgiving, and decorated Christmas cookies are a must on Christmas. We also use the "good china" only on holidays, which makes them that much more special.

My mom with the first of many Easter bunny cakes that both she and I have made over the years

3. Go to church together on Sundays

This is difficult when you have a lot of small children, but the lessons it teaches are so worth it. The children learn that some things are bigger than ourselves (like God), and that some things are so important that you make the time, and you get there like clockwork, whether you feel like it or not, unless you're on your death bed. There are seasons in our lives when we really want to be there, and there are other seasons where it takes every ounce of strength to get there, but it's always been worth it, and I am seeing the payoff now in the character that my kids have developed.

Aside from the close relationship with God that they each have developed, the discipline learned by getting there every week spreads into everything in life that we know we have to do but might not feel like doing right that minute, like work, school, etc. It's a great feeling of strength to be able to overcome that and do what we know we need to do.