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Successful Families All Have This One Thing in Common: Family Traditions

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The professional portion of my journey into the wonderful world of wealth began with a stint in banking, followed by a 8 year tenure in wealth management. Then, I went rogue to reveal the secrets of wealth creation, cultivation, & conservation so everyone has equal opportunity to flourish and create a life on their own terms.

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As we celebrate birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries by gathering together, sharing food, gifts, and creating memories, we shape how we live, learn, and grow as individuals. Family traditions are important to us because they help define who we are as people and give us a sense of belonging and purpose.

Why Do We Have Family Traditions: Unity & Belonging

Family traditions help us connect with each other and build strong relationships. They also teach us values and morals that will last throughout life.

Traditions are the backbone of the family identity creating a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. They help us define who we are and what we stand for; they give us an understanding of our past and hope for our futures.

Family traditions provide security and continuity in an unpredictable world when upheld and maintained. They serve as the stable foundation upon which our lives are built. For the younger family members, family traditions make them feel safe and part of something larger than themselves. Traditions promote a sense of unity and connectedness between family members.

Growing up, I found solace in the traditions of my extended family, as my immediate family environment was often unsettled. Regardless of what was happening at our house, we would gather every year to help my grandparents on my Mom’s side decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. While it’s not as large of a group as it was when we were kids, my siblings, our significant others, and Mom all still gather at the Grandparent’s house for a day of decorating and holiday cheer the day after Thanksgiving.

What Makes Family Traditions Special: Values & Heritage

Family traditions are more than just a list of events; they’re a set of values that define who we are as a family passed down from generation to generation. The core family values provide structure to help us understand how we relate to each other, treat others, and connect to the world around us, and they inform the value structures that we adopt as individuals.

Traditions are the expression of the family values in the world; they are our way of saying, “Hey – this is who we are, this is what we believe in, and this is how we are creating a brighter future.” The underlying sense of shared identity serves as a template filter for which actions to take and which to avoid, illustrates how to interact with others outside the family group, and the role an individual plays in society at large.

The underlying values of family traditions are the frameworks that serve as the foundation for our individual value structures and codes of conduct. As children develop into adults, they use the values they’ve witnessed in family interactions to inform their personal values and actions. If the family’s values are unclear or not expressed via family traditions, the young person will search for groups that offer traditions and rituals like gangs or other substitutes for a sense of “family” identity. Family traditions are the cement that binds individuals together and provides a framework for leading a life well-lived.

Upholding & Reinventing Family Traditions: How to Modernize Outdated Family Customs

In the extended family context, women are traditionally the keeper of the family customs, the bearers of the torch, with their partners playing the supporting role. Additionally, the generational host role is not necessarily consciously passed from one generation to another. The passing of the torch may look like the elder generation scaling back to the point where the younger generation volunteers to take over and recreate the aspects of the holiday traditions that they value and fear are being lost. To preserve family traditions and maintain a strong family identity, it is necessary to revisit and subsequently refine family rituals to keep current with the changing times.

With the addition of spouses and the (unfortunate) willful attrition of participation of my cousins, my family’s holiday traditions are strikingly different than when we were all young. As the rising generations come of age, find their significant others, and begin families of their own – it is crucial to identify the desired experiences and negotiate what family gatherings will look like moving forward.

The new “nuclear” family will be faced with combining the now extended families’ traditions into the paradigm for the future. Logically, this does not happen in a vacuum, and the couple’s siblings, parents, and grandparents are interested parties in the decision-making. After the new nuclear family has determined their priorities and boundaries, the extended family should be included in the discussion. Family traditions, after all, are about creating a combined family narrative, identity, and rituals to strengthen and maintain relationships.

What to Consider Before Discussing Family Traditions

Take time to reflect on your perspective regarding your family traditions and have your partner do the same. Set aside a date and time to discuss what each of you has discovered and how to combine the best of both of your worlds moving forward.

  • What are your value structures?
  • Think about past family gatherings:
    • What did you most enjoy about them?
    • What did you not enjoy?
    • What are your fondest memories? Why?
  • Recall the way your life was structured growing up, like bedtime stories, weekend routines, and the like:
    • Are there any specific traditions that you enjoyed?
    • Are there any customs that you would rather not have experienced?
    • Is there anything that you wish would’ve been included?
  • Consider your current relationships with your extended family – siblings, cousins, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.:
    • Do you feel close to your relations?
    • How might your family traditions (or lack thereof) contribute to or detract from these relationships?
    • Is there anything that you wish would have been done differently?
  • What do you think the traditions your family upheld say about what your family values? How do these values correspond to your personal value structures?
  • Are there any traditions that could be incorporated to express your values moving forward?

Talking about Traditions with the Larger Family

Once you and your significant other have determined what is important to you as a couple and what boundaries you would like to establish surrounding family gatherings, it is time to solicit opinions from the larger family group where appropriate. Naturally, if the tradition of discussion is bedtime stories or allowances, buy-in from Grandma and Grandpa won’t be necessary. These discussions will likely revolve around how the larger family celebrates holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or other interim gatherings.

Some ways to begin the conversation with extended family include:

  • Asking why things are done the way they have been done in the past and what their favorite parts are.
  • Gauging how receptive different extended family members are to doing things differently in the future.
  • Volunteering to host future family events.
  • Inviting them to try out a new concept for family gatherings, such as a game night or periodic family dinner.
  • Explaining how you and your significant other have been considering incorporating some different things into the family traditions and observing how they respond.

The key to modernizing family traditions is to get participating members’ buy-in. It’s about maintaining the best of what was done in the past and combining it with new perspectives to ensure the family traditions hold true for generations to come while preserving the family values, identity, and story.

A Capsule for Learning: Storytime & the Sharing of Knowledge

In addition to serving as a vessel to maintain the intrinsic aspect of a family’s wealth, family traditions encourage the transference of wisdom from one generation to the next.

In the nuclear family, the knowledge transfer is between parents and children. On the extended family level, the pathways of knowledge transfer become a web connecting all participating members of the family. At the core level, this interconnectedness preserves the family heritage. If you take a broader view, one can see that the preservation and continuation of family gatherings bolster the intellectual wealth of the individual and the entire family unit. The younger, rising generation exposes the older generations to innovations and new perspectives on staid ideas. The older generations pass along their lifetime of experiences, accomplishments, and viewpoints that help inform the rising generation’s views in a beautiful symbiotic relationship.

The caveat is that mutual respect and understanding must be embraced for this melding of the minds constructively. Communication breakdowns can occur when generational beliefs are infringed upon, and different communication styles may cause waves where no insult was intended. Encouraging open-mindedness, critical reflection upon different views, and understanding another’s generational frame of reference can help foster amicable discussions.

The Traditions of the Nuclear Family

While some family traditions involve nuclear and extended families, others fall solely in the realm of the couple and their (future) children. Growing up, there were a few times that my Mumsie and Dad would load us all up in the Suburban, drive out into the mountains, and go hunting for a Christmas Tree, very National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-esque. This is a tradition that my now husband and I adopted the first year started dating, securing Christmas Tree tags from the National Forest Service, venturing out into the mountains, and plowing through feet of snow, all in the name of finding the perfect tree (or trees, as was the case when we were dating). In my mind, our annual Christmas Tree hunt marks the beginning of our nuclear family’s holiday season.

So far, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the traditions that involve the larger family unit. Yet, the nuclear family maintains most family traditions: the couple and their (future) children. These traditions are often not thought of as such. More commonly, they are often viewed through the lens of routines or habits of our daily lives. However, they provide the same benefits of promoting a sense of belonging, unity, stability, and creating a family identity or narrative that creates a context for the participants.

Beyond the typical day-to-day routines, the tight-knit family unit can create its traditions outside the formal holidays. Some ideas for informal family traditions include:

  • Annual family camping trips to the same (or different) destinations occurring around the same time each year
    • A unique camping treat or meal that is only prepared while camping
  • Birthday rituals that happen on the birthday versus the day the birthday party is held
  • “Coming of age” observances
  • Changing of the seasons observances such as hiking, picnics, special dinners, etc.
  • Planting spring bulbs and/or raking the autumn leaves
  • Family dinners at the dinner table
  • Gratitude lists or slips placed into a jar to be read later
  • Volunteering with local charitable causes regularly

Family Traditions Are The Glue That Holds Families Together

In short, maintaining healthy family traditions creates an environment of stability, belonging, and an identity that is the foundational framework for the next generation to build upon. Traditions of extended families are the physical manifestations of the underlying value structures of the family as a whole and allow the family members to connect to something larger than themselves. Harnessing the collective experiences, accomplishments, and insights of the larger family increases each member’s intellectual aspect of wealth, equipping them with access to a diverse array of information to inform their life direction and further contribute to the family’s overall intellectual capital.

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