Important principles often ignored can help you establish and maintain strong family ties.
SELDOM do families get together anymore. We live in such a hectic society. We have little time for dinner with the grandparents or for a family reunion. And because we haven't taken the time, the glue that holds families together doesn't hold firm. It's time to revive some old-fashioned values and build more permanent family ties. It might just save your family.
Dinner at Grandma's
Let's take for example an old American custom to gather the whole family every Sunday afternoon for fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh cooked garden peas and, best of all, three different kinds of homemade pie. If you ever had such wonderful dinners in your family, you can almost taste the delicious meals still. And who could ever forget theĽ fun of some games afterward with all the children in the neighborhood joining in? And remember those lazy Sunday afternoons in the summer when you sat in the shade of the old oak tree watching cloud formations float by? Or do you remember playing outside with your cousins while your parents sat and talked for hours? If that had been part of your life you cannot forget it. But why is it gone today? Doesn't anyone care anymore? And why can't you start or reinstate such family get-together customs now? Well, you can. Of course, if the grandparents live hundreds or thousands of miles away, you can't have Sunday dinner together frequently. But if they are nearby, you can certainly make it a fairly regular practice. Even if they are a great distance away, all is not lost.
Those Wonderful Family Reunions
Another great old-fashioned tradition used to be getting the family together once a year or every other year — I mean the whole family: brothers and sisters and all the cousins. There is nothing like it. We, in the Western democracies, live in very mobile societies. In the United States a family now moves on the average of once every five years. Often these moves are hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles. When such moves happen the children may grow up without any real sense of stability. The result of this separating has created a whole generation who don't know "who they are." When you grow up under the influence of your parents and your grandparents, there is little doubt of who you are. If you have a quick temper as your grandfather did, you'll know it if you saw him yell at the cow when she kicked over the pail. If you have a fine voice for singing, you well may have inherited it from your grandmother. If you heard her singing lullabies, you will know for sure where you got your voice. Many have become more aware of their heritage as a result of the Alex Haley book and television series, Roots. It has made many want to search out their backgrounds and ancestry. Mr. Haley created a need to find out who we are and where we came from. This knowledge of one's family heritage seems to be missing in so many families today. Grandpa may have been forced into early retirement while he still had years of productivity left in him. Perhaps he died prematurely from the lack of purpose and inactivity. Like as not grandma was put into a rest home to rock away her final years of life in boredom. What a tragedy! And all the time they could have helped so much. Don't let the opportunity for your children to know and love their grandparents' go by. Plan a family reunion as soon as it is practical. If the grandparents are not living, make it a practice to visit the cemetery where they are buried. Tell the children stories about their grandparents and the "good old days." You'll be surprised at the greater sense of identity it gives them.
Instead of positive traditions, do you know what many families in today's society have? Nontraditions. What are nontraditions? Let me give you an example. The typical Western breakfast. Years ago when societies were mainly agrarian, breakfast was quite an affair. The entire family sat around the table. Mom prepared a hearty meal of cooked cereal, toast from homemade bread, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs and a hamburger patty. Dad outlined the day's chores. That was a tradition. A nontradition is quite the opposite. Today, dad probably grouches his way through the morning preparing to fight the traffic jams. He may or may not bolt down a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. Where's mom? She may have a job of her own and hurries through the blow dryer and hair curlers to be ready for her ride to work. And the kids? Left to themselves, they take the easy way out and gobble down a bowl of presweetened cold cereal. That's breakfast. That's what we mean by a nontradition. Nothing of lasting value comes out of this life-style. There is nothing here to pass on to the next generation. No positive family relationships are built. The chances of the dinner hour having any greater family value are between slim and none. The major difference in the evening, compared to breakfast time, is the blaring of the television — that greatest of all conversation destroyers. Staring at production — line situation comedies or old movies while eating a pop-in-the-oven prepared meal, the average family spends little time getting acquainted with each other, much less the grandparents and the cousins. That's hardly the kind of bonds that build strong family ties.
A Personal Example
Something that happened in our family nearly three years ago really forced home the point to my wife and me how important family bonds are. We had not needed to think about it before then. At that time our daughter left for college. It was amazing how much we all missed her. We missed her smiling face coming through the door every afternoon as she came home from school. We missed her sitting next to us at church services each Sabbath. We found she missed us, too. She missed mom's home cooking. Especially the homemade rolls and the apple pie. Why, she even missed quarreling with her brother and sisters. She missed the television — found out she had to study a lot more in college. And she missed her friends even though she had made many new friends at college. But there was one thing she missed more than anything else. Friday night dinner! We hadn't deliberately planned it that way, but over the years, Friday night dinner had become a family custom. The girls were in cheer leading, had after-school jobs and of course homework. My job required frequent nights away from home. Like many families we were going 10 different directions and did not spend nearly enough time together. So Friday night became special. We all agreed we would do nothing else that night — it was family night. It soon became a habit. My wife would spend a special part of Friday preparing the meal. And was it super. Gourmet cooking. For several years it has been our very best family custom. The next year our second daughter left home to make her way in the big wide world. We missed her, too. And she missed us. But most of all she missed... you guessed it, Friday night dinner. We also found another family bond had been built. This one an annual custom. Our daughters at this point in time both lived about 1,000 miles from us. They could not afford to join the remaining members of the family for another tradition that we have — a week of skiing during the January school vacation. We all once had some delightful days together. In skiing we found an activity that tied the family together. Unlike the routine at home where each of us had our own thing to do, when we were skiing we were together, helping each other. Since we all started learning at the same time, we were at about the same ability level. We could laugh together as we tumbled down the slopes. The big kids helped the little kids and we all have progressed into reasonably good skiers. While we all cannot get together every year anymore, we fondly remember our experiences in the beauty of the mountains. Each winter at least four or five of our family of seven still manage to meet on the slopes.
Some of the strongest bonds in many families are passed on from generation to generation as a result of cultural heritages from the land of their ancestry. Those customs often retain cultural tastes in food, dress, dance and even in professions. One custom was particularly striking to my wife and me when we spent the summer in Jerusalem. Along with nearly 50 Ambassador College students, we participated in the archaeological excavations at the City of David dig. We found Jerusalem a city of apartments. We rented an apartment and settled in for the summer. On Friday afternoon businesses start closing shortly after noon as most Jews in the city make Sabbath preparations. A beautiful custom starts the Sabbath each week. About 20 minutes before sundown, candles are lighted in nearly every home. It's quite a sight. All over Jerusalem through the windows you see the flickering lights of candles on dining room tables. The family gathers around for dinner and often engage in another Jewish family tradition — singing Sabbath hymns. These traditions have been perpetuated through many centuries and serve not only to bind families together, but bind an entire people to an ancient heritage and to their God.
Learning a Trade
Another passing on of custom can be that of a trade or profession. Throughout most of history, children learned the trade of their fathers that had in turn been learned from their fathers. Because many modern societies have given up such practices altogether, crafts that have endured for centuries are being lost. Even if a youngster does not wish to follow in his father's footsteps, if a trade, craft or profession has been learned, he will have something to fall back on. It's amazing today how few boys do — or know how to do — any household jobs, paint or mend things, change the oil or tune up the car. Only a small number of girls know how to sew, quilt or even cook for that matter. You see, in order to learn many of these skills, you have to spend time with your father or mother or with grandparents. Since most of us are not living on a farm, we may not know how to plant, cultivate, harvest, can (bottle) or freeze vegetables and fruits. Even if many families wanted to have a vegetable garden, they wouldn't know how to. Yet many middle-aged parents have known how to plant a garden — and almost every grandparent
"It's time to revive some old-fashioned values and build more permanent family ties. It might just save your family."
had one; probably grew up on a farm or in the country. Why haven't we passed on these fun and useful skills? If you have not learned any skills that should have been perpetuated in your family, why not take a little time to backtrack and learn from your father or mother in order to pass them on to your son or daughter?
Building New Traditions
Maybe you are part of a family that just does not have a long family history. Perhaps you have no knowledge of your ancestry or even of a craft of your parents. But that should not stop you establishing bonds in your family now. Our own family Friday night dinners and January ski trips are by no means passed on from my wife's family or mine. But I have a fairly firm conviction these new family customs will be carried on by our children after they are married. Recently we were transferred to California where our two daughters moved after they left home. You'll be way ahead of me here, but do you know where they have been nearly every Friday night since we moved? Right. At our house for dinner. So you see, new traditions can be just as important as old ones.
It's Up to You
Whether you have realized it or not, there are really — only two courses of action to take. Either build meaningful and lasting traditions in your family, or drift into "non traditions" that will cause your family to split further and further apart one from another. Why not sit down this evening and talk over what kind of relationships will best benefit your family? Get out the old picture album. Recall granddad and grandma even your great grandparents. Maybe you'll bring up some long lost part of your family past that your children have never even heard before. Then talk about what kind of new customs you would like to incorporate into your family. Obviously not every family will find skiing the most practical way to spend their annual vacation. But some of the most meaningful family experiences can be worked around a vacation. Perhaps visiting national parks, or taking up camping, fishing or other outdoor activities, will be something your family can enjoy. One of the best ways to spend vacation time is to hold regular family reunions such as have been mentioned in this article. So whether you decide on special vacation trips, outdoor campouts, Friday night or Sunday afternoon dinners, or nothing more than a quiet afternoon in your own backyard, make up your mind to build strong family bonds. You'll always be glad you did. Someday your grandchildren will thank you for establishing family bonds that will be passed on to their children and to generations yet — to come.