Celebrating Milestones with Meaningful Traditions

Traditions are the “glue” of family togetherness and the fodder for creating fond memories and strong family identity. They can be big things or little things, done within any family year to year (or shared from generation to generation). They can take a week or five minutes. There are no rules to family traditions—except to have fun! You don’t have to do the same things that another family does. You can create moments that are distinctly and uniquely your own.There’s no wrong way or right way to go about it. There’s just what your family makes happen.

Transition times provide great opportunities for parents to create new traditions. The ways we recognize (or fail to recognize) important milestones say a lot to our kids about what we think about who they are and who they are becoming. Here are ideas for making the most of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

  • Tips for parents with children ages 5 and under:
  • The birth or adoption of a child is a time when many families step back and reexamine their traditions and rituals. Think about the kinds of rituals you want your children to experience as they grow and develop, and start creating those now.
  • Hold a welcoming ceremony for new babies with family and friends, through a congregation, or with another significant community for your family. Invite guests to write messages you will save and give to your children when they are older.
  • Find a landmark, a special spot in your home, or a favorite location, and take your child’s photo in that same spot each year. Create an album or photo display, and look back at the photos together on every birthday. Talk about some of the special memories you had together each year.
  • Tips for parents with children ages 6-9:
  • Honor accomplishments, special events, and new skills with activities rather than gifts. By spending special time with children in honor of rites of passage, you teach them to love maturing for its own sake and not for the “stuff” that comes with it.
  • When your kids start school, start a new tradition as well. Idea: Create a necklace of beads for your daughter. Together with her, ask the important people in your lives to select a bead for the chain as a reminder of all of the people who supported your daughter and helped her grow into a child ready for kindergarten.
  • Whenever possible, start giving children specific roles as participants in other people’s rites of passage (such as weddings or milestone birthdays).
  • If you aren’t part of a religious tradition that has a ritual marking the beginning of adolescence, create one. Idea: Invite important people in your son’s life to spend time with him over the course of a day. Throughout the day, they can share with him their ideas of what it means to be a man.
  • Tips for parents with teens ages 16-18:
  • When your children receive their driver’s licenses, celebrate. At the same time, talk about the responsibilities they now have for themselves, their future passengers, and other drivers. If appropriate, present them with special key chains that can serve as reminders of your trust in and expectations of them.
  • Be aware that some young people participate in unhealthy rites of passage involving things like hazing, gambling, sexual activity, or substance use. Talk with your teen about how their peers mark life changes. Then, together with your teen, make some positive plans of your own.
  • Involve teens in planning rites of passage, traditions, and other celebrations for other family members, such as younger siblings or grandparents.