If you are in a stepfamily and struggling for some sense of family identity, don’t despair. You can enhance your feeling of togetherness with the use of family rituals and traditions.

Rituals allow nontraditional and traditional families to form collective identities, facilitate healing, celebrate life changes, and pass on expressions of beliefs. Rituals include daily activities, even if they are taken for granted, such as getting ready for bed, eating at the table, and watching a television program. They can also be much more elaborate, although not necessarily more symbolic, such as weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, graduations, and religious ceremonies.

Regardless of their format, rituals are an important aspect of our social lives, and parents can utilize this hidden resource in developing more intimate families. Family therapists have used the concept of rituals to help families that have been hurt by past actions toward one another or by an unexpected traumatic situation. Wedding vows have been restated by stepfamilies and have included all family members, including the children. Letters of anger and sadness have been written to unknown mothers and fathers and then ceremonially burned or destroyed as an act of saying good-bye. Marriage bands have been melted down or thrown into the middle of lakes to break emotional ties and symbolize the need for an emotional divorce, even after families have already been legally divorced. Again, how one performs these valuable tools is not as important as finding a way to signify a gain, loss, or both in the lives of families.

Often the most powerful rituals and traditions are the ones that come up naturally in a family. Forcing a tradition, in a stepfamily especially, is a guaranteed way to create more disharmony. Keep an eye on routines and activities that bio and nonbio family members seem to enjoy. What causes anxiety and frustration to leave the home and fosters a fun, creative, or relaxed atmosphere? Do more of those things.

If you still are unable to come up with a family ritual or tradition, have a family meeting or kitchen table discussion about what members of the family would like to do on a regular basis. You might be surprised what ideas come up. If reasonable, try these suggestions until you find one (or two) that fit your newly formed family.

As children get older and situations change, rituals and traditions may leave or no longer be of interest. If they are not related to deep spiritual values, allow them to pass and look for new ones to arrive. Rituals and traditions are there to serve your family and not the other way around.

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