Generative Family Traditions

Generative Family Traditions

Sometimes the things we create are so strong that they span generations. A friend of mine, @MarianneDowning, uses the word “Generative” to describe creativity that lasts longer than one lifetime. 

One example of this is what families eat to celebrate. In our family, we have a special dinner on Christmas Eve. We gather as extended family to eat, give each other presents, and spend an evening together. My mom makes “Party Chicken,” which is chicken breast rolled in bacon and then placed on top of a slice of paper thin ham with a cream of mushroom soup sauce, then baked. She also makes “Yummy potatoes,” which she refuses to call “Funeral potatoes” because Christmas Eve dinner is not a funeral, even though everyone else calls them “Funeral potatoes.” Wink, wink. I make pumpkin pie and apple pie because I love making and sharing dessert. 

Mom sets out the good china from my Aunt Ginger and we eat with a cloth tablecloth, cloth napkins and silver silverware. Mom makes pretty place tags from scrapbook paper and creates painted wooden napkin holders and favors for our plates.

I really love my mom and that she creates these special days for us.  

These are my sisters. I’m rocking the purple pants. I totally forgot about purple penny loafers until now!

Mom chooses “Party Chicken” because her mom made it. She makes the dinner pretty and fancy because Nana did that too. Nana’s mother did not make the same recipe (deli meat did not exist in the same way back then or she might have), but she did make the holiday dinner a special event, as did her mother, and on back through the generations. For our family, this dinner is a generative event. 

My dad often worked several jobs as I was growing up, often going to work at his full time job and then working an 8-hour swing shift. Both involved heavy labor. Some weeks, the only chance we kids had to see him was on Saturday mornings. I know I was a priority for him because he would make waffles on Saturday mornings. Sometimes we ate them with syrup, jam, or ice cream. He always put peanut butter on his. (Still does.) 

Looking back with a fondness for waffles, I realize that the waffles were not the important thing. The time and attention were the important things. As a parent now, I can imagine how tired he was and how he maybe wanted to watch football instead, or sleep. But he gave up an hour or two to be an engaged father (and then sometimes watched football after). Over time, his work circumstances improved. We saw him more often, and he carried on the waffles tradition. His coworkers still talk about how excited he was to have breakfast with us kids. Now he makes waffles for my kids too when they sleep over at Grammie and Papa’s. I love that about him. For our family, waffles are generative. 

In the field of family science, we learn that these types of traditions and family rituals give parents the best chance for raising healthy humans. And they say, the more unique the tradition, the better because families are unique and that uniqueness connects us together as a group. 

A child’s connection to a healthy adult parent is critical to him or her forming healthy connections later in life. Connection is a key to joy and fulfillment. 

In Hold Onto Your Kids, Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Mate talk about how children will naturally orient themselves to someone in their lives.  “Only recently have the psychological attachment patterns of children been well charted and understood. Absolutely clear is that children were meant to revolve around their parents . . . , just as the planets revolve around the sun. And yet more and more children are orbiting around each other.” p 19

Parent relationships provide “unconditional love and acceptance, the desire to nurture, the ability to extend oneself for the sake of the other, the willingness to sacrifice for the growth and development of the other,” while relationships with their peers do not. P 11

They continue, “Attachment is what matters most. For children, it’s an absolute need. Unable to function on their own, they must attach to an adult. Physical attachment in the womb is necessary until our offspring are viable enough to be born. Likewise, our children must be attached to us emotionally until they are capable of standing on their own two feet, able to think for themselves and determine their own direction.” p 18

“Attachment is at the heart of relationships and of social functioning. In the human domain, attachment is the pursuit and preservation of proximity, of closeness and connection: physically, behaviorally, emotionally, and psychologically. .  . . It is invisible and yet fundamental to our existence. A family cannot be a family without it.” p 17

“As long as attachments are working, we can afford to simply follow our instincts–automatically and without thought. When attachments are out of order, our instincts will be too.” p 17

I love this last quote because as we create attachments to our children, these traditions will be things we instinctively create, and not things we force or do out of a sense of duty. They will be a natural and even joyful part of our family rhythms. 

And if you have that kid who moans and complains about your traditions as a parent, take heart. I was that kid. I did not make it easy for my parents to continue these traditions, but they persevered, (even when I refused to come down the stairs on Christmas morning in the 1990’s because they were playing Neil Diamond Christmas songs, when he is Jewish and doesn’t even believe in Christmas). Ha ha. I am very grateful for their diligence now because it led to us developing an attached and fun and grace-filled relationship as adults. (Neil Diamond is a great singer, by the way. It was adolescent angst and not really him at all.)

As families, let’s make time for each other to create small (but actually really big) connection-filled traditions. These shared experiences can keep us together through the hard, soul-crushing bits of life.

I hope we remember the effort of our parents, in spite of their imperfections, and hope that our kids will remember our efforts too. 

What are some of your favorite family traditions? Do you have any that span generations?

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