Traditions create a strong sense of family connection and endearment. This can happen on a daily or weekly basis, or might be something that happens a few times a year, like a vacation or certain holidays.
Growing up, one of my early connections with my family involved special meals around the table. A lot of good living happened around mealtime.
It’s amazing how being part of something greater than ourselves can create meaning in our lives.
I am the youngest of five kids in the Wright family and we are up to 55 family members now, with grandkids and great-grandkids. Recently, my niece made keychains for the family with our initial and the number of our birth order in the family. I am W-7: Wright family—member number seven. It is a powerful symbol of belonging.
Growing up, my family made our annual family reunion a priority, which I never want to miss to this day. I grew up making great memories with extended family and my kids have grown up doing the same.
This past summer, my youngest son and I traveled to Breckenridge, Texas to participate in our family’s original family reunion, the Keaton James Wright reunion. This reunion was my Father’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My son, Keaton, had never been to this reunion and wanted to attend the reunion named for his great grandfather, who my son Keaton was named after.
Getting to share an experience like this with any one of my children is always meaningful, but there are many parts of this trip that I will never forget. Sometimes we can take a mental picture of an event that sticks with us—like the one I can see in my mind’s eye right now from this reunion weekend.
It was Saturday, the last night of the reunion, surrounded by 10 acres of Mesquite Trees (and a few chiggers), and around 11:00 pm the horseshoe tournament was still going on. About 15 pickup trucks circled around the horseshoe pit with the lights on and country music loudly playing. Everyone was enjoying a drink and having a lot of fun—hundreds of family members, many we just met for the first time that weekend, laughing and enjoying the warm Texas summer night. It would have made a great Chevy truck commercial!
Keaton happened to make it to the championship round of the tournament, with my cousin Scott. I was standing and watching my son, wearing his Carhartt shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots with the biggest grin on his face.
I said, “Hey K.J., this is so cool. Look at the full moon.”
And he said, “Yeah Dad, we’ll never forget this moment”—hanging with our Texas relatives, playing horseshoes in the middle of the night under the lights at the Keaton James Wright reunion. This was an amazing shared experience, not only for Keaton and me but for Keaton and his family roots.
When we were leaving, he said to me, “Dad, there is a part of Breckenridge in us.”
Many years ago, when my wife and I started raising a family, we talked about our personal observations of families who had created connectedness through traditions and shared experiences. For some families, this was through sporting events, yearly camping or backpacking trips, skiing on the weekends, birthday dinners, daily walks, and more. These are different ways of building a strong connection to traditions. We didn’t do all of these ourselves, but we chose some that became a part of our family culture.
Children seem to connect to rituals—repetitive experiences—such as nightly bedtime stories, attending sporting events for our favorite teams, and cherished holiday traditions.
My wife’s family has had many years of “Thanks-ismas,” where we spend a few days celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas together. Every year, we play all kinds of games, sing silly songs, and eat Aunt Shanny’s scones for Christmas breakfast.
Over the years, because of creating a sense of joy around this holiday, our children don’t want to miss it. As adults, they will go to great lengths to not miss this week of family traditions.
As our children grow up, there are seasons where it’s normal for them to pull away—old and new rituals help keep them connected. Creating traditions doesn’t have to be fancy or overwhelming, just something meaningful that we do repetitively.
Over the years, my wife and I recognized that many families grow up and become disconnected or have a lot of tension. We worked to figure out how to create a dynamic that would draw our family together and cause our three kids and their future families to want to be with us. We began to sow some seeds and are still cultivating the environments for connection and shared experiences into their early adulthood.
We hope this will translate into healthy relationships with us, their siblings, and future families as our family grows.
We don’t always “get it right,” but we keep being intentional.
For all families, this isn’t always easy, and at times, takes humility and continued growth.
If your children are older and there are some obstacles in your connection right now, begin to think of one thing your children really enjoyed or something you have enjoyed together and make an effort to reestablish relationship.
In our family, we call this “creating WINS.”
This might take an extra investment financially or relationally, but the sacrifice is worth it. Painfully, it might also take backing off from the relationship, while letting your child know that the door is always open should they want to re-engage with you or the family—practicing “moving toward,” when we can, sharing what we need, and still setting appropriate boundaries.
Part of connecting with our kids is considering that it’s not always about meeting our own needs but just being present in the everyday moments with them. It’s about noticing when the opportunity is there.
Recently, my wife and I celebrated our 30th anniversary and our adult children joined us for the first part of our anniversary trip. It was busy and fun, and we had a great time, but one of my most meaningful moments was having an honest conversation with one of my sons on a park bench in the middle of the day.
It wasn’t so much about what we talked about, as it was about a deep connection brought on by him feeling safe to share some of his current life challenges.
And me, as his father, not wanting to fix or offer my “excellent advice.”
My approach was just to listen, be present, let him know that I am here for him, and offer empathy. We laughed together and cried together!
He thanked me for being present and just sitting with him that afternoon. As a parent, we don’t always think that “this is enough”—just listening and being fully present—but it was. Sitting there, being with my son, in a special way.
Sacred moments come through many forms of shared experiences, traditions, and connection. What shared experiences and traditions are you creating for your kids? What sacred moments are in and around you today?
Showing our kids Thanksgiving isn’t about one holiday experience that happens one day each year. It’s about being present and taking the opportunity to create positive memories and continued connection through traditions we create together.
Showing thankfulness can be as simple as investing in meaningful traditions or creating new ones—providing more ways to connect a little deeper and share a little more of ourselves.
Today, I’m grateful for sacred moments with my kids.
Rodney is an Advancement Specialist for Pure Desire. He previously served in pastoral ministry for decades. He has a BA in Biblical Studies from Bethany Bible College. Rodney loves being a part of fellowship that sees every person as valuable. He is passionate about people understanding that they matter. He and his wife, Traci, co-authored the book: How To Talk With Your Kids About Sex.