Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Whether we realize it or not, our lives are full of routines and rituals. Some of these enrich our lives and others are, frankly, a pain in the neck! We often complain about how “routine” our lives are, but those routines help keep us and our families grounded. And the rituals we have, many passed down from generation to generation, can be pretty wonderful, if you think about it. So what does this have to do with our great/grandchildren? PLENTY!!!

Routines (defined as: the usual sequence for a set of activities) and rituals (defined as: established formal behaviors or the performance of formal acts) give children a sense of belonging: to their family, to their peers, their schools, their holidays, their country, their religion, etc. Having predictable routines and rituals is reassuring to young children and affirming for older kids. They help kids connect to the world around them. Children find comfort and joy in following the “way it has always been done” when to eat trick-or-treat candy, what time each week you’re going to talk to each other on the computer, etc. It’s akin to children asking to hear the same story read over and over and over or mixing certain ingredients in a specific order when making cookies. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and certainty, because they know what to expect. And we do too. Children take pride in “their” rituals and routines, and no one should “mess with them”.

Keeping Things in Perspective - Routines That Work
Time constraints can make following routines with your great/grandchildren challenging. When you care for the children, some schedules, like bedtime, bath-time, play-time, homework time, eating, etc. can become overwhelming, especially if the child is adamant about following “their” routine…no matter what! The best way to alter routines and expectations is to give as much advance notice to the great/grandchild as possible, allowing them to process the upcoming change…and make the transition from one thing to another smoother. “I know you were counting on spending the night Friday, but we have to go out of town to see a friend. Even though we’ll miss this week’s sleepover, we’ll see you next week, at the regular time.” With younger children, when you’re tired, you can say, “I know you usually choose three books before you go take your nap, but today we only have time to read one…because I need to take a nap also. Let’s pick out the one book now, so we’ll have plenty of time to read it before nap time”. Remember, if you’re the caregiver, for whatever amount of time, it’s important to take care of yourself. If you live far away, and have a usually scheduled time to talk on the phone, let the great/grandchild know in advance, that Saturday isn’t going to be possible, and that you will reschedule the call for Sunday afternoon. All of this helps our great/grandchildren learn about compromise.

Holiday Rituals
Many families are of mixed race/religion/culture. How can traditional rituals be maintained without having someone insulted or hurt? What is our role with our “mixed” families? Do we celebrate Christmas and/or Chanukah, or do we fast for Ramadan or eat too much for Rosh Hashanah? When and how do we celebrate the New Year: the Kwanzaa way, the Chinese way, the Vietnamese way, the Jewish way, the traditional American way? These are all important holidays with their unique rituals, for different groups, and are not necessarily conflicting. If the parents are open to sharing different cultural rituals, then our job is to sit back and enjoy with them. Although this may be extremely difficult for some, it really has to be the parent’s decision on how they decide to raise their children. If there’s a disagreement between the parents, and we’re asked for advice, our job is to reflect on all sides of the problem, and help to try to find a compromise. The bottom line is that the rituals and routines can be a time for families to come together. It’s also a way to demonstrate to children that it’s ok to live with differences.

Be Open to Change
Families inherit some rituals and create others. It’s amazing how quickly children “own” these rituals and routines and make them their own. In our family, for example, cupcakes have become the celebratory birthday dessert, much preferred over cake and the great/grandchildren now request cupcakes any time they think we should celebrate something. We, as caregivers, living near or far, have to learn to participate in those routines and rituals that are part of our great/grandchildren’s lives, and make them “ours”.

Routines and rituals help children feel a part of their families and community, and recognizing this will help make life a lot less “routine”.