by Paige Hobey
Who knew donuts could make a kid healthier? Every Saturday morning, my husband and four-year-old son walk the dog up to our local donut shop. It takes them about half an hour round trip, and they inevitably return with an air of pride and satisfaction that goes way beyond a few measly pastries. Admittedly, I never really got the donut crusade. “Do we even need donuts?” I’ve been known to mutter as they head out the door.
Turns out, we do.
My husband unwittingly created a family ritual. And kids thrive on this stuff.
“Parents often focus on celebrating holidays and birthdays, but there’s a lot of time between these events,” says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday.
Cox says casual rituals—like sharing your daily high/lows at bedtime or Friday pizza nights—give kids a sense of comfort, identity and family connection. In fact, rituals and routines even contribute to kids’ mental health, according to a recent study by Syracuse University.
Of course, as parents, we get it. Routines for kids should be bottled and sold at Trader Joe’s on the “All-Natural Sedatives” shelf. Predictability works. But given the multi-page to-do lists we’re all toting around, who has the excess creative energy to regularly orchestrate meaningful family events?
Typical dialogue as I talked to moms for this piece:
Me: “So, I’m writing a story about family rituals. Any unique examples from your family?”
Mom: Extended pause. “Um, well. Right. Rituals.” Longer pause. “We read books before bedtime. Does that count?” Guilty sigh.
Here’s the good news: These things are easy. And you’re probably doing more than you realize already. Keep rituals simple but specific.
Take off work and hit the town together on your kids’ birthdays. Get ice cream every week after T-ball. Have Sunday game nights. Plan a special kid-choice dinner the first day of each month.
Use a secret handshake to say goodbye each morning. Make a “yes jar” and fill it with all the things you couldn’t say yes to during the week. Then, once a month pull it out and let your kids pick three things to do.
If it’s intentional and repeated, it counts. Your kids will benefit, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get some donuts out of the deal too.
Paige Hobey is a regular contributing writer for Mommy Track'd, Parenting Magazine and Chicago Parent as well as the author of the popular new parenting guidebook, The Working Gal's Guide to Babyville. She lives in Chicago with her husband Charlie and their two children, Bailey (4) and Avery Grace (2).