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The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties - William J. Doherty - Book Summary

Hands on guide on how to transform some family routines into family rituals (according to each family’s values). Rituals provide: 1. Predictability 2. Connections 3. Identity 4. A way to enact values The idea is to gradually tweak the current routines, so it will be more enjoyable, add new ones, and be “intentional” when planning them.

Family meals are a great place to start. Don’t make drastic changes or complain on the way that they are done now. Instead - consider all the aspects of a meal - the planning, cooking, setting the table, announcing the meal, seating arrangements, topics of conversation, table manners, allowed distractions, how the meal is ended, etc.

Think of how you would want those aspects to look, and try to gradually modify them to get there. At first you can only put music or light a candle, to slightly change the atmosphere.

Another possible routine to focus on is the bedtime ritual: a clear bedtime for child should be set, at least until he is a teen. A predictable and clear ritual will help reduce stress and have less day-to-day conflicts around it, and will allow quality time between the child and parent during the actual night ritual. Before actually getting into bed - start with a transition phase that might include a bath, putting on Pajamas, cuddling on the sofa, or any other quite activity. Make sure to start it early enough so it will not be rushed, and if the kids are younger and cannot tell the time themselves - give them a notice before starting.

Then move to the actual ritual that will probably include one-on-one time of one of the parent (decide who - when) with the child - talking or reading a book. Make sure that it is clear when it is over (like saying good night and leaving the room), to avoid debating over this as well, and possibly undermining the benefits of the ritual.

Family outings - for a restaurant or a vacation is one of the most memorable child memories, Each family can have their own activities that can be very different from one family to another. The keys to making a going-out activity a genuine ritual are that family members do the activity together on a regular basis, that they know their roles and place in the activity, and that there is some feeling of connection. The easiest way to start or upgrade family rituals of connection is to determine what you already enjoy doing as a family, and then do it more intentionally. If you go out for dinner regularly, give some thought to your favorite places and favorite food, and to those places that lend themselves to a pace slow enough for family conversation. If walking through the park is something you occasionally enjoy, consider elevating it to ritual status by incorporating it regularly into your family’s routine. A variety of regular family activities can become true rituals by doing them more frequently and in a more coordinated way, and by adding an opportunity for conversation. A family’s going-out rituals, whether to the ice cream store or to the other end of the continent, are at the heart of a family’s identity. They can profoundly define childhood memories of family life.

Intentional couples (or parents) manage to create and maintain talk rituals in their everyday lives. They don’t need to be time-consuming talks: 15 minutes of focused one-to-one conversation can be sufficient for couples with busy lives. But talk time must become a ritual or it will not happen regularly.

Date night is another couple ritual - at least once every other week. The main ingredients in a martial date are privacy, enjoyment, and conversation, the activity must lend itself to all three. Going out with friends is fun - but doesn’t count.

Another type of rituals are when a specific person is in the center (like a birthday, mother’s day, etc). There are innumerable ways to be intentional about birthday rituals: gifts, party locations, activities, dining at special restaurants, taking special trips, etc. But especially enriching is the sharing of personal appreciations. People should feel free to share whatever comes to their mind; it can be something “deep” or more superficial, as long as the appreciation is genuine.

Guidelines for successful rituals

1. Adult agreement. If you and your spouse, partner, or co-parent do not agree on the ritual, it will not work.

2. Eventual buy-in from the children. Older children in particular may resist changes at first, especially if they diminish their freedom and spontaneity. But a ritual that works well will eventually win the allegiance of the children. If they continue to complain and resist, consider overhauling, substituting, or dropping the ritual.

3. Maximum participation. The more that family members are involved in planning and carrying out the ritual, the more meaningful it is likely to be.

4. Clear expectations. Rituals of all kinds require enough coordination that people know what to do and when to do it.

5. Minimal conflict. Although conflict can always pop up in families, the most successful rituals occur without regular tension and conflict.

6. Protection from erosion. Good ritual management means protecting the ritual from the inevitable threats to its consistency and integrity. Good rituals must be fought for.

7. Openness to change. Intentional Families are forever changing while holding onto their important traditions.



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