Family Routines & Traditions

baked pizza on top of black surface near filled glass tankard
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Jenny McCormick MSW, LCSW

Pizza night is sacred. It has morphed, but it is sacred. We started having pizza on Tuesdays because it was busy with music lessons, and a frozen pizza or carryout was quick. After removing processed food from our diets, we started making it, it was even more fun that way. I make the crust in the morning and it proofs all day. When we’re all home, I get the sauce and toppings, and each kid chooses toppings and makes a pizza. One night, I needed to go back in to work on a Tuesday and I missed pizza night. I was surprised at how disappointed my kids were. It turns out that it pizza night was sacred to them before it was sacred it me. I learned my lesson and kept Tuesday nights work free. I have had to travel, but with notice, my kids don’t mind being flexible and changing the night. Each pizza night, we spread a blanket in the family room and bring the pizzas in. Everyone chooses a TV show to watch while we eat our pizza. The tradition originated out of convenience, and with adjustments, became special.

     Friday nights are movie nights. We are all tired by the end of the week and need a low-key night. We rotate who picks the movie, and we have popcorn, cheese, and apple slices as snacks.

My favorite time of the year is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we practice tons of traditions. We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. Each kid opens a small gift in the morning before school from 12/13-12/24. They are usually treats, snacks, joke presents, or other small trinkets. On Christmas Eve, the kids open a pair of pajamas that my mom sews. They sleep in them and wake up ready for pictures in new pajamas. Christmas morning is the only day of the year that I make homemade cinnamon rolls. I decorate the table, light candles, and we eat. My husband reads the Christmas story, and we usually get choked up over our gratitude. We move into the family room to open presents. My kids’ favorite part seems to be turning the couch around. Our tree it behind our couch, and we turn the couch around to face the tree. We travel to extended family after we spend some time enjoying the four of us.

I am not sure where my love of traditions originated. In the beginning, it felt like self-preservation. I have an amazing and beloved 17 year old daughter who was obviously not independent and self-sufficient as an infant. Holy smokes, was she high maintenance! I needed routine and tradition to be able to enjoy maintaining her. I would give her a bedtime bath after feeding her, read Goodnight Moon, and dance with her to an instrumental lullaby CD, then put her to bed. This is my favorite baby shower gift to give now: Bedtime Bath by Johnson and Johnson, Goodnight Moon, and lullaby music. My daughter’s bedtime routine turned into a precious time which, of course, morphed. During her toddler years, we kept a lot, but limited the lullaby songs to two while we laid together. Then we removed several parts but still laid together and talked. I did this with my son as well, though to my dismay, he reached for his crib and didn’t want to sway and dance during infancy. We did talk at bedtime from toddler years on, which is when the good talks happen!

When I was trying to identify traditions and routines when my kids were young, it mostly came from convenience and ad desire to make what was convenient special. Over the years, I have borrowed from other people’s traditions. My mother-in-law did 12 days of Christmas one year for me and my husband, and we liked it and applied it to the kids. I also borrowed “backwards day” from a friend. That one got annoying, and we stopped. We did backwards day in the winter when we were sick of being inside and needed to switch it up. I made dessert which we ate before dinner. The kids tucked me into bed that night, and my daughter even switched her bed to be made with her head at the foot of the bed.

We have traditions surrounding the first day of school as well. My husband writes a letter to the kids every first day of school since kindergarten, and they both have all of them. It is always a beautiful reflection of memories from the year, their strengths, and his love for them. We also make blueberry muffins for breakfast. My daughter was switching schools after second grade and wrote a story for her teacher in which a girl was starting and new school and had blueberry muffins for breakfast. Wa-La, another tradition.

I love our routines and traditions. I love what they mean to all of us. We have been doing pizza night every Tuesday for probably 12 years, and I bet that I could count on one hand the weeks that we have missed. Even on vacation, we find a pizza spot. When we have people over, they eat pizza with us. The first Tuesday night when my daughter is at college will be so hard! I may just need to morph it, and we’ll FaceTime her while she eats delivery pizza, and we eat our homemade pizza.