The Joyful Family: Meaningful Activities and Heartfelt Celebrations for Connecting with the Ones You Loveby John S. Dacey
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How can you bring more joy into your family? By creating situations and celebrations that bring the family together for meaningful moments. The Joyful Family presents more than 70 tools and activities for creating and maintaining family togetherness and provides concrete strategies for designing new traditions. The book is organized into the different types of events that can be marked by celebration, with chapters such as "Marking Milestones" and "Making the Ordinary Special." Each chapter contains 4-6 wonderfully guided activities, complete with situations, objectives, and lists of materials needed. At the core of the book are heartfelt stories from the lives of the authors and their students and clients.
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The Joyful Family
Meaningful Activities and Heartfelt Celebrations for Connecting with the Ones You Love
By John Dacey, Lynne Weygint
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2002 John Dacey and Lynne Weygint
All rights reserved.
Making a Family Joyful
Do you belong to a joyful family? Does your family have a happy sense of connection most of the time? Or do you sometimes wish that you had a greater feeling of togetherness, of cohesion?
It isn't easy to have a joyful family today. Many people, especially mothers, are struggling to keep their families from fragmenting. Despite these efforts, family members live more and more in their own separate worlds, unwilling or unable to help each other deal with a stressful society. There are many forces that seem bent on disintegrating family unity. Although the American family is not as endangered as some would have us believe, worry about it is widespread.
The future need not be so grim, though. All families, whether traditional—"one mom, one dad, two sibs"—or nontraditional—"two grand-parents, one granddaughter"—can relieve stress. A well-conceived ritual can provide a wonderful antidote to external stressors. As a part of our professional work (teaching psychology and organizational skills, family counseling), we have observed many families over the years. Those that are joyful always seem to have two factors in common: (1) They deal effectively with the critical moments in the family's life; and (2) they enhance each member's sense of belonging. Such families know how to work through the hard times that we all face and, just as important, celebrate the good ones. They are truly joyful.
Generally speaking, though, the quality of family rituals in Western countries has been declining in recent decades. For example, people used to discuss issues that were important in their lives over their evening meal or while sitting on their front porches after dinner. Most of us don't do that anymore. We might like to, but other demands seem to get in the way. Obviously, not all of those conversations made for better lives, but at least the opportunity was there. Today, the average family eats together twice a week. Over 40 percent of homes have the television set on during dinner. The average father spends about ten minutes each day in conversation with each of his children. The average mother, especially if she works outside the home, doesn't do much better.
Our national summer holidays also seem to have lost their power to bring us together. In earlier times, families used Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day as special occasions to seriously consider the reasons those days were set aside. Parades, games, and picnics were ornate affairs participated in by all.
Now, for most of us, a holiday is little more than a welcome day off from work, with everyone spending the time to meet her or his individual needs. Don't get us wrong. We are not urging that everyone return to "the good old days." You couldn't do that even if you wanted to, and there were lots of ways that the good old days were not so great, too. Instead, we believe that families can gain marvelous benefits from inventing their own new rituals or by carefully redesigning older ones.
Most families would like to be joyful. Intuitively, if not consciously, almost everyone dreams of being part of a cohesive, supportive, loving group, one that fosters abilities and values. The goal of this book is to help bring that dream to fruition. We suggest that this goal can be reached through the use of well-designed family ceremonies. As Dr. Robin Chernoff of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center has said, "Rituals strengthen family bonds, and they also forge a link between the family you came from and the one you're creating." They do so, she has found, by creating character, providing security, and fostering maturity.
What Is a Ritual?
By ritual, we mean a ceremony that is intended to celebrate the good times and promote the healing process after the bad. It is a rite that prescribes in detail what each person should do and when. Each time a ritual is repeated, a tradition is built up and honored once again. Thus traditions are ceremonies that have become habitual.
The funeral service, a commemoration found in societies around the world and throughout human history, models the value of ritual. The funeral is designed to give us the strength to deal with our grief and to transition back to a focus on life and its daily routine. Anthropologist William Bridges distinguishes between "change" and "transition." Change comes when a surviving person realizes that she will no longer be able to see a loved one who has died. The ability to accept the death, however, to come to terms with it and move on with one's life, is what Bridges means by transition. Ritual can often facilitate a successful transition.
Rituals may be characterized by the rules that you establish for them. Syracuse University researcher Barbara Friese suggests that you and your family answer the following questions about each of your ritual designs:
Will this rite require a lot of planning every time you carry it out, or will you just "go with the flow"?
Are the elements of your ritual systematically well defined? That is, will everyone know exactly what to do? Should everyone know what implements (a candle, reading) to use and where to sit (stand, kneel)?
Will it be regular? Will you always hold it in the same place? At the same time? For the same duration?
Will it be important that everyone take the ceremony seriously, or will a more relaxed attitude prevail?
Are family members expected to be emotionally as well as intellectually involved? For example, will people be encouraged to express their feelings?
How frequently will the ritual occur? Weekly, monthly, every other Tuesday night?
Will it be important that everyone come to every session? Will there be a penalty for not coming? Might those who attend feel irritated at those who don't make it?
Will the rite be highly regimented? Will it be performed the same way every time?
Will the ritual be permanent? Do you believe that your children are likely to continue it when they become adults?
There are no correct answers to these questions; it depends on what works best for your family in any particular situation. There are ramifications to each of the various answers you give, however. For example, if it really doesn't matter whether family members attend the ceremony, the power of its effect will almost certainly be weakened, and there is a good chance that it will be dropped eventually. That might be all right with your family, but it is one of the important questions you can raise when you are creating your design.
Following is a more specific example from Lynne's life of what we mean by family-designed rituals.
One of Lynne's Invented Rituals
My family and I first began our ceremonial life together when I decided that a weekly family meeting might help us communicate and plan our frenetic schedules better. We entered the world of ritual completely unaware that that was what we were doing. Somewhere in the vagueness of my thinking, I guess I hoped we might feel closer as a family if we had regular meetings. I especially hoped that we might draw in our eleven-year-old son; our six-year- old son was already an actively involved member of our little group. Once such a central force in our bond, our older son was becoming a satellite in an orbit that moved elliptically away from the rest of us. I knew he was growing up and that early adolescence is a time of questioning. It was the distancing that disturbed me. At the time, it really didn't occur to me that we might create a meaningful rite.
The spiritual aspects of connecting regularly and purposefully with my family eluded me. I was marching forward, as I tend to do, blind to the richness of the opportunities ritual offers. As you might imagine, our first family meetings, designed and led by me, were barely satisfactory. Yes, we planned our week as a group. We met, we talked, we looked at the crowded calendar. The boys teased and were bored, my husband and I tensed and almost gave up. Another good idea that hadn't worked. Or so we thought.
Two years and approximately 100 family meetings later, I'm so glad—we're all so glad—that we didn't give up on our "meetings" and thus on each other! Our meetings evolved from their original purpose into what we celebrate today: a weekly time for shared renewal, our Sabbath, our unique ceremony.
We each contribute. Our leader lights a tall, thick candle, bringing a warm glow to this small and cozy spot—our only real gathering room. We sit in silence (occasionally broken by boyish giggles) and enjoy the warmth for a too-brief moment. The leader may open with a thought (this seems more popular with the grown-ups in our tiny group) or may move directly into thank-you's, compliments, and appreciations.
I'm often surprised by the richness in this sharing. The little things that seemingly go unnoticed each day now become the kindnesses that reinforce our family bond. Often, one person's appreciation of another reminds us all of other gestures we had forgotten. So we go around the circle again, and sometimes a third time.
Next, we discuss any problems that have arisen during the week or that have not been solved from previous meetings. These problems can be anything from a scheduling conflict to a friendship in distress to a request for "better" (less nutritious) after-school snacks.
Our older son was quick to see the advantages of this style of problem solving and soon began training his parents. Now, when one of us launches into a tirade about showing respect for a teacher he dislikes, he is apt to interrupt with, "I think we should discuss this at family meeting instead of taking the time now." Of course, his intent is to avoid the lecture entirely, but discussion about respect will be on the agenda for the next meeting. When the topic comes up on the following Sunday night, the ensuing conversation tends to be less heated, more thoughtful, and more general. By then, it is about respect for all, not just a certain student's relationship with a particular teacher.
Finally, we review the calendar, briefly discuss family finances (something I hope to develop more as the children get older), look at the week's chores, and discuss the family's fun activity for the following week. The leader closes the meeting with a song, a short reading, or both. We always enjoy a final moment of silence in the candlelight before dessert.
As if by magic, this ritual, evolving out of a singular need for a more ordered schedule, has made our family more joyful. We arrive at our meeting as four individuals with different lives; we leave as a family, bonded by understanding and forgiveness, humanity and love.
One of the best uses of family rites is bridging the gap between generations. Here's how John went about trying to achieve this goal.
One of John's Invented Rituals
For the past seven years, my wife and I have taken care of our five grandchildren on Fridays from 9A.M. TO 1P.M. so that their mothers can carry out their part-time jobs. Finding activities that are constructive and yet fun to do can challenge the imagination. Two years ago, as a part of our routine, I decided to design a new ceremony that would entertain and educate the older children while their young cousins took their morning nap.
On the back of our property, we have an 8"x10" shed that served as a workshop and tool storage area. I removed the back wall and replaced it with two large windows overlooking the woods, so that I could have a place conducive to thinking and writing. In the center of the cabin I installed a miniature pot- bellied wood stove to provide heat in winter. For several years now we have used this shed as the setting for our rituals. Although at first most of the ideas were mine, gradually the kids had more and more say in what we would do. Soon going out to "our cabin" became a regular part of our Friday schedule.
I have several chairs facing the windows. From the top of the window frames, I have hung two crystals, and when the sun is shining, the walls and ceiling of the cabin are covered with dozens of little gyrating rainbows. The children love them. Even when it is raining, they are content for a while to watch what is happening out in the woods. Across one of the windows, I have built a shelf with a molding attached to the edges that holds the half-inch of sand I spread across the shelf. My five-year-old grandson loves to rake the sand with a toy garden rake to make it look like a Japanese meditation garden. We take turns placing our favorite small objects on the sand and then telling each other stories about them. I have put a little bowl at one end, and at the beginning of our sessions, I light a small piece of sage and let it smolder a bit. It creates a lovely calming aroma in the cabin. On winter days, we sometimes roast hot dogs for lunch.
A variation on our cabin tradition we call "wondering time." Each of us takes turns saying, "I wonder why ...?" Anyone who wants to venture an answer is encouraged to do so. This activity almost always generates interesting conversations. In fact, this whole Friday morning tradition fosters good talks and good feelings. Perhaps most important, I think it is creating some wonderful memories for us all.
Although this book is not about spiritual growth per se, spirituality plays a central role in a number of the celebrations and commemorations we describe (have you ever noticed that the word spiritual contains the word ritual?) Roy Oswald, in his excellent book Transforming Rituals, describes the ultimate life transition: spiritual growth. Such a transformation, he says, is usually a painful process, as is most change. "It is not that we resist change but that we resist loss." Most of us, Oswald claims, have a number of "losses that we may not even be aware we are grieving, as well as a number of new beginnings that we may never have acknowledged and celebrated. We experience the resulting stresses and strains. How can we capture the possibilities change offers for individual and communal transformation, and reduce the physical, emotional, and spiritual casualties of change?" His answer is that we need to redesign old rituals and invent new ones. Rituals "allow us to go beyond words. They help us express who we are as individuals and the way we want our lives to unfold. They express our belonging to a specific family, tribe, ethnic group, nationality, religious tradition, or denomination. Finally, they remind us that we live as part of the entire community of humanity who share this earth."
Recent polls have been finding a heightened interest in spirituality. People are raising questions about the meanings and purposes of life and death. This is related to changes in attitudes toward organized religion. In the 1960s and '70s, baby boomers in great numbers left the religions in which they were raised. One study found that among that age group, 61 percent of fundamentalist Protestants, 67 percent of Catholics, 69 percent of moderate Protestants, and 84 percent of Jews stopped practicing their religions. In the 1990s, many of them tried re-engaging in the religion of their youth, but a majority still found it unsatisfactory. On the other hand, spirituality, especially as practiced in non- organizational settings, is making huge inroads on the public consciousness. For example, the topic of spirituality is the fastest growing sector of the publishing industry. Although our book is not primarily concerned with spirituality, many of the rituals we recommend have a spiritual component, or easily could have.
Most families engage in rituals, at least occasionally. Vacations, Sunday afternoon dinner, family reunions, weddings, holidays, first days of school, birthdays, graduations, family prayers—all are examples of household rituals. The kinds of situations in which rites may be used effectively are limited only by the imagination of family members. Here's an example:
Making a Full Recovery
At age fifty-nine, Li Pac felt like a very old man. His right hip had "rusted out," as he put it, and for several years he had been forced to hobble about, feeling elderly before his time. Six months ago it had taken him fifteen minutes to get up the stairs to his bedroom. Eventually he was unable to climb the stairs at all.
He resisted having hip surgery until he realized that he could no longer play with his three grandchildren: Gregory, seven; Ellen, four; and little Damian, two. For nearly half a year, he had been unable to even pick them up in his arms, which he dearly loves to do. One day several months before the surgery, as he was walking down the street with Damian, a dog came bounding toward them. His little grandson, panicked by the sight, turned to him with arms upraised, crying, "Grandpa Li, Grandpa Li, quick, pick me up!"
Excerpted from The Joyful Family by John Dacey, Lynne Weygint. Copyright © 2002 John Dacey and Lynne Weygint. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Meet the Author
Will Glennon is the author of 200 Ways to Raise a Boy's Emotional Intelligence, 200 Ways to Raise a Girl's Self-Esteem, and an editor of the bestselling Random Acts of Kindness series. He is a regular columnist for Daughters newsletter and sits on the Board of Advisors for Dads & Daughters, a national parenting organization. The father of two children, a son and a daughter, Glennon lives in Berkeley, California.
John S. Dacey, Ph.D., is professor at Boston College in the Department of Counseling, Developmental Psychology, and Research Methods. He is the author of twelve books, most recently Your Anxious Child and nearly thirty articles on parenting, creativity, and general human development. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts with his family.
Lynne Weygint is the mother of two sons, a professional organizer, and a religious educator. With co-author John Dacey, Ms. Weygint has also helped religious educators and individuals within her Unitarian Universalist community create rituals.
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