Establishing Your Family Culture and Traditions

Every day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.” (Strong Families, by Chuck R. Swindall)

Family Culture and Traditions: Establishing Your Family Culture

Every home is different. In her twenties, my mother served in the United States Marine Corps. She had the highest post a woman could hold in the Marines – the Secretary to the Commandant. When she married my dad, all of her organizational skills came into use. She ran an extremely orderly and tidy house.

My father traveled a lot for work and brought in a good income. Dad spent a lot of time with us when he was home. Family fun included taking walks, looking at family slides on the projector, or playing a board game together. Our home was peaceful, calm and quiet. We children felt safe, loved, and cared for.

Tom’s home was the opposite of ours. If we were a ‘British’ family, they would be our ‘Italian’ counterpart. Yelling, arguing, and colorful language filled the air. His parents immediately and loudly discussed problems. Tom’s parents were very social, so there were lots of parties. The kids came to know their parents’ friends well, and vice-versa. Tom and his brothers enjoyed the exciting atmosphere of the home, knowing that their parents loved them.

When Opposite Worlds Collide

What happens when opposite worlds collide? What happens when a girl from a quiet, proper family marries a boy whose mother’s language would make a sailor blush? I remember the first time Tom invited me over to his house for dinner. There was some altercation between his parents. With all of the yelling, I was pretty sure I’d just witnessed the precursor to their divorce.

I was stunned when just fifteen minutes after the argument started everyone was laughing and having fun again. The air was cleared, the problem was now out of the way, and people were moving on with their day. I, meanwhile, was standing there with my jaw hanging open.

In my home, if there was ever a discussion of that magnitude, I didn’t hear it. My parents had a different tactic which they developed when their opposite worlds had collided years before on their wedding day. They didn’t really address conflict. They instead preferred to sweep it under the rug and wait until everybody ‘forgot’ (or was willing to pretend to forget) that there was a problem.

Taking the Best from Both Worlds

When Tom’s and my worlds collided, we decided to take what we considered to be the ‘best’ from each of our respective homes. We would bring it together to create our own new ‘home culture.’ For example, we prefer the peaceful atmosphere I experienced while growing up. However, we have adopted the more open communication style inherent in Tom’s family’s home.

We value our private lives, but also open our home regularly to guests. There is plenty of excitement and adventure in our home, but also a lot of quiet, rest, and peaceful times together as a family.

What Is Important to You?

We recommend taking an itinerary of what is important to each of you in creating your home culture. Does one of you like to have the TV constantly on, while the other prefers quiet music or silence? Does one like to invite friends over regularly, while the other prefers that the home be more of a private refuge? Is one a night owl while the other likes to go to bed when the sun goes down?

Try to be very open and honest with each other. Remember that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ answers. Don’t worry about trying to be like other couples. You are two unique people coming together to form a unique couple unlike any other in this world. God made you special, and it’s imperative that you be true to who God has created you to be. This will help you to create the healthiest possible home environment for your family. In that way, you will also be an example to others who desire to create their own healthy home culture.

It will often be a sacrifice to meet your children on the level and to the depth that they need. Tom’s father had spent much of Tom’s childhood in front of a television set. In fact, Tom recalls at a young age hearing his mother yelling at his father to get up, turn off the TV, and play with him. By the time his dad finally caved in and came outside, his young son had decided he didn’t want anything to do with a father who had to be bullied into spending time with him.

Getting Rid of Our TV

Based on this fact, and the habit that Tom had inadvertently gotten into of turning on the ‘boob tube’ to unwind at night, we made a radical choice when our first child was born in 2003. We unplugged the television, canceled the Cable subscription, threw away the TV guide — and we haven’t missed it since. 

Here’s the crazy part. Our kids are adolescents and not one of us ever misses not having a TV. Since it’s not a part of our lives, we don’t even think about watching it. Our lives are so full of learning, laughing, playing, and fun that we have no idea when we’d find the time to watch TV anyway!

You’re probably wondering what we do when we’re tired and just want to relax? We have a variety of ‘rainy day’ activities that we love to choose from. We might make popcorn and play games or read books out loud together. Some nights we’ll have a jam session on some of the many instruments our children play. At other times, we will write and illustrate stories, look at family pictures, or act out Bible stories while reading them aloud. About once every week or two we’ll make good on our Netflix subscription and watch a movie together.

You may be thinking, “What a weird, crazy family…I could never do that!” Well, maybe that wouldn’t work in your family culture,. But if the TV is a problem in your home as it is in so many other homes we know, it might be an interesting experiment to unplug it (and leave it unplugged!) for one whole week.

Find a Substitution for Media

Just like a recovering drug addict, when the inevitable craving to watch TV comes, you must have something else ready to replace it. Maybe it’s reading a book or playing a game together. You could snuggle and listen to music by candlelight, do a family wood-working project, play ball, learn a foreign language…the possibilities are endless!

OK, now that you already think we’re a weird family, I’m going to spring another whopper on you. Our home is a Video Game-Free Zone! We have no video games in the house and ask friends to leave their tablets and gaming devices at home when they come over. 

You may be thinking, “Whoa lady, now you’ve gone too far!!! The child support people are probably going to come knocking on your door any day now!” Well, before you turn us into the authorities, I’ll share with you how we got to that point.

How We Almost ‘Lost’ Our Son

Few things bother me as much as trying to talk to a child who is staring at a screen of some sort and doesn’t even bother to look up or recognize that someone is trying to talk to him! I know, call me old fashioned, a dinosaur, whatever you like…I stand by my convictions that it is unnecessary, annoying, and just plain rude.

When we first moved to Medellin, Colombia, to work as full-time missionaries to children at risk in a neighborhood famous for drugs, witchcraft, and prostitution, our children were four, five and seven years old. We were putting all of our trust in God to keep our children safe and healthy.

I found many high-quality, low-cost classes in the city for children in sports, art, theater, dance, and much more. We decided to enroll our kids in several of these classes, hoping they would learn skills at the same time as they were learning to speak Spanish.

After a year filled with lots of activities, the kids were skilled at what they’d learned. They’d also become fluent in Spanish. Since we lived in an apartment complex full of kids, I decided to take them out of most of their classes for a period so they could make friends with the neighborhood kids.

Minecraft Addiction 

Check out this video about Minecraft and kids

Tom and I still shudder to think of how quickly Alex changed. He made friends with a shy, chubby boy named Santiago who lived a few houses away. They started to spend a lot of time together, and I began to notice that ninety-nine percent of Santiago’s discussions revolved around something called ‘Minecraft’.

Alex tried the game several times while playing with Santi and assured us that it was not a violent game (unless you count the zombies trying to kill people). Wanting to invest in our son and in their friendship, we bought Alex a tablet and let him play Minecraft for about an hour each day.

That might have worked, except that within days Alex’s every waking hour (and I’m confident many of his sleeping hours as well) were consumed with thoughts of Minecraft. It literally became all he talked about. My Mother’s Day card had creepers all over it. His art projects were all driven by fantasies of Minecraft.

I was having trouble getting and keeping his attention. We tried to limit his time, but his desire to play was so strong that he began to lie to us. He would sneak over to Santiago’s house to play when we thought he was doing something else!

Taking a Radical Step

Tom and I were alarmed and frightened. We were losing our talented, funny, extremely creative child right before our eyes. Luckily an adult family friend flew down for a visit, noticed the change in Alex right away, and encouraged us to avoid video games altogether.

He shared with us his story about his journey into a dark place on the internet that had begun with video games and had progressed to something much, much worse. I have always been sort of an all-or-nothing person.  Tom and I decided to eliminate video games completely from our home before they robbed us of anything else we’d worked for and prayed so hard to cultivate.

It took a few weeks for Alex to return to his funny, creative, pre-Minecraft self. Afterward, he looked back at what had happened from a whole new perspective. During this time, nearly every child in our complex buried himself behind either his own or a friend’s gaming device. When he would go outside and see a group of his friends huddled around an iPod or a tablet he would ask them to play ball. They would often ignore him or answer very rudely that they were busy.  Alex could see how rude they were acting, and how their interest in games seemed to captivate the majority of their free time.

Radical: Getting Rid of TV and Video Games

Here are some ways to get your kids off of video games

You may think that we acted WAY too drastically. Maybe this is something you wouldn’t even consider. Possibly in your family culture, you find some intrinsic value in the games themselves. Our point is just to share what worked for OUR family culture. We also want to encourage you that IF media addiction is a problem in your home, you CAN do something about it!

Now, several years later, our children speak three languages fluently, play multiple instruments, lead worship at area churches most weekends, have recorded two CDs and are writing their own songs, and are in charge of areas of our ministry. They write stories and books, love building things, run businesses, and serve with us as missionaries at 911 LIFE.  They are several years ahead in school, and their band, “Ignited”, performs for events in many different cities in the United States and also throughout Colombia!

All three can clean the house and cook at least as well as I can. They are wonderful, interesting adolescents who are fun to be around. The best part of it all is that they love Jesus and want more than anything to live to please Him.

Socially, there are a new group of kids in the complex who are spectacular. They are creative, love to run and play outdoors, and they know and respect the fact that there are no video games in our house. If one of them comes over with a tablet, I ask them to take it home and then return. Our kids’ friends love to come over and play because they know they will be doing something creative, interesting, and stimulating while in our home.

Establishing Family Traditions

What is a family tradition? It’s something your family does that sets you apart from every other family on earth. It gives the members of your family a sense of belonging, of being special, of being part of something that’s bigger than themselves.

Family Traditions In My Childhood

As I was growing up, traditions were an important and meaningful part of our family. Some of our traditions included the following:

  • Calling birthday cake “the birthday meatloaf.” It never failed…every year we wondered if that would be the year there really was meatloaf instead of cake!
  • Enjoying fondue while watching family slides on a big screen
  • On December 31st our family would sit around a tape recorder (yes, I grew up centuries ago) and record our predictions for the coming year. Then we would listen to the previous year’s predictions to see which had come true.
  • On fall nights my father would make a fire in the fireplace,. Then we’d snuggle in front of it and play cards together
  • My father and I played cards together most nights during the summer, keeping track of our scores. At the end of the summer, the loser bought the winner an ice cream cone.
  • Every Christmas, the decorating of the Christmas tree was a special time:  Mom would make hors d’oeuvres, Dad would crack out the eggnog, and we’d tell stories about each meaningful ornament as we put them on the tree, one by one

Our Family Traditions Today

Now that we have children of our own, here are some of our traditions:

  • Every year on my birthday we eat ‘family style’ spaghetti, which means we dump it right onto the (clean) table. Then we dump the sauce right on top and eating it straight off the table (with utensils if desired)!
  • When the kids were younger, they would have a special breakfast with Tom every Monday morning (at a restaurant, on the patio, on the roof, on a picnic, etc.). Now we have breakfast together as a family almost every morning!
  • For years we read part of an adventure story together every night, usually snuggled up in our pajamas with a bowl of popcorn. When it was time to stop, we could hardly hang on until the next night to find out what was going to happen!
  • We celebrate the 12 days before Christmas at our house with small individual gifts each child has to find hidden in the house each morning. Sometimes I hide a ‘family gift’, which is something that we can do together as a family that day.
  • Monday nights are family nights. We play games together and have entirely too much fun.
  • Pajama Sundays — we take our rest day seriously and try not to leave the house for any reason except to do something fun together.
  • We pray together regularly as a family, drawing or writing what we feel God is telling us.
  • Wednesday is movie day. Since it’s half-price at the local theatre (about $2 each!), we either go there if a good movie is out or more typically watch one on Netflix at home

Traditions, like nicknames, can’t be forced. They’re best when they come naturally, on their own. One day you just sort of realize that with a certain frequency (every day, week, month or year, etc.) you do something that you really enjoy as a family. Suddenly a tradition is born.

Check out these cool family traditions!