Monday, October 21, 2013

Routines and Rituals

The Mr and I are perfect for each other. I really mean that, from the time I first met him, to our time at BYU, to our time together here in a new state with the nearest family being 8 hours away.
We compliment each other. We still hold hands when we are out. We still hold hands when we are sitting on the couch together. I stare at him and think I am the luckiest and he stares back echoing those same words. We say I love you a lot. We talk about our dreams but mainly we talk about how happy we are right now.

One of my favorite research topics in family life is that of routines and rituals. Now I love holidays because they naturally produce these rituals we do as individuals or families but I really love the mundane routines and rituals we do every day.

Because I believe in God sometimes I ask myself why a perfect being made life revolve around so many monotonous things. Why couldn't he of created "life" without things like laundry, food preparation, cleaning, shopping, etc...really if we are supposed to be maximizing opportunities and constantly learning new things why did God not have us do that the majority of the time? I mean really how many showers will I take over my life time?
In Barbara Fiese's book Family Routines and Rituals (click here for the book published through Yale)she explains the power associated with these ideas.

"The therapeutic power of rituals resides in bringing into the open what had been put aside or buried for unspoken and painful reasons. The symbolic nature of rituals allows the family to connect deeply felt emotions to a place, time, or physical object. The ritual stands in place for an unfinished process that then allows the family to make the transition to the next phase of their lives."
The ways she talks about routines and rituals takes it to the next level but seriously for anybody going through a hard time with a loss of a family member (be it death, divorce, empty nesting, family divide, new members of the family) the best thing you can do is continue the rituals that are familiar but modify them accordingly.

Ill use divorce as an example:  Kids are used to dad reading books to them at night. When they are living with mom this obviously won't be happening but to prevent behavioral issues or help ease the transitions one of the most helpful things for the child could be having dad read a book over the phone. I am not saying this is the one perfect way but you get the idea.

We all have ways of doing things and with the holidays approaching I cringe for the families who have experienced some sort of loss who will be experiencing a holiday for the first time without them. The holidays are so hard because "mom won't be able to make ______" or "dad won't be there to pick out ____" whatever it is no matter how hard it is talking about it before, if you prepare it will be better. Find ways to still incorporate the old as well as the new because the situation will never be the same BUT the families CAN grow and become stronger. A new family system or dynamic will be created that moves families forward not backwards and the research shows routines and rituals are some of the most powerful factors to make the change positive.
Sorry for my long rant but we are a throw away/quick fix culture and that just doesn't produce happy families. Society  is proving this over and over again. It takes work to have a successful family (however you define it) and if god designed life to be filled with so much monotony why not embrace those times and the "rituals" leading up, during, and after them.  We all need to eat so why not maximize those times?

Ok, I am done with my rant but I want to end with probably one of my favorite stories I read in one of my classes. I was during my first semester after switching from Middle Eastern Studies Arabic as my major and I realized as much as I love multi-faith cooperation I felt strongly I needed to understand these ideas around family. Something we all have experience with but know little to nothing about. We are willing to become experts in all these other fields but the thing that we all experience and are apart of we have no training or basic understanding of how to do it right.

Doing Dishes with Daddy 

When I agreed to help my five-year-old wash the dishes, I had no idea what was in store for me.
Juanita and I had three children, and she was pregnant with our fourth. I was a graduate student and Juanita stayed home with the kids, so there were many things we couldn’t afford, including a dishwasher. When I did the dishes, I turned it into a quick, efficient system that would eliminate wasted motion. I could usually get dinner dishes done in 12 to 21 minutes. I thought that must compare favorably with even those who had dishwasher-equipped kitchens!
One morning Juanita was battling a particularly tough case of morning sickness, so I decided to skip school and stay home. I suggested Juanita sleep in, then I explained to Sarah, my kindergartner, that I was helping Mommy because she was sick. Sarah quickly caught the spirit of service and asked if I would help her wash all the dishes for Mommy.
I looked at the kitchen. Almost all the dishes in the house were dirty, but I estimated that it would take 28 minutes. I agreed to help Sarah. Immediately I went to work, systematically sorting the plates and dishes and putting the glasses in the dishpan first. Within a minute, Sarah was in tears. “It’s no fun!” she cried. “You’re doing everything. I wanted you to help me!” She stomped off into her bedroom.
I thought about it. She was right. I had agreed to help her. So I decided to help Sarah do the dishes any way she wanted to instead of trying to do them as fast as I could. I quietly approached my five-year-old with a sincere apology: “I’m sorry. I’ll help you. Tell me what you want me to do.” She immediately brightened up, took my hand, and led me back into the kitchen.
“Well, Daddy,” she began, enthusiastically, “I want you to wash those plates. Then I will rinse and dry and put away.”
I worked at her pace, washing one plate at a time. She talked to me almost nonstop, often pausing with a plate in her small hand. I paused with her. First, she talked about her friend Steven, and then she talked about a television show she’d seen the night before. Eventually, she started drawing me into the conversation.
“Daddy, what do you do at school all day?”
I told her about the classes I was taking and teaching, being careful to explain things in terms she could understand. As I talked, I realized how little of my world I had shared with her!
Next we washed the bowls because Sarah thought they were fun to stack in the dish drainer. “Daddy, why don’t you stay home more with me and Jeffrey and Aaron?” I told her I had to study a lot.
“Why do you have to study so much?” I couldn’t think of any explanation that a kindergartner would understand.
“It makes me so sad when you go away every day for so long,” Sarah continued, with tears in her eyes. I was moved. I wanted to hug her and tell her I loved her and promise to take her to the park and anywhere else she wanted to go.
She regained her composure. “Tell me a George Washington Hill story, Daddy.”
So while I washed the silverware, I told her stories about our favorite ancestor, George Washington Hill, who had a long, red beard and met his wife in the woods.
After the story there was a long pause. “Daddy, I didn’t pass my test at school yesterday.”
I looked over at my daughter and saw the hesitancy in her face. I didn’t know how to react or what to say. I wondered what kind of test they could be giving her in kindergarten. So I just smiled and asked, “Did you try hard?”
She brightened up. “Oh, yes.”
“That’s OK then. As long as you do your best, I’m happy.”
She became more thoughtful, and as she carefully dried a dish she poured out her heart to me. “Today, I really want to pass the test. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to practice it and practice it and then I’m going to pray and ask Heavenly Father to help me. I know he’ll help me.” Then she laughed and clapped her hands in joy. “I’ll pass that test today!”
The dishes were done. Through blurry, tear-filled eyes, I looked at the clock. It had taken one hour and 15 minutes to do a 28-minute job. But I was sorry to see the last swirl of the dishwater run down the drain. Sarah and I had talked almost the whole time. This had been a special talk for us—a talk where our feelings for each other were clearly expressed, a talk that strengthened our relationship and love.
Click Here for the original link. 
Now maybe I was reminded of this because right now things are getting more intense with Mr's studies. We are seeing D act out more than ever and I know it is because our family dynamics are changing. The Mr. can't lay with D for 45 minutes every night. And we don't get to do as many fun family outings because of time and financial constraints but we all have to eat, sleep, and get ready for the day so if that means I need to get D a "razor" for Christmas so he can get ready with Chris in the morning I'll do it.  Because years down the road that might be one of his fondest memories of him and his dad.