Do All Children Need Roots and Wings? Traditions vs. Memories

by Oletta Branstiter

There’s an article published by that is circulating on Facebook lately.  I may have responded too quickly to the title of the post: “Why traditions and holidays are so important to your kids.”

My reply was, “Unless your kids just aren’t that into them!” My children’s reaction to traditions and holidays was a consistent and wholehearted “Meh.” And I learned to love them for it. Our tradition was having no traditions. Birthday and Christmas celebrations were almost dreaded. Year after year, “Do we have to?” was the unspoken plea.

In spite of my overzealous efforts for my own family, the traditional celebrations fell flat emotionally. Perhaps it was rooted in the memories of family gatherings and holidays endured by my husband and myself during our own childhoods. Unpleasant, traumatic and disappointing are terms that come readily to mind, because of the dysfunctional marriages of our parents.

Maybe I tried too hard to overcome my own memories by forcing positive experiences on my own children. It’s possible that they saw right through me.

Then there were unforeseen circumstances like my son being ten and a half years older than my daughter. It’s not easy planning a party that simultaneously meets the emotional needs of a 13-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl. Besides this reality, my daughter, at age 13, did an in-depth study of religion and presented her findings with such conviction and evidence that we stopped “doing Christmas”. This was actually a relief because my children laughed at the idea of Santa Claus and smirked at the tortured concept of celebrating the pretend birthday of Jesus. Our Christian beliefs are as individual as we are, molded in spite of regrettable church experiences.

Instead of traditions, we made memories, and often these were forged in the fire of imperfect circumstances.

Remember how much fun we had with your paternal Grandma at Pioneer Village even after my own family rejected us? Remember when your brand-new kite got stuck in the tree on the farm the first time you launched it? Remember our last camping trip together? Yeah, it was last for very good reasons!

Remember volunteering to teach English in the synagogue every week before our Jewish friend Shuggie died, and volunteering at the Pregnancy Lifeline resale shop before the manager died of cancer? Remember when you got a concussion during that football tackle that we missed and we had to meet you at the hospital because we had already left the game when the wind turned into an Arctic blast and blew chili dog all over my coat?

Remember planning your Eagle Scout ceremony? Remember when I laughed at the idea that you would be crowned Homecoming King and was proved wrong? Remember when I yelled at you for disappointing your sister by your irresponsible behavior? I love you, Son.

Remember when you plucked your 9-year-old sister out of a freezing puddle in a Chicago mall parking lot after you graduated from boot camp? Remember when we watched John Glenn blast off from Cape Canaveral at your Navy A-School graduation?

Remember when we serendipitously met your Captain at the docks and he gave you permission to give your parents and little sister a private guided tour of your nuclear submarine? Remember the hugs and tears when you came home after being unjustly discharged from the service you loved?

Yeah. All that and more. All of those unscripted moments we will treasure forever. And the scrapbooks full of candid photos prove it! (That became my tradition.)

When I responded with a snarky reply to a friend’s post touting the article, she suggested that I may be making traditions unaware, like weekly phone calls. Nope. We are a family that loathes phone calls – just ask my daughter-in-law.

But, when we do get together, we revel in the reunion! The last time I saw my son, he took me on a Python shopping adventure before transporting the reptiles back to Nebraska. The last time I saw my daughter, she showed up, unannounced, like a birthday gift on my doorstep.

The article promotes the idea of family rituals.

Why are rituals so powerful? Psychologists offer many explanations. For one, they provide regularity and a sense of order, which in turn makes kids feel safe. When kids feel secure, their anxiety goes down and they can focus energy instead on learning and growing…When children know what to expect and have the feeling, “this is the way my family does things,” it helps them make sense of the world and create a predictable and soothing system.

I’ve always been a secret rebel. Instead of schooling my daughter, we chose unschooling. Instead of pre-planned rituals, we enjoyed spontaneous memories.

My prayer is that every memory becomes a key in the pocket of my son and daughter, so they know that HOME is where they can come in, laughing, out of the storm after their kites blow away.

We’ve all heard the adage, “Give them roots and give them wings.” I ended up giving my children keys and kites, I guess.

So, instead of promoting the article, I will approve of the title: “Celebrate Good Times.”


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