Parents: Think Broadly about Rituals!

When we think about rituals it’s often churchy events that spring to mind, or pagans dancing around fires! For those of us who are non-denominational or atheist there are no common seasonal rituals beyond those which are now so materialistic that it is difficult to recognise them for their original importance. And we forget that having a life run by a clock and electricity is a very recent way of living for humanity. Many of us miss out on the deep satisfaction of a full ritualistic experience because we no longer fit our lives around the sun and seasons. Instead we: live in homes in which we can regulate temperature; have bedtimes well beyond when we are tired; and buy fully prepared food and clothing.

We are somehow separate from the world; when our brains  rather we were not.

Human brains thrive when they have frequent experiences of events with beginnings, middles and endings. Although we think of rituals and stories as the most obvious resources, baking, sewing, building, creating sculptures and other art works, modeling, even (damn it) cleaning could be considered ritualistic.

The commonality is that we begin in one place and, after acting upon the resources or within the event, end up somewhere else.

Within families we often have rituals, which we don’t name as such: some of us eat together each day; some have popcorn and movie night each Friday; some brush their teeth and then have Dad read a story before bedtime;  we bake on Mondays, do the washing on Tuesdays, mend on Wednesdays…oops that was our grandparents; chores completed each day are a form of ritual and even getting dressed to shoes in the morning could be considered ritualistic.

The importance of properly finishing things becomes apparent when we look at rituals in this depth. Closing the drawer after putting ones clothes away; putting the dishes away when they are dried; zipping up our backpacks after putting our lunchboxes in – all these are examples of completion.

I reckon the effect of completion is like a sigh: where the body and brain experience a release of tension. Without these release-experiences is it no wonder so many westerners are constantly wound up and stressed? We experience such shallow lives when we live without rituals.

In our house daily rituals hang around for varying amounts of time. When we had babies the bedtime ritual was different from what it is now; we have had the occasional school term where one night a week we eat in relays, but usually we eat together; our mornings have changed since we moved and will change again when Mr Butterfly turns three and starts kindergarten (preschool) later this year.

Weekly rituals fit around the children and their (few) activities. Except for Saturday and Sunday mornings when the older boys get up and listen to stories on the radio from 6.00am to 7.00am.

Seasonally we are very fortunate that the school provides us with harvest, mid-winter lantern festival and spring nodal points and, due to school, we have a season table in our lounge. But we have added in making dutch bread on Good Friday and planting bulbs mid-winter; we have our own All Hallows week which ties in with autumn and ANZAC ( and focusses us inward as the days draw closer.

Rituals can be anything you chose them to be. The key is regularity and the journey from beginning to end.

Decide on a few and add a few as you travel through the years – rituals create memories and make us feel good – so why not?

Happy Harvest from Down Under…


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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16 Responses to Parents: Think Broadly about Rituals!

  1. As mom to a child with autism, I know all about rituals! Our lives pretty much revolve around them. They give my son a sense of security and keep the rest of us sane. Some of them are pretty normal, like the bedtime routine and what happens around mealtimes. Others are rituals completely of my son’s making – like transferring his alphabetic fridge magnets from the fridge to the dishwasher as soon as the dishwasher cycle completes. These rituals serve no purpose to the rest of us, but they make my son happy so we let him do it.

    • It intrigues me how rituals help people on the autism spectrum – perhaps they make them feel safe in a world they find generally overwhelming? I love the image of moving magnets from place to place…completion in more way than one!

  2. Christine says:

    To teach my then preschooler about the days of the week, we marked each with a ritual. Monday muffin day. Tuesday hiking day. Wednesday walking backwards day. Thursday pudding day. Friday chocolate day. Saturday adventure day. Sunday orange juice day. Pudding and muffins we made together from scratch. Chocolate was two tablespoons of chocolate chips, together in the yard. We rotated who chose the adventure on Saturdays.
    And he knew most mornings what day it was. We’re still working on seasonal rituals.

  3. hakea says:

    Hey! You don’t call yourselves ‘down under’ do you? I thought that was only for Aussies.

    I was going to do a post on this too.

    I’m slowly discovering the joy of ritual. I’m combining my druidry studies with steiner stuff and linking it with what’s left of our Indigenous ways of knowing, and it is a lovely journey. It’s a shame I didn’t discover it earlier.

    • It’s 3.00am and I am up pondering because of your last post – spooky bit of synchronicity going on here!
      Yes, rituals satisfy a really deep yearning in us, which many of us miss in the modern world. I love all the ones they do at school but have really enjoyed creating some for our family too. And I can’t stand the word ‘routine’ it’s got such unpleasant undertones to it for me, ‘ritual’ is far more expanatory and satisfying.
      I look forward to reading your post on rituals – I’m going to do my synchronistic one as a list of some behaviours which are signs of distress/need (like wanting to sit on our knee to eat). I loved your bit about – high expectations with behaviour needing high amounts nurturing to support it. Now I’m shivering and yawning…so back to bed. Have a great day!
      PS Down Under is Down Under! (Pavlova thieves…tee hee.)

  4. bockychoy says:

    I love this post, Karyn. We also have an autistic son, so I can totally relate to the mom with the magnet mover above! Our son has many little rituals he has created on his own, some just from pure imagination and many to mimic school activities. He includes us in all of them and of course, we have implemented plenty that are about our family as a whole. I completely agree about that release of tension when completing a ritual. The relief my son feels when he finishes something is immense. Likewise, when he is not able to complete something, it makes him agitated and frequently even incapable of moving on.

    • It’s lovely to hear from you! Rituals are of huge importance to our wellbeing (I’ve deciced it, so it must be true!) and I do wonder if we are so stressed out in the modern world because we don’t include enough of them in our lives. I have enough experience of autistic children to appreciate the ‘stuck’ image you mention – I wonder if many regular folk don’t move on in life as well as they could because they just don’t finish things either, but don’t show it in such an obvious manner…this is great, I love it when comments make me think deeper about what I am writing! 🙂

  5. Karyn,

    Wow…we’re thinking about the same things these days. Rituals and responsibilities and community…

    One of my favorite daily rituals is afternoon snack time with Kiddo. We’ll sit together; he’ll eat and I’ll read him a chapter of something pleasant–for now, it’s Paddington Bear. Then we separate for an hour–his quiet playtime, my time for a book and cup of tea. Somehow, the connection we make during the snack helps him to go off on his own, and this break helps me to be more centered when we hit the ‘witching hours’ of 4-6pm meal prep. Including him during this time, too, also draws us together… I’d go on longer, but will post the rest on my own blog in a day or so.

    As always, you’ve given us a bit to chew on. When our family isn’t part of a church or larger group, coming up with our own meaningful traditions and rituals is of value. (My first toddler group most certainly impressed the importance of daily ritual upon me!) I think responsibilities give us a sense of place within our community while rituals give us a sense of time– of the day or week or year.

    • I love that you’re into rituals too and I look forward to reading your post.
      They are such great points for marking the day/week/year. Our wee fella knows that he has two trips to the playground every week – so will (mostly) happily accept that we come home to play on other days; our sensitive nearly seven year-old will eat new foods and foods he’s not keen on because he knows he’s getting two or three favourite meals as well; and our 10 year-old will wait patiently for me to lie beside him at night because he can rely on me getting there before he falls asleep.
      I wish more parents understood that five minutes of great connection often buys us loads of time for ourselves! (Depending on our kiddo’s temperament.) We don’t have a witching hour either and I’m sure it’s because our rituals and connective times are so firmly embedded in our day.
      Great to hear from you. 🙂

  6. Laura Weldon says:

    One of my own rituals is to call out a blessing when someone I love is leaving. It may sound hokey but it brings me peace and sends off caring or whimsical or helpful words with loving energy. My kids are so used to it they’ve never noticed that no one else’s mother does this (or maybe I’m so odd in other ways that they chalk it up to eccentricity). A blessing tends to be simple. “Be safe and well.” or “May the sun shine on you and the birds crap away from you” (for my daughter, off to volunteer at a wildlife center). or “Bless you for all you are to accomplish.”

    • LOL!!
      I haven’t thought about Blessings being a ritual in themselves although we do the sometimes manic “Bless our food, bless our family, bless our friends. Amen” at the beginning of the evening meal as part of a ritual. I used to send the boys off to school with, “Be kind; work hard; have fun.” You have inspired me to do so again – and perhaps not just for school. I really like the birds crapping away from you line…call it farming! 🙂

  7. otownmommy says:

    We are definitely in the same boat! We have been working on rituals for a few months now. I find it helps us all know what to expect on a certain day of the week. Meatless Monday, No TV Tuesday, French Friday, Slow cooker Sunday. I have a few of my own for cleaning the house too! (serves to help me remember what needs to be done) The kids think it is great and are excited and are learning about the days of the week for sure 🙂 I like your idea of implementing seasonal rituals- I think i will look into doing that too 🙂 Fantastic post!

    • Great to hear from you – and yes, I am enjoying all this synchronicity too. Rituals *are* a great way to pace the week, and seasonal rituals are great fun because they can be big one-off events. We have a lantern festival at mid-winter which I really love. Good luck creating yours. 🙂

  8. Elena says:

    I’ve started reading chapter books to the kids again, and each time we settle down for another session I just feel immediately fulfilled. Like, oh yeah, *this* is what it’s all about!

    I want to have more family rituals and traditions. Our Christmastime is full of them, thanks to my husband, but for me, I lean toward the spontaneous I guess. And yet I love the comfort of meaningful routine as well. I think the hard part is getting into the rhythm, because it feels so forced at first.

    • I love reading chapter books to our kids too – it is an ‘ahhhh’ eperience, I agree.
      It’s that change from being ‘head’ orientated to ‘heart’ orientated that can feel unnatural with rituals. We’re so into the reasonable and the conscious in the west, don’t you think? Have fun and let me know how you get on.

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