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Rituals

2004-04-13

Category: philosophies

On several websites lately, most notably Hot Abercrombie Chick, I have encountered arguments about parental responsibility and the ?problem with kids today?. A similar topic came up with a professor after class earlier this week. I would like to pose an idea that I?ve heard too little in these discussions. My idea is that of the ritual.

If you look at our society today, there are very few rituals to mark the development of the individual as he or she matures. We still have the driver?s permit and the subsequent license. There are still proms. Our students still go through the different grade levels. These have taken on a superficiality that comes from the fact that everyone goes through them and they thus have no true meaning.

I remember when my father first allowed me to use a knife for carving. That was a notable day. It meant that I had earned the right to use that knife. Up till then the folks forbade me to use the knife. After showing that I could use a knife responsibly, the parents let me use the knife unsupervised. Eventually, they let me spend my allowance on a pocketknife.

Why is that important? It is important because it guided me through the learning and maturity I needed to grow into a useful adult. Other trials and rituals happened through my life. Most were similarly important.

Today, we have no rituals. Most families have no set goals for the children. They don?t say, ?When you have proven yourself capable to be trusted with this responsibility, then you get to move to the next stage.? We have tried to do away with hierarchy out of fear that it will hurt the child?s self-esteem. Unfortunately, this just takes away the anchor the child needs to be a whole person.

Too often, I?ve seen parents who give to each child equally just to shut the kids up. They don?t say, ?If you want that privilege you must earn it.? Instead, they buy off the kids who then learn whining and crying gets results.

Please, institute rituals in your own life. They can be serious or fun. Make sure that the children know exactly what their goals are. Be careful to pick goals the kids can actually reach, though not too easily. If you have children of different ages, make the goals fair. The goal for an eleven year old should be different from the goal of a five year old, though the younger must go through the equivalent goal when he or she reaches eleven.

When your child reaches the goal, make a deal out of it. Accomplishments are important and your child should be able to take pride in reaching their goals. Document it in a notebook. Give them a sound clap on the back and tell them you are proud of them. Let them be proud of themselves. If possible, start the celebration with a solemn ceremony, or let the child contemplate what it means to have reached his or her objective. Naturally, all of this applies to adults as well. Set your goals and be serious about reaching them. Be proud of your accomplishments.

Another source of ritual is in the practice of one?s religion. If your family practices a faith, get together and do so as a household. Try to pick out regular times to do so and then stick to those times. Many families are very busy these days. Hectic schedules thwart daily rituals. That?s all right. Schedule your times for formal rituals at times when you can be together, and maybe space them apart. An annual ritual is more useful than no ritual at all.

It is also important for children to know where they came from. Knowledge of their lineage gives them a sense of continuity that will anchor them in their lives. Do you know who your grand parents were? Can you name your great grand parents? How far back do you know? Even if your ancestor was a really crappy person, your children should still know about it. Let the bad serve as a good example.

If nothing else, telling stories is another form of ritual. It will also give your kids a good memory workout. If your kids learn the stories and pass it down to their children, and so forth, that becomes a great inheritance.

The main thing to remember is your job as a parent. Your primary function as a parent is to teach your children the skills they will need so that they are prepared to teach their kids how to be good parents. If you are doing something with your child, ask how that helps him or her be a better parent when they have kids.

Your kids will probably be parents themselves someday. What can you do for them now that will help them then?


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