Tonight I had dinner with my kids in front of the tv.  I know what you’re thinking…  shouldn’t you, a professional family therapist, know that dinner time at the table is one of the most important ways to stay connected with your children?  Well I do know that; and with the crazy pace that most Northern Virginia families keep I also know that it doesn’t happen as often as it should.   I am, just like many parents in this area, busy and tired most evenings which can make a traditional family dinner very tough.  In spite of the challenges we do have family dinner at the table most nights of the week.    But tonight, we enjoyed a pasta dinner from the comfort of our living room sofa and watched Cash Cab.

If you haven’t seen Cash Cab, it’s a trivia game show in a NYC taxi cab.  With a mix of questions  that range from physics to world history to pop culture, even my 10-year-old can answer a few questions which makes it fun for everyone to watch.  As much as I love Cash Cab and good pasta, tonight I was struck by the ritual of it all.  Everyone fixes a plate in the kitchen and then one of the kids passes out trays.  As usual, I had to get napkins for everyone because they always forget.  And then we sat down, everyone in their favorite spot, and turned on our show.  All summer we have been eating late or cooking out so this is the first time in months that we all sat down to enjoy dinner and a game show together.  Which got me thinking about the importance of family rituals especially as we get ready to return to school.  With after-school activities, homework, and long commutes it is very easy to miss out on opportunities to talk as a family.  While dinner at the table is one ritual that I encourage every family to implement at least once a week, there are other ways to connect with your children and your spouse.  For us, game shows at dinner time is one of those opportunities.  We laugh at the over-excited contestants and pat each other on the back when someone gets a right answer.  This is a special family time that we have developed without even trying.  As I reflect on our obsession with game shows at dinner time, I realize that we have other, small, seemingly insignificant habits that are part of our families connection to each other.  There are a host of silly sayings and daily routines that are part of what makes our family so special (and maybe a little quirky).

These rituals are the things that keep families feeling connected through the inevitable changes that come with time.  Kids get older, work gets more hectic, and it’s easy to let life keep us from really connecting with the people we love most.  So often in our office we meet couples or parents and their children who feel as though they no longer understand each other.  The distance that these individuals feel is not uncommon or unexpected.  As life goes along our relationships go through normal developmental changes and often with change can come conflict and miscommunication.  Through rituals we are able to rekindle the intimacy of family in small and easy ways.  Whether you have a special morning greeting with your son or a habit of sharing a cup of coffee with your husband every morning; these are ways in which we remind each other that although we are all growing and changing, we are still one family unit.  John Gottman, a leading marriage researcher, has talked about the importance of rituals to marriage and families in many of his books.  So as the school year begins and the inevitable hustle and bustle of life takes over, look for ways in which you can protect the rituals you have or even begin to create new ones.  Family dinner at the table is a great place to start but if you can’t make it there, you can always try Cash Cab and pasta!


Tell us what you think.  Does your family have any special rituals that keep you connected through the years?  If you don’t is it something you are trying to establish?  What are the challenges to creating and maintaining rituals?