Family traditions and rituals are often a special part of a child’s upbringing, but they serve more purposes than simply being a nice addition to a family’s routine, especially for TCKs.
Why are family traditions specifically beneficial for TCKs?
1. They foster identity. In the midst of the TCK’s identity confusion caused by having a passport in one country, living in another, and maybe feeling most “at home” in a completely different place, having a sense of family identity can be very grounding for TCKs. Some family traditions can teach TCKs about their passport heritage, such as celebrating a holiday that is native to their passport country. Having other traditions or rituals that are specific to your family creates a sense of ownership and pride in the nuclear family identity.
2. They provide stability. No matter which country you are currently in, your traditions can remain the same (perhaps with a bit of modification). This sameness provides a sense of stability for TCKs, especially for those who are in the transition process. In the midst of overwhelming unsettledness, there is great comfort that comes with knowing that there are some things that “our family does” that will not change.
3. They strengthen family bonds. Family traditions bring the family together in ways that few other things do. Whether it is through rituals such as eating dinner together as a family each night, or going on vacation during the same week each year, there is a sort of magic that happens when families come together to participate in a family tradition. Family rituals and traditions can be a great antidote for the added stress and tension that many families encounter while living overseas.
4. They create memories and leave a legacy. Positive memories are key players in creating identity and encouraging stability in TCKs. When TCKs have good, concrete family memories to look back on, they are less likely to struggle significantly with identity issues and are more likely to be willing to settle down, in some areas of life, when the time comes. Creating memories also leaves a legacy. If your family has celebrated the same heritage holiday each year, your children are likely to continue that tradition with their own families one day. By enforcing traditions and creating those memories, you are giving your TCKs something concrete to pass down to their children. Perhaps you will adopt the celebration of a local holiday into your family’s traditions. Your children will be able to continue that tradition even if and when they no longer live in that country, which may help them to keep a sense of connectedness to that place that was once “home.”
5. They reinforce values. Family rituals and traditions often directly correlate with the family’s values and priorities. Enforcing family traditions instills deep values in your TCKs which, again, increases the sense of identity and belonging. It is these values that parents hope will be passed down from generation to generation. Traditions and rituals are a great way to practically carry that out.
Not Sure How to Start?
1. Talk about values. This should be your starting point. Sit down with your spouse and talk about the values that you want to instill in your TCKs. Brainstorm how can you do this through rituals and traditions. For example, if a value is creating quality family time, consider having a “family night” on a specific day each week. Keep that night free for time to be spent together as just the nuclear family. If you value reading the Bible together, set time aside to do so each evening. If teaching your TCKs about their heritage is important, find ways to celebrate those cultural holidays. Let your rituals and traditions be dictated by your values.
2. Decide on daily/weekly rituals. These could be eating one meal together as a family each day, starting nightly family meetings, having an evening devotional, having the same “fun meal” every Friday night such as pizza or tacos, having pie and movie night on Sundays, etc. The possibilities are endless. The trick is to ensure that you are able to maintain the rituals you choose no matter which country you are in. Consistent daily/weekly rituals are critical to providing that sense of stability for your TCKs. If you have people staying with you or coming over during the time your ritual would be taking place, invite them to join in! This enhances the identity for your TCKs by allowing them to show others, “This is who we are.”
3. Plan out holiday traditions. If you plan to celebrate a heritage holiday with specific cultural foods and/or decor, make sure you plan ahead. Stock up on the items you will need and take them with you when you move overseas, or ask visitors to bring those items out if they are coming around that holiday. You can also create a new tradition of celebrating the heritage holiday with host-country flare! Find ways to use local ingredients and decor to create your own version of that holiday celebration. Again, this is great for fostering your TCK’s identity by showing them that their identity can be comprised of a combination of multiple cultures!
The point of creating rituals and traditions is deeper than simply filling your schedule and creating routine. They should point to the values that are important to your family as that will naturally foster your TCK’s identity, create a sense of stability, and create memories and traditions that they can pass down to their own children one day.