TJ and I were talking a few days ago about how important it is to build not only traditions for your family but also a culture. To be honest with you it isn't something I had thought about in detail and before TJ mentioned the word "culture" I wasn't even aware it was something I felt strongly about. But when I really thought about what that meant I realised it was something I wanted us to do, for us and for Little Man.
We visited Glastonbury when Little Man was less than a year old. Regular visits to a place which reflects our own Family Culture is something we would love to include in Little Man's childhood.
I looked up the definition of the term 'culture' in a couple of dictionaries and it really began to focus my mind on which areas of our life might contribute to the Family Culture we were already building. The definition I found the most helpful was this:
"the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group"
When I think of 'culture' in that way I realise that every single thing we do every single day in our life as a family creates and develops our own particular culture. And that makes me realise that there are some things I am really proud about and others I need to rethink.
Just the other day I found myself telling Little Man off because he emptied the wash basket on to the floor. He sobbed his little heart out and I felt so very guilty for having shouted at him when all he was trying to do was copy mama and help her. He sees me empty the wash basket every time I want to sort out the washing into piles and so how confusing must it be for him to see me do that and not be able to do it himself. Am I so controlled by my need to keep the house relatively tidy that I cannot let him explore the wash basket?
We all make mistakes as parents and I think one of my biggest learning curves is accepting that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I am going to make many mistakes over the coming years. But what I do want to bring into our lives is a sense of being able to say, "I made a mistake, I'm sorry". And so that is what I did. I apologised to by sobbing boy, gave him a cuddle, and then promptly helped him empty the basket all over the living room floor and sat playing with him for quite some time. We pulled all the clothes out, we played peek-a-boo, and then we put them back in the basket again. Then we started from the beginning and did it all a second, third and fourth time. And surprisingly I really enjoyed it. By stepping back from my automatic response I found a new way of doing things which made me much happier.
Another example: I would normally stop Little Man "playing" with his food… but he spent a whole hour just exploring this bit of bell pepper as I cooked the other day!
I want Little Man to grow up in a culture that allows him to explore. That gives him the freedom to express himself, even if it means biting my tongue and sitting on my hands to ignore the impulse that makes me want to direct his play and keep him safe and 'in control'. I feel that is important to him, and to us. I may find it hard, but it isn't good for me either to cluck over him like a mother hen all the time.
It may seem like such a little thing, and yet it is the basis for building the kind of culture that we always dreamed of for our child. When I was pregnant (and even before) we talked about the things we wanted to do with and for our children. We had grand dreams of raising them to be independent, to have their own mind, to have the freedom to explore and express themselves, and to have a thirst for new adventures. We wanted them to know that home was safe, that they could bring friends home with them to join in the fun, and that they could explore the world in their own unique way. We may have not realised how hard some of these things are to achieve, but we never started a family for an easy life!
The little things all add up to bigger things. Small steps now pave the way for a bright future. And a lot of those steps involve personal challenges along the way. Both TJ and I have to look at ourselves deeply to see where we may have fears or anxieties that are blocking us from doing the things we always dreamed of. And we also need to remember that Little Man is still very young. There are so many years ahead of us in which we can build family traditions and find our own family culture. We forget, sometimes, that children are babies first and for quite some time the things we do that make up our routine are very small and sometimes even feel rather mundane. But even those little things contribute to the bigger picture and the steps we take now affect our future.
Little Man's first Halloween (aged 7 weeks). I guess we were already making some Family Traditions even then, we just have to remember that!
Little Man will be two next month. I have no idea how those two years have passed by so quickly, and I sometimes find myself wishing that time could slow down just a little bit. And yet the days themselves can sometimes drag and it feels like we have so far to go before we can start building up any kind of real family traditions and culture. We can't talk to him about big, deep things like faith and nature or find out what his views are on life-changing decisions such as whether we should adopt a child and expand our family or remain as we are. But those days will come, and I am sure they will have come all too quickly when I look back in ten years time. So I want today to be one of those days when I step back and just think about how lucky we are to be here, as a family, with the whole of our lives before us.
And that's what it's all about!
I'd love to hear about the kind of culture you're building in your family. Do you ever stop to think about it, or has it all just fallen into place? Is it the same as the culture you grew up in or is it different? Do you even think it's important? Please do share your thoughts on this by leaving a comment.