This blog article originally appeared here on the Act of Wellness blog.
3 values our children will use to adapt, thrive, and survive
In the society our nation boasted just a short time ago, there were a variety of ways we celebrated events, especially when they are meant to celebrate rites of passage like an anniversary or a birthday. How and when and with whom you celebrated varied based on family dynamic, socio-economic ability, and resources. However, if we look at how these events have evolved over centuries, history is a reminder of the values which inspired these celebrations in the first place. These values are not all based on our ability to go out, be with a gathering of people, or have financial resources. Three main values stick out as what our children can cling to during this time.
#1-Connection- This word sounds so obvious that it is easy to take the concept for granted. The heart of any event, especially if it celebrates a person or a milestone, is that we make extra efforts to connect with that specific person of focus. Why did we all dress up as aliens for Jake's birthday? Because we all know he loves outer space! Sure, most of the ways we connected with people two months ago were based on our unlimited access to the greater world outside our homes. It's okay to acknowledge that we were looking forward to an outer space themed birthday party at the Museum of Science with Jake's entire class. And, it’s possible that nothing inside one’s home can match the excitement of say, a waterpark. But, even those places and things didn’t take the place of connection before. In fact, it wasn’t long ago that our consumable media was full of messages that highlighted how impersonal, over-scheduled, and dangerously busy our lives were. Here's an article from just last summer which warns of the burn out of being busy. With places to be and things to see, we made connecting really easy for our kids. We showed up to a themed event where much of the thought process was done for us and for them. That wasn't wrong but it was a short cut to actual connection. Now, we have the opportunity to put a little more work into the connection. In many ways, the world we have now might be one where our children can connect more thoughtfully than ever before. When they have to get creative about how to connect with each other, there is a greater likelihood that the connections they establish are individualized and meaningful.
#2-Surprise- Events and celebrations almost always carry some element of surprise. Gifts and presentations, by nature, are a sort of surprise. We’re not always sure what we’re about to unwrap. While we may have gotten used to gifting things like surprise parties, concerts, or travel, the core value of surprise is not attached to those luxuries. We can still surprise people by writing them a silly poem, decorating their room with drawings of their favorite animal, or declaring an entire day dedicated to allowing them to be the leader or make the decisions. Children are excellent at this because their imagination is still widely accessible to them. In fact, you might be surprised at your child's willingness to engage with non material ideas. The chance to be in charge for a day, to make specific decisions, and to create a vision are all things our children are hard wired to see as valuable. Encourage children to use their imaginations and create surprises for others. Ask them to predict what surprises the other person might actually enjoy. Explore the joy of a long planned, and carefully thought out reveal.
#3-Tradition- This time is an opportunity to delve deep into family traditions or establish them for the first time. The beautiful thing that we often forget about traditions is that they are engineered by design to survive years of changing resources. Recently, a client told me how her family’s unusual tradition evolved when her grandmother was diagnosed with dementia. Every Thanksgiving holiday, the family had looked forward to eating Grandma’s same beautiful roasted turkey meal from the same family recipe they had been enjoying for years. That particular year, Grandma awoke that morning and announced she'd be making pizza pies, no turkey. Her dementia left her unable to remember her own fifty year tradition. This was incredibly difficult and sad for the family, as this was a moment where many of them had to accept the reality of her progressing illness. Yet, Grandma was unaware and proceeded proudly, as if it had always been her plan, to make pizzas from scratch. After the initial shock, the family found themselves with no choice but to adapt. While they were initially sad, everyone was forced to adapt that day because there was no stopping Grandma. Her pizza was ready and eventually, people started eating and their tradition evolved. They agreed from that point on, it would be their ritual that the Thanksgiving chef would not announce the family meal until Thanksgiving morning. This unusual tradition became a way to honor Grandma’s memory after she passed and has been the source for many family jokes and pranks. The designated family chef rotates annually and the surprise announcements have ranged from Indian take out to gourmet cheese boards. They always remember Grandma affectionately on Thanksgiving morning. And whenever someone brings their new significant other to Thanksgiving, everyone participates in a dramatic retelling of the morning Grandma announced, "I'm sick of turkey. I'm making pizza pies."
Out of change and loss comes the ability to adapt. We have this resilience if we allow ourselves to access it. This doesn’t mean we don’t pause to process our emotions, especially in the face of loss or disappointment. It only means that our emotions are a part of our journey in the present which moves us forward. For our children, this moment is one where they have the ability to adapt, likely much easier than we do. We may see the pain of parting with how things used to be as we watch the "new normal" emerge. Keep in mind that our children will author their own story and they aren't finished yet. Their version may include family jokes, Thanksgiving pizzas, and that one incredible year where we turned the bathroom into an alien themed waterpark for Jake's birthday.