A friend recently visited relatives in a Southern city, and he was impressed with the way the folks he stayed with clung to their family traditions. He was particularly struck by how the entire family gathered at the breakfast and dinner table, morning and evening, every day for meals and conversation. This was not common practice among his friends.
He said he was certain that such rituals accounted for the excellent manner in which the children conducted themselves.
It reminded me of the traditions my family held during my childhood. We also gathered as a family at mealtime. Also, I grew up in the days when children and adults functioned in separate worlds. Mealtimes were practically the only time when children were allowed to participate in adult conversations.
I was frankly pleased to hear my friend’s story. I don’t think many modern parents appreciate the role family traditions can play in helping to shape the life of adults. When one was able to read her first book aloud in my family, she was permitted to accompany an older child to the library and apply for a library card. This was a major event. Having one’s own library card was a sign that she had reached a certain plateau of childhood.
To keep a library book past its due date was not tolerated because it reflected a character flaw and meant that a person could not be trusted.
Reading the daily newspaper thoroughly was also a family tradition. News was one of the subjects discussed at mealtimes. My mother considered the inability to be conversant on a variety of topics as mental laziness. If a sibling had failed to read the newspaper before dinner, he was instructed to do so before going to bed.
I never thought in those days that a result of spending so much time alone or in the company of other children was also a way of helping me to develop my own independence. Not having adults at our beck and call, but under the governance of family rules and regulations, we kids learned to figure things out for ourselves, solve our own little problems, entertain ourselves. I never really swallowed the theory that the more time parents spend with their children, the better the outcome will be. I’m certain if all that time was quality time, the results would be better.
Unfortunately, when the time is spent watching television or shopping at the mal, it’s understandable that the children will not profit from it. I think it’s bad to assume that all parents know what constitutes “quality” time, and, I’m not sure that having one full-time parent on hand at all times is even good for all children.
Any fair-minded observer probably would testify that children of many stay-at-home parents are no better behaved than children who spend all day with a baby sitter. As far as I’m concerned that stay-at-home parent theory sounds better than it actually is and, in many cases, is designed to make working mothers feel guilty.
Every day of my adult life, I have found myself practicing some behavior that was an element of family tradition. In a family of seven children, things like putting items back exactly where you found them, attending to your duties punctually and exercising respect for other people’s personal space and property were not only necessary to maintain an orderly household, but they became character traits and habits.
I believe that nearly every form of good and bad behavior can be traced back to upbringing. When you look at the manner in which some children are allowed to behave, it’s no wonder so many people wind up on the psychiatrist’s proverbial couch, or even worse, in prison. They have been headed there since birth.
Whenever I hear stories about families who sit down to eat together, pray together and are kind to plants, animals and other people, it makes me feel better about life. It proves that at least one small good has survived this throw-away society.
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