Just in case you haven't noticed, it's that time of year again.
Just like last year and the year before, everybody and their mother did the turkey and gravy thing in November. I hope your ritual meal was satisfying and that your family showed up for it.
After all, it is a tradition and tradition means a lot in
families. It's one way we remember ourselves, who we are, where and to whom we belong, what we're supposed to do.
When I was a kid I thought "tradition" was a crock. To me it was a tool "the establishment" used to control me and make me one of them.
And, you know, I think I was right. I just don't necessarily see it as a bad thing anymore. In fact, it's a good thing. Funny how perspectives change as we grow older.
Sometimes it occurs to me that these annual events ought to be spaced out a little more. Seems like one Christmas follows right on the heels of the last one. And I have to listen to all that hackneyed, dated and formulaic music again because they haul out the same old tunes every year and some of them are horrible. Winter Wonderland? Jingle Bell Rock? Please, no, not again!
But then I stop to think. That's an old man's point of view. The older I get, the faster life goes by. To a kid it seems as if it takes forever for Christmas to get here. And I suppose those old tunes sound fresh to someone who hasn't heard them for 60 years.
When I was a kid, I didn't want anyone to tell me what to do. Color outside the lines? Heck, I wanted to scribble all over the page and maybe then tear the pages out and eat them.
Now that I'm older I've become a little more conservative. At least I can see why the lines are there, I just don't want them to be rigid. I still want people to be free to express their individuality and I really believe we should treasure the diversity we have in our society, even though it doesn't make things any simpler.
We used to think we lived in a great melting pot. These days it seems more like a tossed salad.
Europeans like to say we don't have any culture. I disagree. We have a lot of cultures. And not all of them are toxic. We have so many choices in America it's almost too much. The danger is in getting so unfocused and dispersed you don't know who you are. It's important to know who you are and what you stand for, eventually. Fortunately, these things are revealed in time.
People need guidelines in order to grow with any kind of coherence. They shouldn't always be forced to adhere to them, but the guidelines need to be there, as a reference point, for orientation purposes. That way a kid can tell how far outside the line he may be scribbling at any given time.
It's up to parents to lay down the guidelines. Kids may seem to ignore them but they don't, really. They just want to find their own way, to become their own person. And they must do this in opposition to you, the adult. This is one thing many adults don't seem to remember. Maybe it's because many of us never really rebelled much, so we can't understand it when our kids do.
Well, even if you never rebelled, many of your cohorts did, and they're still around. We call them Boomers. Even though most of the booming we do is now done in private, we had quite a voice back in the day. I thought it would never end and that it would be peace and love from now on. But what did I know?
I still think some of the guidelines are bull----. I guess I haven't completely outgrown my own rebellion (thank God, or whatever).
Holiday traditions help cement the guidelines in place. The place, of course, is in the kid's head. Holiday rituals, repeated every year and associated with fun times, presents, good things to eat and visits with important family members, find their way into kids' memories. They carry messages about the right way to live.
Many healthy and useful traditions have taken a beating in our day. "Family" is dispersed, communities are disorganized and ethnic
distinctions are blurring, gradually. The global media has replaced religion as the most powerful unifying force, or whatever.
Yet people crave belonging. Loyalties are changing, but people still need to feel loyal to something or someone.
Keeping the holiday rituals makes the family a little stronger, the forces of chaos a little weaker.
So, be of good faith and spell out the ways life should be lived. Your children may not buy it hook, line and sinker. Challenge them to find their own explanations for the "big questions."
Most of the important questions do have answers and "whatever" is not usually the best choice.
Hugh R. Leavell has been a marriage and family therapist in Palm Beach County for 18 years. He offers free seminars on couples communication and conflict management. The next one will be Jan. 6 at 4 p.m. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call him at (561) 471-0067 or visit his Website www.oneminutetherapist.com.