Extra Credit

Extra Credit

Concern over family issues is a perennial worry for Americans, and seldom more than in the wake of last fall's terrorist attacks, says Prof. John Dacey (LSOE), co-author of the book The Joyful Family: Meaningful Activities and Heartfelt Celebrations for Connecting with the Ones You Love.

John Dacey
"Parents, particularly mothers, have expressed concern in recent years over what they see as a lack of cohesion in the family, what with work, school and social activities," said Dacey, who has written extensively on child development, family life and relationships.

"I think families have gotten closer since 9/11, and in a variety of ways. They're asking, 'What if this happens again? How should we be prepared? What can we do to protect ourselves?' For some families, that meant planning for safety and communication - sort of like, 'If there's a fire, we meet under the tree in the front yard.'"

But Dacey says he believes there has been a deeper reaffirmation of familial ties, too. "It's quite clear that, after September, families felt a need to enhance or awaken their mutual spirituality," he said, "whether attending church, taking part in memorial events, or simply spending more time together at home instead of working late at the office or going off with friends."

A family's rituals, formal or informal, great or small, can form a critical bulwark against the stresses of modern life, said Dacey.

In The Joyful Family, he and co-author Lynne Weygint propose dozens of ways to mark milestones - beginning school, starting to shave, honoring a loved one who has died - and reshape ordinary household routines, turning all these into events that help strengthen bonds between family members.

Sunday night dinner, for example, can become a time to reflect together on the highs and lows of the past week, map out the week ahead, tell amusing stories, or read from The Bible and other books.

Weygint's household has followed a weekly ritual for several years, Dacey notes. She, her husband and her sons, now 11 and 16, each get a turn to choose the location, food, music, lighting and, most importantly, the theme of the ritual. The boys found one element took some getting used to - describing something positive that the other had done during the past week - but over time they have come to appreciate it. In fact, Dacey says, when Weygint and her husband suggested they substitute watching a family movie for ritual time recently, their sons objected vehemently.

Dacey and his wife, meanwhile, turned their young grandchildren's teeth-brushing into a veritable ceremony that includes marching and singing.

Calamitous events like Sept. 11 and their aftermath can increase the anxiety families endure in dealing with work, school and social matters, so cultivating opportunities to do something together - no matter how seemingly mundane - becomes more important than ever.

"Rituals are wonderful, in that they slow us down," said Dacey. "I find that kids especially love them, because there's a sense of security and predictability. But the adults also benefit."

-Sean Smith


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