Gabe and I relish the time we spend in our big blended family, and over time, have built traditions that bring us closer. Today, we’re sharing our favorites, in no particular order. No order because all eight of us have favorites, and deciding on an ordered list would take two years. No time for that nonsense.
Below are the rituals we keep that help define our tribe.
Whenever we can, we sit around the dinner table all together. We set up together. We wait to start until everyone is seated. We eat, usually with competing conversations and wild laughter, despite Gabe’s and my best efforts to tame the tribe. Little ones finish and hurry back to their games and big ones have started to linger. When we stop and eat together, time slows down.
The 14th Birthday Trip
When kids turn 14 in this house, they choose a city and start planning. The birthday boy or girl is responsible for identifying what he or she would like to do, eat and see in the city of their choice. Gabe and I provide guidelines for budget and time, but the trip is designed by the teen. Once a rough plan is in place, Gabe, the birthday child, and I head out on our adventure.
While the trip is supposed to be a gift to the kiddo, it is every bit as much a gift to Gabe and me. Uninterrupted time with one of our sweethearts, doing exactly what they’ve planned and learning more about who they are as young adults is simply the best.
Simon and Sara have completed their trips, and Caden is on deck. The conversations swirl on this topic regularly, with the Bigs sharing what they learned and the Middles and Littles making extravagant plans (that will come down several notches after we reveal budget details, but why ruin their fun?).
We watch at least one show as a family on our weekends together. Cooking and baking shows are our favorites, but we’re also big fans of The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and The Amazing Race (the kids think Gabe and I should audition). This is a ritual that started in the early days of our life together and persists today. We gather together draped on the couch and the floor, and pausing every two minutes for discussion.
The Measuring Chart
We have a measuring stick like this in our house. It is practically holy. On your birthday (sometimes mere minutes after you’ve woken up), you pick your sharpie color and are measured for your mark. You sign and date and we all marvel at how you’ve grown. Throughout the rest of the year, you check to make sure you’re growing. You see how tall you are now compared to your older siblings. You gloat that you’re finally taller than your sister.
Our Summer Party
Each summer, we throw a huge summer party. Each child invites three friends and their families. I’ll pause while you do the math. It is not Pinterest-worthy (although inspired), and it’s about two notches below casual on the formality scale. Still, we all spend time planning it together with lists and cheap favor catalogs and web searches.
Last year, Sara chose a luau theme. Gabe carved a watermelon (it was a glorious work of art including banana dolphins), the Littles set up a Hawaiian name station, and we all chose the menu. We set up a photo booth and a craft station and blast music and allow nearly 100 people to destroy our house for an afternoon. The kids spend time with their friends and each other’s friends and we visit with parents. It’s a blast.
Last year we bought an RV. We’d never camped before. We got a bit swept up in a sales pitch and before we knew it we owned a 35 foot travel trailer. Best decision ever. We color-coded the children and their things (space being at a premium) and hit the road. We’ve been all over, learning as we go. It is terrific family time and a unique part of our story.
Quiet Time (that isn’t)
When we first started this adventure, we often sent the children upstairs for an hour after lunch so everyone could relax and unwind, Gabe and me included. We called it quiet time, and the kids often appreciated the time to retreat a bit from our newly-formed eight person extravaganza. As time passed, we began to notice kids sneaking out of their rooms and into others. Whispers and giggles floated down the stairs. We often found the boys stretched out on the floor playing legos, or the Middles leading a mock election. While some days still require a time out of sorts, now quiet time is a way for the kids to connect without Gabe and I present. We relax while they spend time together however they choose.
Chickens and bees and bunnies, oh my! Our backyard is a full-fledged farm and we can’t get enough of it. From building the coop together (Simon setting the roof while I avoided thinking about my baby that high) to gathering the eggs, caring for our farm is a daily family affair.
The Sibling Tree
I’ve written about our Christmas kids-only gift exchange before, but the crew insisted I include it on this list too. It’s a favorite topic of conversation starting when the Halloween decorations hit the stores. It’s cheap and easy and let’s Gabe and I sleep in until a reasonable hour on Christmas morning. Win.
Started on Thanksgiving weekend years ago with Sara and plans for an elaborate peacock cake and six gallons of royal icing, the bake-a-thon has evolved into a full-family affair. This year it included more than eight types of cookies, 90’s country music on blast, and pajamas. It is a full day spent in the kitchen with kids rotating in and out, licking beaters and stealing treats fresh from the oven.
These traditions have evolved and shaped over time, tailored to our family’s preferences. The kids will read this and think of fifteen more that I haven’t included. Next year, we might have a different list.
These might be easy and fun for your family to adopt, or you might read this article thinking we’ve lost our minds. The truth is, the tradition itself doesn’t matter much; the time spent together does. Traditions of any kind bring families closer, defining culture and creating memories. Traditions matter.
Wondering how to start? Check this related post out.
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