It’s that time of year again. Hundreds of dollars have been spent on food for the week, cabinets were cleaned out, snacks were thrown out, given away or consumed in mass quantities, and spring cleaning was sped up to overdrive.
Many of us also cooked, baked and worried about how to get everything done in time for Passover. These are some of the most tiring, stressful days of the year and yet this holiday is easily one of my favorites. It may not involve the partying and costumes of Purim, or the week of presents during Chanukah, but it is full of something much more enriching – the chance for family to get together and teach the stories of our past. We learn from the older generations and gain fundamental lessons to pass on to future ones.
Grandparents or great-grandparents become storytellers and knowledge-bearers. They are the sources for the most cherished family recipes, stories and rituals. For me this time of year brings back memories of fighting over the proper melody when singing the four questions, finding out the secret ingredients to my great aunt’s matzah balls, and laughing with my family as my Nanny (my maternal grandmother) somehow always ended up having to read the strangest passage in the Haggadah – “the mountains skipped like lambs, the hills like lambs …”
These family moments helped shape my childhood and who I am today. For other children, too, the teaching of family traditions and rituals helps define their social and emotional development and establish a sense of identity and belonging. Because of the information gained from interactions with grandparents, or even great-grandparents, children get an idea of how to shape their own lives. These practices help set children apart from their peers and bring a sense of unity in the family, ultimately impacting the way they will want to raise their own children.
Traditions don’t have to be related to religion or holidays, though for many cultures they can play a large part. Even smaller habits such as reading with your children, setting aside time each week for game night, or going on vacations or road trips can help establish a sense of security and well being in a child. Family customs help provide a predictable structure as children become more active participants in the family activities. It gives them something to look forward throughout the year, helping establish stability in their lives.
So the next time you’re bemoaning the taste of matzah or cursing Major League Baseball for scheduling the Indians’ home opener on the second night of Passover, remember how lucky we are to have these deep-rooted traditions. Passed on from previous generations, we are given a wonderful opportunity to enrich the lives of our children. Even if they may not thank you now, when they grow older and look back on their childhood, they, too, will realize how much it was enhanced by these practices, and by the information passed down through the generations.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatrics for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.