Why Creating Family Traditions is a Bad Idea


Hey, you, over there, taking the photos of your lil’ punkin in the pumpkin patch, put down the camera and step away from that cute family moment.

I’m doing you a favor here. You may think that this is the beginning of a great family tradition that will last a lifetime but really you are merely starting down a path that will lead to pain and misery.


Sure, right now it’s adorable to watch your 2-year-old try to lug that ten pound pumpkin and to see your daughter grinning from ear-to-ear as you lift her overhead to reach the apple at the top of the tallest tree in the orchard.

But right now doesn’t last forever…they eventually become teenagers and that’s when the fun ends.

The child who one day loved all of your family traditions will turn on you the next day and demand that you stop engaging in traditional family activities that bore them/embarrass them/make them hate you because you are making them participate.

Just save yourself the pain of one day trying to get your teenagers to go pick out a pumpkin with you or go apple picking or decorate the Christmas tree while sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music.

They won’t do it.

“But you LOVE apple picking,” you will remind your 15-year-old and he will look at you as though the very idea of eating an apple is repulsive and you have lost your mind because he never, never, ever enjoyed that activity.

“Help me put out the Halloween decorations, please,” is met with: “Why would we put out decorations? We aren’t little kids anymore—mom.”

Last year I “threatened” (i.e. screamed for a good 30 minutes) to take away Christmas unless someone helped me decorate the tree; five minutes later the tree was decorated but it was shrouded by a cloud of disdain for all things jolly.

At that point I officially hated Christmas.

Eventually your teenagers’ contempt for your heart-warming family traditions—the traditions you lovingly developed to create routine and joy in their lives—will just suck the joy out of the season.

So what do you do when the family traditions you’ve created no longer fit your family (but you still want them – damn it!)?

You could:

A) Have every family tradition involve a gift exchange because, somehow, my family is still ok with the traditions of gift giving for Christmas and Hanukkah.

B) Wait until you have grandchildren and do it all over again while secretly waiting for the day that your child calls you in a huff because his kid won’t pick out a pumpkin without several friends in tow. (This, of course, is my personal favorite.)


C) You could just adapt.

Unfortunately, option “C” eventually wins.

Until recently, I never thought about not being with my children for a holiday but, of course, my husband and I did that to our parents once we started dating. We had to divide our time between events or, as was often the case once we had kids, trade off between families every year. We solved the agony of making three Thanksgiving stops by forcing everyone to come to our house but even that has changed, as our siblings have had to adapt to their own extended family plans.

But significant others aren’t the only ones who force changes on family traditions. Once my son left for college even something as silly as giving him a half-birthday cake on his half-birthday (one of my favorite traditions) turned into a logistical nightmare since it fell on a weekend and I couldn’t send a homemade half cake. I compromised by sending a half-dozen cupcakes from a local bakery but that turned a simple idea into quite a pricey event and, besides, it just wasn’t the same.

But what about when he studies abroad and isn’t home for Thanksgiving? Or what if he decides to stay for Christmas in his new locale? How will I manage to arrange for his favorite holiday tradition, hanging his stocking on his door for Christmas morning?

It just occurred to me that there will come a day when my boys will not wake up in my house on Christmas morning and their stockings will sit on the mantle, unfilled, as mere decoration, much the same way our uncarved pumpkins decorate our porch now.

“It’s what’s supposed to happen,” my husband just said to me. Clearly, he isn’t quite as moved by this as I am. 

Screw that.

I changed my mind. I’m not going with option “C,” I’m going with option “A” above. A little bribe, I mean gift, could go a long way.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Christina Jones on October 19, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    My mother always said, in her thick Greek accent, “Life is a bribing”. I agree with you, Connie; I am down with option A.



  2. I can relate to this as I have my feet in both worlds.
    My 15 year old wants nothing to do with all of the little traditions but my 7 year old loves them like my 15 year old used to.
    This is why I love the age gap because I am still getting to remember that yes, my kids still love me and yes, they actually do want to be around me!
    But trust me, the moment I stop putting up a pumpkin or a turkey or a pine cone, the first person to notice will be the teenager.

    Liked by 1 person


    • My 15-year-old won’t go apple picking with me but he sure complained when I didn’t come home with the apple cider donuts. There’s no doubt that my kids want all the holiday fixings but they don’t want to be part of the prep.



  3. Posted by Dana Turk on October 20, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Your post is timely which is why this year I set a date to apple pick with a crew of neighborhood friends – sans the brooding teens. Five women piled into my car and we headed off to pick apples. Instead of the corn maze- carnival style farm 45 minutes away we went to a less elaborate farm nearby. We enjoyed differentiating between winesap and golden delicious trees – barrels under our arms. We spent almost as much time in the farm store as we did in the orchards selecting preserves, ciders and decorative gourds. The whole outing was maybe 90 minutes and we returned to out lives/jobs etc that afternoon – a little more appreciative that even without the kids we can make the time for these special connections with our friends.
    This year we also left the spooky decorating to the kids (I don’t love the gruesome plastic decorations of Halloween) – needless to say, they haven’t initiated pulling up the storage bins from the basement. Therefore, our exterior remains cheerful with mums and cabbages – and no impaled skeletal remains. Which is all fine with me!



    • Dana – I also went apple picking this year with a friend and although it was a different experience it was still a lot of fun and something I intend to do next year as well. I’ve realized that our traditions are shifting to incorporate more people – our friends and the kids’ friends – which is nice, just different. It will take a little time to get used to it.



  4. Posted by mary : Yia Yi8aq on October 20, 2015 at 11:36 am

    Just open a photo album and make believe you’re picking apples and going to the petting zoo. Love Yia Yia



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