Rituals, both big and little, create a lasting legacy.
A few years ago, we made a conscious decision to make the beginning of July the time of year that our family gathers together. Though we also convene for other holidays, weddings or important milestones, this summer celebration comes without added responsibilities—it allows us simply to enjoy each other’s company. We realize that it won’t happen every year, but our hope is that as the years go by, our children and grandchildren will be drawn to us and one another by the rituals we are creating.
Most of the rituals are simple: Saturday trips to the farmer’s market. Donut Friday. Eating dinner outside. Watching the sunset together. Some are more elaborate, like our annual 4th of July party: invitations to everyone’s friends in the area, a giant flag hung from our balcony and fireworks over the lake. But each of them is a way to create our identity as a family. They mark the things we value (yes, donuts can be a family value!) and tie us to one another.
Another power of ritual is this: the people we’ve shared a ritual with in the past will be with us each time we repeat that ritual, even if they aren’t there physically.
When I was young and my grandmother and I walked hand in hand, she had a funny little saying. If we had to drop hands for an obstacle or another pedestrian, when we rejoined our hands she always smiled down at me and said, “Bread and butter.” I was too timid of a child to ask her why she said this, but I’ve since read that the phrase is a sort of superstition: it’s supposed to counteract any bad luck caused by letting something come between you. I didn’t understand it at the time, yet any time I am walking hand in hand with someone and we have to let go of one another, I think of my grandmother. I don’t even need to repeat the ritual for it to have the power to bring her smile to mind.
As you create small rituals and traditions with your grandchildren, you are creating a legacy that will last long after you are gone. Most rituals don’t cost a penny and don’t take any preparations: all you need are intention and repetition. It can be as simple as the way you say hello or goodbye. It can be a song you sing every morning or a hug you give every night. It can be a walk after dinner or the annual planting of a garden. No matter what it is, the more you repeat it, the more meaningful it will become to your grandchildren. And as they repeat that ritual in the future, they’ll think of you and the legacy of love you’ve left them.
Do you have a ritual you share with your grandchildren? Please share it in the comments!
Why writing your stories is an important part of your legacy.
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The story goes something like this:
A young girl was at school when a storm was approaching, and all the children were sent home. Before she could get safely to her house, a tornado hit. It lifted her off the ground and she ended up hanging by the sash of her dress from a utility pole.
As she hung there waiting to be rescued, she was mostly worried her mother would be mad that she’d ruined her new dress.
It’s such a dramatic story that it’s hard to believe! And it makes me want more details—how old was the girl? Was her mother upset? How far did she have to walk? Who rescued her?
The details are gone—because the girl in the story, my grandmother, is gone. It’s a story I’ve only heard secondhand.
I wish she’d written it down somewhere! I’ve heard other wonderful stories about my grandparents, like the time my grandfather and a friend drove a Model-T across the United States. They are stories I’d love to tell my grandchildren, but the details have faded and the stories are so weak without them!
Recording our memories is the best way to ensure they will last. Luckily for grandparents, there are lots of ways to achieve this! Today we’re going to share five creative ways to leave a written legacy.
Lessons from The Repair Shop
In the spring of 2020, when the world seemed to be falling apart and I craved an escape, one of my daughters told me to watch The Repair Shop, a BBC show which documents the restoration of family heirlooms.
Have you ever seen it? It’s filmed in an idyllic workshop at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in the English countryside. People bring in all sorts of objects: lamps and paintings, butter churns and jewelry, driving gloves and toy monkeys. They tell the story of whatever it is that’s fallen into disrepair, and a team of skilled artisans brings it back to life. It’s soothing—and satisfying—to watch worn and dilapidated old objects be lovingly mended and preserved by experts.
As I watched episode after episode, over and over I heard a variation of the same words.
“It was my granny’s.”
“My granddad had it in his study.”
“It was always sitting in my grandmother’s front room.”
“I loved playing with it when I was at my grandparents.”
This revelation was always followed by,
“It brings back such memories.”
No matter what item the show guests brought in, it wasn't the object that they wanted preserved, it was the memories.
Family heirlooms are powerful ways to connect to memories, but it’s the memories that hold the value. When the customers of The Repair Shop entrust the show with their precious hand-me-downs, it’s in the hope that by restoring the object, the memories will be strengthened and extended. They want the stories about the lucky purse or the riding crop to endure. They want the bonds that are symbolized by the antique clock to be extended to the next generation. They want to honor their family by preserving the legacy of that special heirloom.
When my maternal grandparents had both passed away, my mother asked if there was anything of theirs that I wanted. I had only one request: their green leather card table. Not because it was beautiful (it was) and not because it was my favorite color (it was), but because it was a symbol of who they were to me. Playing cards was something we did together when I was a child, and though I never sat at that green table with them, I knew they played cards at it every evening at home. I knew that I would think of them every time I saw it, and that I’d tell my children and grandchildren about them and why the table was important to me.
And I have.
Make sure you are sharing the stories about the things in your home that are important to you. They are the memories that will be attached to those things, and there’s no better way to build on your family legacy.
What memories are you preserving through family heirlooms? How will you pass them on to your grandchildren? Please share in the comments!
What will you pass on to your grandchildren?
What legacy did your grandparents leave you? You might be thinking of specific things: did they leave you a financial bequest, a special piece of jewelry, a set of dishes you use for holidays? Maybe a passion for cooking, or a love of show tunes? But think some more—are there values you learned from your grandparents? Did they pass on wisdom or habits that have served you well? Or maybe there is something you saw in them that you knew you didn’t want to repeat, like prejudice or patterns of abuse?
A grandparent’s legacy can be either positive or negative—in fact, it can be both. From one of my grandmothers, I learned generosity and to appreciate life’s beautiful things. I also learned that those things were no substitute for the people in my life, something I’m not sure she ever knew. Even as a child, I understood that she wasn’t the best role model for me when it came to how to value the people you love. Truly cherishing family was a part of her legacy to me, because I saw her sometimes fail to do it. That didn’t change how I felt about her—children are especially good at forgiving faults in the grown-ups in their lives.
Today’s grandparents will have longer to form a legacy for their grandchild than our own grandparents did. We are living longer, and modern technology makes it easy for even long-distance grandparents to be part of a child’s everyday life. This gives us the opportunity to have a lasting impact on our grandchildren’s values, and makes it even more important for us to consider what that legacy will be.
Our grandchildren are learning more from us than we think. Yes, they are learning how much you love and value them when you shower them with love and affection. But they are also noticing that you say mean things about the neighbors who always park their car in front of your house and the people who voted differently than you did. They see it if you don’t respect their parents—the way you sigh about their silly rules, or roll your eyes behind your daughter-in-law’s back. Is this part of the legacy you want to leave?
As you think about what your legacy will be, think about more than your dishes and love of cooking. Take the time to consider if you are truly passing along the values and beliefs you want your grandchildren to remember you for.
Want to really ensure your legacy? Your Grand Vision, part of New Grandparent Essentials, guides you through a step-by-step process for considering and implementing your legacy. Find out more!