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Family Rituals - Research On Family Rituals

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Systematic research on family rituals has focused on developmental aspects of the practice of routines and rituals, rituals as a protective factor under high-risk conditions, and cultural variations of ritual practices.


Developmental aspects of routines and rituals. During the childrearing years, creating and maintaining family routines and rituals is a central part of family life. Once children are of preschool age, families report an increase in mealtime and weekend routines (Fiese et al. 1993). When the children are in middle childhood, family routines are adjusted to meet the demands of school and activities outside the home. Families that create predictable routines during these years have children who perform better in school (Brody and Flor 1997; Fiese 2000). During adolescence, children may be less directly involved in family routines, but those who have had the experience of a ritualized household are more socially competent (Fiese, 1992).


Family rituals as a protective factor. Linda A. Bennett and her colleagues were the first researchers to demonstrate empirically the protective role that rituals may play under high-risk conditions. In a study of families with an alcoholic member, it was found that the deliberate planning and preservation of family rituals, specifically dinnertime, protected the offspring from developing problematic drinking patterns (Bennett, et al. 1987). Ellen Bush and Kenneth I. Pargament (1997) studied the relation between rituals and family adjustment in coping with chronic pain. Chronic pain patients reported more satisfaction with family life when predictable and organized routines were part of their daily activities. The patients' spouses reported more satisfaction with family life when there was strong meaning attached to the practice of family rituals. Samia Markson and Barbara Fiese (2000) reported that children with asthma were less likely to experience anxiety symptoms when their families engaged in meaningful rituals.

Cultural variations in family rituals. Family rituals are embedded in the cultural context of family life. In an initial report, Mary Martini (1996) found cultural differences in mealtime conversations: Japanese-American families were more likely to discuss group activities and shared experiences at the dinner table, while Caucasian-American families were more likely to discuss experiences that individuals had outside of the home. Shoshana Blum-Kulka (1997) noted a similar pattern in a comparison of U.S. and Israeli families where the U.S. families paid more attention to individual experiences and the Israeli families focused on group experiences during ritual gatherings. In an observational study of mealtime behaviors, Martini (2002) reported that Japanese-American mealtimes were the most "infant centered," with parents responsive and attentive to their infants during the routine meals. Filipino-American families were somewhat less child-centered, with a greater focus on eating rather than conversing. Hawaiian-American mealtimes were the most adult-focused of the three groups, with children nearby and exploring but less the center of attention. These variations in conversation and interaction patterns across cultures suggest that there may be broad system-level contributions to the practice of family routines and rituals that are at times subtle but also consistent with predominant cultural values and beliefs.

Cultural variations are also observed in ritual practices in societies where elders are revered, where the elderly are often the focus of gift giving and personal attention during family celebrations (Ingersoll-Dayton 1999). Korean sixtieth-birthday rituals have become more secular in the United States as a result of immigration (Chin 1991). Rather than preparing elaborate feasts in the ancestral home and engaging in ceremonial bowing, contemporary celebrations are conducted in restaurants with less emphasis on bowing and attention to ancestors. Thus, routines and rituals may not only be affected by cultural heritage, but they may also become altered through immigration and the practices of the host country.

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