Life isn’t like it used to be, and we need to invent new traditions for today’s families. Meg Cox guides you through the simple steps that help families fully cherish all of those special moments and milestones, help heal the wounds of trauma and loss, and strengthen that indomitable spirit of identity within a family.
With the book The Book of New Family Traditions, your family can create the kind of celebrations that lead to everlasting happy memories. In today’s show, we speak with the author of the book, Meg Cox.
In This Episode
- 00:39 – Opening: Family Traditions
- 01:36 – What are Rituals/Traditions?
- 06:00 – Rituals Make Everyday Easier
- 08:33 – Meg Researches Traditions
- 09:39 – Caller of the Day: Lori
- 10:56 – Integrating 2 Different Traditions 12:34 More Examples of Rituals
- 15:55 – Meg’s Mini-Book
- 17:31 – Meg’s Newsletter on Rituals
- 18:50 – Meg’s Next Book: Quilting
- 19:56 – Closing Comments
About Meg Cox
Meg Cox, born and raised in Ohio, has been earning her living as a writer since graduating from Northwestern University. She was hired as a staff writer by the Wall Street Journal and worked at the WSJ in Chicago and New York for 17 years.
Meg Cox: Hi there, it’s Meg Cox. The author of The Book of new family tradition great ritual for holidays and every day you are listening to Vicki and Jen what really matters.
Vicky: This is Vicki and Jen making life simple so you can enjoy what really matters. Today we are talking about things your family will love doing over and over. Family tradition is part of our preserving family memories series. Let me tell you about our guest today. We have Meg Cox with us.
Jen: She is the author of the book of new family traditions. After writing for The Wall Street Journal for 17 years she spent a decade as a freelancer. Building a reputation as an expert on family traditions. She has written countless articles for magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Child, Working Mother, and Parents just to name a few.
Jen: There’s so much more I could say about Meg when the fall of our time so I’ll just encourage our listeners to go to her website and find out more about all the wonderful things she’s doing. Her site is MegCox.com. Meg, would you tell us how you became a tradition’s expert?
Meg Cox: Yeah well I was about I got pregnant and a little late in life. I was 40. I had some apprehension about whether it be good at it. I think that thinking about what would make me feel better about it I thought of some friends of mine who had this amazing. And that was like your light bulb went on and I thought wow that would be great work and I can do the journalist thing and go out like we’re really good at it and learn at the same time. That became my first book.
Vicky: How many children do you have?
Meg Cox: I have one son who just started middle school and I have a stepdaughter who is the grown up.
Jen: So what are traditions what are rituals you talk about both of them in your book. What’s the difference?
Meg Cox: Well when people think of a tradition they sometimes get intimidated they think oh this is a big thing that’s got to be handed down through my grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother you know with a lot of Martha Stewart bells and whistles and you have the word ritual for almost everything because it’s a very elastic word that covers the rituals like a wedding you know old Christmas and also just the little everyday that time and dinnertime and a little song you sing before you put your baby in the bear and all of those things especially for younger kids almost a quarter ritual for me is pretty inclusive right. I use the word tradition sometimes. But I’m I’m trying to get people to rethink it in their own mind in a very expansive way.
Jen: Well you’re right I think rituals are a little less intimidating. You’ll ask family and friends if you know do they do anything special here and there and they’ll say no I really don’t have any traditions we don’t you know they can’t think of any and I’m saying to myself I bet you do. You just don’t realize it. Is that true?
Meg Cox: I have had that experience all the time. People find out they have this incredible ritual and they’ll say “Oh, that’s just something we do”.
Jen: It is a tradition or it is a ritual. So when I think of rituals and tell me if I’m on target here I think of just those little things that you do every day that are meaningful to your family. And then maybe the traditions or more generations back it is you know you could that you could define it that way.
Meg Cox: I don’t get hung up on the definition. I’m more about getting people to go for it and getting them to realize that now all these little things that they just that are little more conscious and try a little hard to to add on to the things that there is that there are so many aspects to it that there is the celebration aspect there is that but there’s also this huge problem-solving aspect which is partly what that time and dinnertime ritual you know you fine with.
Vicky: I have two young children four and two and I find that the little rituals when we first started talking about this topic I was like well I don’t do any traditions either and then Vicky got me thinking and I started reading your book and the young kids really seemed to do a much better job when you have those daily rituals in your life. You know they know what’s coming next and when you think of bedtime and dinner time I think that it just makes the transitions through the day so much easier.
Meg Cox: Oh absolutely and there are so many little things that you can add. I mean I used to do things with my son when he was a toddler going you know going to the supermarket with me and we all know what that’s like.
Meg Cox: I do wish that we did that were part of that. Like going to visit the lobsters and a lobster taking the seafood apart you know little stories that we would tell and you know that and that really really helps because you’re giving them something to focus on. It’s like a distraction technique by focusing on that and they know that little song or that little thing that you do is fun and it is good to past the crankiness or the Gimmes or you know the other thing that they might be with.
Vicky: Well anything to make the visit to the grocery store better I am all for what are other examples of ways it can make your daily routines a little bit smoother or just everyday tasks like I don’t know getting them to wash hands or cleaning up or you know what are some other ways that you can use traditions or rituals as a way to help smooth things out.
Meg Cox: Well I would start by saying that you know in terms of looking for where you need one any price there’s a rough spot. Any place where there’s a transition where there’s always crankiness it is always no problem that’s going on and you have a major negotiation if there is a real possibility what is a song you know especially with little one of the worst singing voice in the world you know make up a silly song that they do that helps. And also humor helps. I used to get to do a silly thing with my son about. That would actually help me.
We did it silly like vitamin thing vitamin ritual in the morning where you know we get these stones vitamins. And I would add no matter what I gave him he would say this is one of those things that just happened. But you roll with it he said it’s you know whatever I give him my Denaro Fred it’s whoever. No no no. But we just we just a silly thing we did that made the whole morning breakfast thing more pleasant and silly and we did it for years.
But it helped me remember and it helped to do the ritual so silly things are good songs are good.
Is this a chance to think up something that was just what you refer to as a corrective to help with rough times. Yes.
Yeah and that could also go for something like dropping off a daycare. It is a rough transition for a lot of.
And and so you need a leave-taking which ritual and a distraction ritual. And there’s one mother I
Put this in my first book I’m not sure the other one about.
There was a little secret code word and they would create on the way to daycare and we’ll be using something her little boy would see on the way and she would give them a little time to take off his coat and start playing with blocks or whatever.
And then he would turn to her and he would say the code word he said mom that would say that would be it’s OK. Well, you have so many creative ideas in your book. Your book is just packed full with great examples of traditional traditions and rituals. Where did you find all of these? Did you come up with them all in your hat?
Oh, no way. As I said I was a little insecure about my own ability to come up with these things and I don’t have a huge family so you know I interviewed a ton of people and for my first book I spent three years researching and writing and I interviewed lots of families I did. I had an e-mail questionnaire that went out. I also did a survey and Parents Magazine and people responded to it with their favorite traditions. And I’ve talked to a bunch of religious educators. I also have an e-mail newsletter of my own that I’ve been doing for over five years and before that, I had an online column so people send me stuff.
I’m always getting you to know fresh ideas and new things sometimes I’ll ask for a specific type of ritual but often people just tell me to go and they’re like pressure. I collect
Hi, my name is Larry Elder. And you’re listening to Vicky & Jen, What Really Matters. My question to Megan is that after you are married how can you successfully combine two sides the family traditions and maybe even create your own traditions without offending someone or hurting someone’s feelings.
She struggles with integrating two opposing versions of the same family tradition. And let me tell you the example she gave me and her daughter just lost her first tooth. And together they agreed that they didn’t want to give her money. They felt that a five-year-old doesn’t necessarily need money. Instead, they would need a small gift and that’s what they decided to do. And now with not following that tradition of the Tooth Fairy leaving money, she feels like she has offended her mother and sister. I guess because they were disappointed that the mother didn’t carry on the same tradition that perhaps she grew up with receiving money for a loss right.
Well, I think she, for one thing, she has to get on the same page as her husband. And that’s really it’s good to have a conversation about your basic values and that’s you want to pass on to your kids and all your traditions. And what kind of things you want to emphasize whether it’s a religious background or ethnic background war you want to read you want to emphasize you know community service kind of thing or you want to make books and reading be special in which case your gift might be a book if you know you start with your values and then have that discussion together now.
As far as where they are now you know some things of this nature have happened in my house once or twice and you know you can usually backtrack that story and say to a child 13 something like that. Well the theory gives a lot for the first one because we don’t get to get out of it is a plausible story especially at that age you know I’ll be fine with it but they need to get on the same page.
I think it’s less important that they get on the same page just because they certainly have the authority to decide together what that’s going to be and they’re more tricky when you’re talking about big holidays with the whole family. It might have more of a problem but something like this seems to me like mother and the father whoever the parents need to work this out together. And it certainly is good to work it out a little bit of it in advance.
I think that’s true and what works for one family might not necessarily work for another. So for example with your book, it is just packed full with more than 150 different ideas. They just might not work for everybody but certainly, there’s something in there for each of our listeners.
He also wrote a segment at the beginning about how to create new rituals because part of it is to get people comfortable doing a certain amount of things or just going to happen. But then you know when an occasion comes up and you want something that’s got your personal stamp on it.
You know Heidi I think one of the most difficult things for people is just to recognize that they already do have traditions and then kind of play off of the ones that you already have and kind of expand those and get the kids and do it and just have more and more fun.
I totally agree with that. I did an issue of my new book One on the nonsense ritual and you know a lot of families have these again and they don’t they don’t realize how wonderful they are and how special they are to their kids. And there was one crazy one that this woman told me about where she had this crazy thing she started with her mother going back to supermarket shopping when she was little.
That was like they would they would go to the toilet paper either throw a roll of toilet paper into the shopping cart like basketball and move it farther and farther away. And it just got to be this totally crazy thing they did.
Now her mother is getting up in years and she has children around she does it with her kids and now she sometimes shops with a mother and they still do it. That’s not really recognizing that crazy nonsense things like that are heard of you or you know the background story of your family there and there and there you know to enjoy them. They’re quirky and they’re wacky and they’re they’re part of the story that you tell about.
Well and I find that those are the things that we remember from our childhood to the quirky stories you know.
Oh yeah, that’s another thing is that I tell people all the time as sometimes or we get so bent out of shape because we have this idea in mind of the perfect thing giving is perfect whatever and then the dog eat the cake.
We forget that that’s the one we’re going to remember you know it’s a little hard. I’m going to happen but who but to really go with the flow a little bit because if you can have a sense of humor about the time you know you know that the reason there isn’t.
Yes and that’s the truth. And as I was looking through your book and reading all of the different examples that you have I giggled at so many of them thinking Wow this one’s really crazy. Does it make my own holiday a mess? That was one of my favorites in your book. You have a day with your family and all the rules are guide you can be in your grubby lounge. You don’t have to comb your hair. I don’t know about the teeth and you don’t have to pick up toys and they’re out all day and you can just play play play. And it was a designated mess day that was one of my favorite. It made me giggle and I thought you know could I really do that. Aiden would love it. Well, make your book The Book of new family traditions was published in 2003. And it seems to be selling very very well so well that your publishing company has just issued a little mini edition of the book right.
The little one is very cute as sort of a good stocking stuffer but it’s only about half the ritual. So just so people know that we get all the rituals we have. The other one, of course, goes around and actually, the sales have gone up. It’s actually not trailing off at all and really. Right.
Well, why do you think that is.
You know I think it’s because you know I’m not a household name and it takes a while but people have found it and people have some newsletter and they give it you know they discover it and they love it and then they give their girlfriend or their bridal shower. And so it is a great word of mouth.
It’s great. I was just going to say it’s a perfect gift for a family whether it’s the the the small cute mini version that is I think around five dollars. Right. And I think people can find that around those little wire turning racks with the little tiny gift books that are on the cash register. But even the full version of the book if you were to get it through Amazon it’s very reasonable, isn’t it?
Like at $12.95 if you pay full price with Amazon you get a little bit off of that. I gave you a copy recently as a wedding gift I gave you know a more fancy gift than I just broke and the fact that you actually knew the family was really into tradition.
Now you keep talking about your newsletter and I just wanted to mention to our listeners that may continue to write about family rituals so if you are interested in signing up you can go to family rituals at AOL dot com and what you need to do is write the words subscribe in the e-mail subject and then you’ll be on Maggs mailing list for her or her regular newsletter. And again that’s family rituals at AOL dot com. So what are these new rituals and new ideas aside from your book that you’ll provide in your newsletter?
Yes because an awful lot of the subscribers have come through the book mentioned in the in the book.
And I don’t want to you know recycle the same stuff over and over again. So yes it is fresh and it’s often you know about the season the month things that are that are going on that time of year. I mean my last issue for October was about the rite of passage for teenagers. But you know one-month-old you had rituals and then you know one-month nonsense ritual.
It’s just lots of different topics and then I know what people know I’m going to be on the radio or in a magazine.
Let’s take them and things to a book for Children and other resources that I think are really good and you are also about to publish or the third book in a whole new field I guess with quilters. Right. Right. And it’s a it’s a journalist book and it’s full of information and fascinating history and research. But the neat thing I believe is that once you also teach us how to quilt.
Yes, it’s a resource guide for croakers but I should stress that it’s driving me crazy because there’s so much information in it but it really will teach you to grow and it’s very beginner friendly. There’s a whole special section for people well when quilting is just a part of American history.
There’s so much information there and it’s so fascinating.
I love it. I read your book and if you go to make KCox dot com you can even read more about that. There are beautiful pictures of a quilt on her Web site. Check that out. You have provided us with so many creative ideas. Interesting ideas.
And yet there are simple ways to celebrate. There’s a little something out there for everybody in your book. So I am so glad that we had the opportunity to talk to you today.
Thank you. Thank you guys I really enjoyed it. I hope that our listeners will come back again for more of our series on preserving family memories and we hope that you join us as we learn to laugh and grow together and make everyday matter
Who closed today with a beautiful song from Whitney Barrett Clough’s upcoming album called, Our Story.