The Intentional Family

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Brief Summary
The Intentional Family is a book about strengthening family connections and relationships through everyday rituals, holiday celebrations, special occasions and community involvement. The book serves as a guide to help families transform simple family routines into family rituals. It discusses the importance of being consistent with good family rituals and compromising to change rituals that do not work. Doherty states that family rituals provide four important things, predictability, connections, identity, and a way to enact values. He gives many examples and suggestions on how families can best create rituals from activities they may already be doing. Many families have rituals that they feel “stuck” with. Doherty also offers suggestions on how to recreate those rituals so they are more enjoyable.

Family rituals involve more than one family member, but not necessarily all members of the family. Doherty breaks rituals into three categories. Connection rituals involve everyday activities such as family meals, morning and bedtime routines and family outings. Love rituals focus on making individual family members feel special. Love rituals can be divided into couple rituals, such as “date nights” and anniversaries, and special-person rituals like birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Community rituals include major family events like weddings and funerals. They also include any activity involving a wider social network than just family, giving the family a chance to both gain and give support to friends, neighbors and the community.

Doherty recommends families meals as the best way to start developing family rituals. He is very flexible with his suggestions, recognizing that one way will not work for all families. Doherty encourages families to start taking small steps toward creating family rituals at meal time by being more intentional about what time you eat, where family members sit, and how the meal is served.

Because predictability is so important to creating family rituals, Doherty explains the phases of a family ritual in his book. A family ritual has three phases, a transitional phase, an enactment phase and an exit phase. It is important to pay attention to these phases when trying to strengthen or improve your family rituals. The transitional phase of the ritual provides a separation of the ritual from everyday matters. This could be setting the dinner table, lighting a candle, etc. It lets family members know that it’s time to focus on one another. The enactment phase takes place during the ritual itself. For example, eating dinner and interacting with family members. The goal of this phase is to enjoy each other’s company and reconnect as a family. The exit phase takes place as the family transitions back into their daily activities with less focus on one another. After a meal, a family may decide to wait until everyone is finished eating before they all leave the table.

Aside from family meals, Doherty suggest the easiest way to create family rituals is to start with what you already enjoy doing as a family and then do it more intentionally. This can be going to eat at your favorite restaurant, or going out for ice cream. Not all rituals need to involve spending money; Doherty also gives suggestions of taking a family walk or going fishing. Rituals can also be established around normal daily activities such as children’s bed time. For couples, Doherty’s recommends going to bed at the same time. This provides an opportunity to reconnect as a couple.

The most difficult part of establishing rituals, is just that; the establishing of the ritual. Doherty describes three methods of initiating or changing rituals. The direct route involves specifying needs of the family, and listening to family members before proposing changes. The family then negotiates before trying something out and evaluates how it worked. The second method is the indirect route. This occurs when a family...
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