What traditions are you passing on?

Updated: May 17

By Dr Ange, Clinical Psychologist

There is a story that comes to mind for me whenever I think about the concept of family values and traditions. You might know it too. The story goes like this:

A newly wed couple are preparing a roast dinner. Before the wife puts the meat into the roasting pan, she slices off one end of it, and places that slice on top of the larger piece of meat. Her husband sees this, finds it odd, and asks her why does she do this? She said she’s never really thought about it, and that she’s not really sure, it’s just the way that her mum always did it. The husband is perplexed by this answer. When the next family dinner happens, the husband sees his mother in law doing the same thing, slicing the end of the meat and placing it on top of the larger piece of meat, before putting it in the oven. The husband asks his mother in law why does she do this? She says, much like his wife, she’s not really sure, it’s just the way that she saw her mum do it and so it’s always been the way she does it. Sure enough, when the next extended family dinner occurs, and granny-in-law is there, the husband is of course keen to ask his burning question about this strange tradition. Granny smiles and says… “oh! Well, back when I was a young mum, bringing up my large family, we only had such a small roasting pan that couldn’t actually quite fit the size of roast I needed to feed us all. I would always have to cut off the end, and with nowhere else to put it, I would just put it on top so I could fit it all in!”

For me, this story gets at a few interesting points which are really important for parents to be aware of.

  • Your behaviour can be driven by completely unspoken ideas, beliefs, or expectations

  • Your behaviour is modelled by children, even the behaviours you didn’t intend to be mimicked!

  • If you don’t question and review your intentions, you can unwittingly create a legacy that may not be all that helpful!

Luckily, in the story, the behaviour that got passed on was a pretty harmless one (although vegetarians may disagree!). In real life, the behaviours, beliefs, and attitudes that get passed on may in some cases be pretty toxic.

The kind of thing I’m talking about here are the “unspoken rules” that can operate within families. These are, I think, the big “traditions” within a family. I offer a few below, not an exhaustive list, there are many more. As you read through this list, I invite you to wonder about those that may ring true for you about your own upbringing:

  • Emotions are a sign of weakness