Mathilda Mathema, member of a communal vegetable gardening project, tells stories to her children by a fire. | Location: Mahwanke, Zimbabwe.

This is Africa. In Africa we pass down our stories verbally from generation to generation. In a modern world, what kind of family stories are we creating with our children that will be passed down to our grandchildren as their heritage? What makes family life memorable? What creates the fabric of these stories?

Heritage can refer to practices or characteristics that are passed down through the years, from one generation to the next, according to . Researching your family tree would help you gain a sense of your personal heritage. Heritage is often used to discuss a cultural aspect or tradition that has been passed down through generations. According to Brand South Africa heritage means different things to different people. But for all, it seems to be inextricably linked to national pride, culture, tradition and the past.

This Heritage Day, 24 September 2019, I want to focus on family heritage as family is the most basic unit of society and what happens in families has a direct impact on a society and a country. In my latest book, Future-proof Your Child for the 2020s and beyond co-authored with Dr Graeme Codrington, we discuss the importance of building Brand Family in a world full of noisy commercial brands screaming out for a share of our children’s hearts, minds and our wallets. We need to ensure that our family sounds a strong and clear note in the midst of the noise of technology and the clutter of consumerism. We want our family to be the most powerful and influential brand with which our children associated. From Chapter 8: Build a values-based family brand:

Family, no matter how it is made up, is the basic building block of society as the creator of fundamental human values. We can no longer rely on governments, religions or communities to determine the values, morals and traditions to which a family wishes to subscribe. We must do this for ourselves. Rituals or family traditions contribute to the pillars of Brand family. They convey our values, provide structure, and create a feeling of togetherness and belonging. They provide a sense that we are in this thing called life together’.

Rituals are concrete experiences that have a greater effect on children than a parental lecture on family values. Children learn best through real experiences in which they are personally involved. The experience ultimately becomes the message, so to speak. The ‘doing’ leads to ‘being’.

Rituals are memorable things we do over and over again; they become part of who we are and how we operate in the world. It might be how you celebrate birthdays, or spend your holidays, or eat your meals. We believe they are an important part of:

  • Creating shared memories
  • Bonding as members of a family
  • Creating emotional anchors to the family beliefs and value system
  • Creating rites of passage
  • Creating a unique family brand

Make a conscious choice to actively use rituals and celebrations to create family memories, to highlight developmental milestones and to celebrate the rights of passage of your children. Rights of passage, other than religious ones such as bar mitzvahs and christenings, for example, have mostly fallen away in Western society…..We believe that finding ways to celebrate and honour children as the progress from one life stage to another can be of enormous help in validating their worth and uniqueness, and in giving them things to look forward to.

Takeaways for winning at home and life:

This Heritage Day, do consider your family’s:

  • Daily rituals such as eating together and dinner table rituals such as playing the Sweets and Sours Game at the table and lighting of candles
  • Bedtime rituals such as storytelling, kissing teddies goodnight and singing of songs
  • Weekly rituals such as having a games evening on Fridays
  • Seasonal rituals such as enjoying a change of seasons dinner under the stars
  • Holiday rituals such as the games you play in the car on route
  • Family celebration rituals such as what you do for the birthday person such as decorating their door
  • Religious rituals such as fasting, feasting or decorating of the home
  • Coming of age rituals/rites of passage such as baby naming, coming of age, weddings, funerals etc

Rituals provide valuable storytelling material that will form part of a child’s lifelong memories. Have you ever heard your children ‘dining out’ on a family story – usually something mom or dad did in their childhood or youth? It’s fascinating to eavesdrop on such conversations they have with their friends. They are intensely proud of their parents and their family, believe it or not. Rituals facilitate higher levels of bonding an engagement at home.

Takeaways for winning at work:

If you are leading a team, you are family when your employees are not at home so the same principles apply. What makes your team unique and different. How do you do things:

  • In weekly meetings
  • To celebrate birthdays
  • To celebrate personal achievements of team members
  • To welcome a new staff member on board
  • To acknowledge the change of seasons
  • To support team members’ sporting or cultural interests
  • When you are doing strategic planning with your team

Shared memories create bonds. Strong bonds facilitate higher levels of employee engagement, commitment and retention. Event if staff members leave (and that can be a good thing for them to go out and get broader experience), if they have had a memorable and positive experience with you they may just do one of two things, both of which are good:

  • Recommend you as an employer of choice to others in their network or tribe
  • Boomerang back to you with more experience and wisdom at a later stage

Heritage is made up of memorable things that we do together. What are you going to do this Heritage Day in your family and in your team? For more ideas, get hold of a copy of Future-proof Your Child for the 2020s and beyond (Penguin Random House, 2019).

Happy Heritage Day!

Human Potential and Parenting Expert, speaker and author:  Helping you win at work and life