Motherhood Mondays: An Ode to Rituals

My friend Jenny Rosenstrach wrote the cookbook/memoir Dinner: A Love Story, and as I was reading it for the hundredth time in bed this weekend, I fell in love with her chapter on rituals. Jenny has such a warm, down-to-earth approach to parenting. Here’s her essay, full of great ideas…

Lazy Parents’ Dark Secret: The Ritual

Having a hands-off approach to healthy eating is pretty consistent with our parenting philosophy in general. Have you ever read the instructions on a cast-iron skillet? It goes something like this: Do not clean this product too well. The fat and flavor left in the pan after cooking helps your skillet build a naturally nonstick surface. Can I tell you how much I love instructions that reward laziness? Braising is like that, too—the longer you ignore the hunk of beef or pork simmering away in a pot, the more the meat will melt off the bone. So is playtime: No one was happier about that study encouraging parents to give their kids unstructured time with limited parental intervention (not to be confused with limited parental supervision!) Apparently this was the secret to getting kids to build imaginations and rich inner lives. No one would ever accuse me of being a Tiger Mom.

But my all-time favorite example of laziness, which also happens to qualify as good parenting, is the Ritual. To be more specific, the ritual of a family walk after dinner on warm summer nights or to the farmers’ market every Saturday morning between April and November; the ritual of the kids selecting where they’d like to celebrate their birthday dinner (they choose a country, like Sweden, and then we find a restaurant to match that country); the ritual of dancing to Music Together or Jack White or Taylor Swift or the Nutcracker after dinner and before bed; the ritual of bath-book-bedtime every night and of a bowl of fresh fruit first thing in the morning; the ritual of eating pancakes or bagels in front of Dora or the Backyardigans or (later) iCarly on Saturday morning; the ritual of me giving Andy a good bottle of bourbon for our anniversary every October. (And don’t try to tell me that bourbon has nothing to do with parenting.)

Kids crave routines and rituals—your pediatrician probably told you that at your first baby’s first weigh-in. But I think parents—okay, maybe just this parent—craves routines and rituals even more. Because, yes, yes, yes, as outlines above, I know it’s comforting to my children on some level to know that they’ll be able to sit down iwth their parents every night for dinner, but it’s also comforting to me because there are just so may other things to keep track of. (I always remember that scene in I Don’t Know How She Does It when Kate Reddy’s boss, who has just lost his wife to cancer, comes to the office completely overwhelmed by all the things his wife did without his noticing. “You wouldn’t believe how much there is to remember, Kate,” he told her. And to herself Kate says, “Yes, I would.”) In other words, when there are twenty-five things on the to-do list already, I don’t want to waste energy figuring out how to ensure we have quality time with our kids for the three hours we are with them on a weekday (hence: Family Dinner plus After-Dinner Dancing). I don’t want to tap my small supply of creative juices trying to outdo last year’s special birthday celebration (hence: Our Pick-a-Country ritual). In other words, when there are so many little things to think about, it’s comforting to know that I have a few of the big things running on autopilot.

— by Jenny Rosenstrach, excerpted from her wonderful cookbook/memoir Dinner: A Love Story

P.S. Jenny’s balance of work, life and family.

  1. loved reading this and it resonated so much. We are creatures of habit in our house and our daughter thrives on her routine and rituals. She is the kid who after lunch and a book says “I want my bed” and I love and look forward to our dinner, book, bath and bed routine as much as she does. I love that quiet cuddle time after the bath just before I tuck her in for the night.

  2. i love this post :) i’m so excited to read the book!

  3. I love this post. First of all .. I think things are way to scheduled, planned and kids don’t have much a chance to use their imaginations, play make believe and just do what kids are supposed to do, play!

    And on another note…I love your birthday ritual… and am going to have to steal that one….even if it is for my birthday.

    Keep up the great writing!

    xo . trina

  4. This was beautiful.

  5. One of my daily rituals-reading Cup of Jo at some point every eve! Love my kid rituals and love being able to read quietly by myself for a few minutes. Keep it up, Joanna, us busy working women (mamas or not) need ya!

  6. Rituals are so important! My mom always says that it didn’t take long for friends and family to learn not to call between 7 and 8 when we were little because of our evening and bedtime rituals! I think they help to take parts of your childhood with you on to adulthood while making them your own. Love this post :)

  7. ritual is so important to adults and children. i think it gives our life shape and meaning.

  8. A very sweet post – I’ll have to remember this!

  9. I´ve two children: a fifteen-years-old daughter and an eleven-years-old son. Sometimes they like to help me cooking, above all my eldest child; that makes her feel mature and proud of herself. At the same time, my son, that admires her sister, tries to imitate her, so both are maturing by cooking, and that improves their relationship. I´m gonna try to get the book you sugges. Thank for sharing this!!

  10. This is truly beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am totally picking up this book when I’m back in Canada for Christmas!

    Love your essay, Jenny! Love your blog, Joanna!

  11. I’m definitely going to check this book out. I LOVE rituals but often find myself thinking of great ones I wish I started back when the kids were younger. Mine are 13, 10, and 7 and I feel like sometimes I missed the boat.

    I also find that I am stuck in rituals that are from my childhood and haven’t started new ones of my own. I’m determined to do better. Thanks for the inspiration with this great post and book recommendation.

  12. Beautiful, love the idea of rituals. It’s so hard to forget about them in our daily busy slog. Must take the time to be consistent with rituals that my family will remember forever and carry on.

  13. i love her book so much! so glad you featured it!

  14. My family has always done a post-dinner dance party while cleaning up! Any guests who may be over always end up in the kitchen dancing too ;)


    Kristina does the Internets

  15. i love it. i’m all about the rituals, too. i’ll have to check out her book!

  16. Oh I too love this. For nearly 5 years I’ve had it in the back of my head to write a cookbook that is really a love story in my head about my mother and eating our dinners as a child. There was magic in those meals made from my mother’s kitchen and it had nothing to do with her being anywhere close to a gourmet cook. She cooked simply, frugally, and with love. We ate that way too and it was some of the rituals that coated the love. I love this — but I said that already didn’t I? (since my Google account doesn’t show who I am or where I’m from: this is me:

  17. I love this! And it makes so much sense. My husband and I haven’t been blessed with children yet, but I hold on tight to all of the traditions I grew up with when I was younger. There’s something supremely comforting about having rituals that are unique to your family alone.

  18. Joanna, you should check out “The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day” by Meg Cox. It has TONS of excellent simple (and some more complicated) rituals to start with your children, and gave me so many ideas for things to make our own. I bought it to help me bond with my step-kids. We aren’t religious and don’t have any other family close by, so this book has really been amazing for us. The kids love everything we’ve done, and they will remember it forever.

  19. This is beautiful – I can’t wait to read the entire book!

  20. I think these types of ritual are important for all types of relationships – not necessarily only with kids. My parents were very lax on rituals throughout my entire childhood, because they were both rebelling against their parents and all their preconceived notions of what a parent should and shouldn’t do. I’ve found myself developing my own rituals as I’ve grown up – regular yoga classes with a friend, dinner with my brother once every other month, phone calls with my grandmother every two weeks, walks with my boyfriend after dinners – and these have all come to define how I remember my relationships over time. That one time my friend fell out of a pose and almost kicked me in the face, and we laughed about it in class for weeks. When my brother first brought his girlfriend to dinner with him. When my grandmother fell and broke her hip, but still said she felt “just fine.” And how my own relationship with my boyfriend has grown and matured over time.

    As much as my parents thought rituals were not important, I’ve found them so essential to my own happiness and my own personal relationships over time.

  21. jm says...

    Rituals are the best. My husband makes french toast every Sunday and somehow it makes me feel that all is right with the world.

  22. I’ve GOT to get this book! I’ve read so much about her blog and now the book; I can’t wait to dive in myself.
    Coming from a family very lax on tradition/obligation, I’ve definitely got a soft spot for the things we DID repeat (namely: my Dad cutting my horoscope out of the paper for me on my birthday; playing Go Fish everytime we went to my Grandparents’; Chinese food on Christmas Day).

  23. I loved this book – I initially borrowed it from the library but it’s officially on my wishlist to own (and that’s not common). Also, I have the same Ikea stepstool from the photo above the book cover and my 1.5 yr old daughter stands on it to watch me make dinner :)

  24. That book looks beautiful! I’d love to read it.

  25. I love your blog; I really do. I’ll probably keep reading it for as long as you write it so please know that I truly am a fan and have very much enjoyed following you over the years.

    That said, between Motherhood Modays, J. Crew sales and recipies, I sometimes feel like the working girl is getting lost here. I’m a 33 year-old single woman who enjoys a chocolate chip cookie and a deal on a cute skirt as much as the next gal, but I think we’re walking that gender role line a little close here at times.

    What about Working Women Wednesdays or Friendship Fridays? Do I still want to read about date ideas for my boyfriend and me? Yes! Would I mind if we mixed in some conversation about how women are investing or tips for planning an overdue girl’s weekend…

    Just my two cents.

    • Yes! I adore Motherhood Mondays and pictures of Toby (even though I don’t have kids . . . yet). More and more lately, I’m feeling like some of the old “Cup of Jo” flavour is lacking even in the Tuesday through Friday content for the rest of us without cute kiddos.

      Not every post has to be about vibrators (though I fist-pumped for joy when that one was posted), but Ms A. hit the nail on the head. Perhaps more content on other lifestyle topics that affect us readers?

    • I disagree with the above ladies. I find your blog perfect for looking into your life and you are a mother! I get so many ideas and tips that I hope to use in the future and on Fridays I am clinking and linking for almost an hour on all of your suggestions. I love what you are doing and this post made me all warm inside…thinking about my rituals as a child and ones I hope to teach my children.
      Keep up the great work.

    • I also disagree with the first two ladies above. I love and appreciate the way you celebrate motherhood.

    • Rubai says...

      I completely agree! And in the response to two of the people who “disagreed” below, asking for more content about balancing work and friendships doesn’t take away from celebrating motherhood. As a married woman who’s pregnant myself, I certainly recognize the importance of including all types of material (including ‘motherhood’ material), but I’m also noticing that it takes up a bit too much space.

  26. I absolutely love this! When we had our daughter my husband and I included her in our Saturday morning ritual of going to the corner cafe for a cappuccino and a croissant. Now, at almost two, she loves this ritual as much as we do and have created many more rituals that are centered around her.

    I’d love to read the rest of this book. Thanks!

  27. I didn’t think I had any rituals with my husband yet, but then I remembered – our home made Friday night pizza and movies. It is usually the highlight of my week and I’m looking forward to continuing it with our kids one day (although with different movies at first :-)

  28. I love Dinner: A Love Story, and I’m equally committed to rituals in our family. I think of the scaffolding on which we hang our family year, and I really also think they provide something that is safe and steady in worlds (those of my tween daughter and 7 year old son) which feel so in flux.

  29. Loved this post and would love to read the book.
    I noticed two typos in the post – sit down iwth their and small supply tf creative juices, just thought to let you know since I know how annoying these are :)

  30. I’m excited about this book. I’ve been following her blog for a while and it’s a joy to read. I’d mostly been paying attention to the recipes, but I really like the way she writes in the excerpted essay above. Thanks for sharing!

  31. I loved reading this and it resonated so much. We are creatures of habit in our house and our daughter thrives on her routine and rituals. She is the kid who after lunch and a book says “I want my bed” and I love and look forward to our dinner, book, bath and bed routine as much as she does. I love that quiet cuddle time after the bath just before I tuck her in for the night. They love knowing what comes next and at least with my kid, she loves the occasional unexpected surprise of going out to eat, staying up a little late or whatever other thing that comes up in life.

    I’m going to pick up this book. it’s right up my alley!

  32. This book sounds like a great read! Definitely adding it to my wish list. I think a dinner and family dance party might work well for us, hehe.

  33. I love the idea of rituals that signify your childhood. We ate at my Granny’s every Sunday after church, and ate dinner at the table every night with my parents. Looking back now, those meals and the conversation within your little family mean so much!

    Visit me at!

  34. i really love the idea of having kids pick a country for their birthday dinner and going to that type of restaurant.

  35. eliza jane, that is so sweet! what a lovely memory.

  36. I got a copy on Saturday and have already read half the stories and made the pasta bake with sausage and veggies (delish)! It’s a fantastic book, even if you don’t have kids yet (as I do not). I normally don’t like so much narration in cookbooks, but each recipe headnote was more like a literary essay with philosophical musings on food, eating, modern motherhood, marriage and family togetherness. Kudos to Jenny! I’m so glad to have it in my collection.

  37. I love the sound of this book, it sounds like me on a plate! Thank you for the tip :)

  38. What a great book recommendation! I’m looking forward to reading it, now. I loved rituals growing up (actually, I still do!), and they’re some of my fondest memories. Especially the ones that involved my mother reading to me while I was taking a bath. That happened every single night.

  39. I really hope Santa brings me this book! Our favorite rituals are: feeding the dog, taking a shower before bedtime, reading the Big Dinosaur book after nap time. Cheers to mommies!

  40. Sounds like a great read. As I got to thinking about our daily routine I never realized how things have become rituals. Like the post-bath sing-a-longs while getting into pajamas.

  41. I love this book so much. Just made a recipe from it this weekend. Every thing I’ve made from it so far has been a winner. And the stories are inspirational, too.

  42. How lovely! Thank you for this book recommendation.

    And now I’m yearning for my own post-dinner dance party!