Rituals and Appreciative Inquiry


During my coaching training, my peers noticed that I had a knack for helping parents create rituals. Indeed, I love rituals both small and large, so it’s not surprising that I brought that aspect to my parent coaching. On the big side, my daughter will be having a Bat Mitzvah when she turns 13.  On the small side, we bring a bag of gummy bears on every airline trip we take. There is a sweet anticipation as the bag is opened and the gummies doled out.

From my own childhood my sisters and I relish those rituals that we thought were silly at the time—the yearly photo at the bus stop, watching The Love Boat every Saturday night without fail, going out for ice cream on report card day.

And finally, I use ritual to mark important occasions in my own life. For instance, I remember having a couple of girl friends over for a letting go ritual after a break up with a boyfriend.

Rituals are wonderfully fun to examine and create. And research over the past 50 years demonstrates that rituals develop healthy family relationships.

They fit very well with appreciative inquiry, the framework used in the PCI parent coaching process. Here’s how:

Discovery: During the discovery phase, I help parents explore the small little family rituals they already have. Sometimes, we don’t realize and honor the things we are already doing that makes life special and that draws family together. Our family rituals can tell us a lot about what we value. For example, each summer we take a short trip to the coast of Washington. This embraces our value of being outdoors, our love of play and collecting things like rocks and shells. But it is also a place my husband felt very safe as a child and served as a refuge from a turbulent family life. Our going to the beach each year reminds us how safe and happy of a family we have built. Our little group hug at night (though taking barely more than a minute) reminds us the same thing and highlights the tight family bond we share. Through asking questions and being curious, I can help a parent find the things that they are already doing that binds their family together.

Dream: As my clients create their dream, I listen carefully as to how the dream may relate to a ritual and the ritual to a feeling. For instance, if a parent wants a smoother morning routine, perhaps that includes time to peacefully drink a cup of coffee. By highlighting the desire as a ritual gives it further shape and importance.

Design: Now the fun begins!  As a parent takes small steps to get close to the dream, I can help them think about rituals they have in their life or that they want to create. Are there some to let go of that aren’t serving a purpose anymore, some to tweak a bit, or new rituals to create?

The mom who wants a morning cup of coffee, may get a new mug to celebrate the new ritual she is creating. She may wake up at a certain time or sit in a certain seat. She may declare, “This is mommy’s ten minute coffee break time” and put a timer on to define it. We may create an easy list of fun low-cost activities that the kids can do by themselves during the coffee break ritual or maybe she writes a to-do list ahead of time so that she is not distracted by all the things she “should” be doing.

Rituals fit in very well with my specialty in working with a parent who has recently gone through a divorce. Obviously, a divorce brings up a disruption in rituals, but also allows for a chance to consciously decide which rituals will enrich your life. Perhaps a holiday such as Thanksgiving will look or feel very different after a divorce, but a parent may decide to keep the ritual of each family member saying what they are thankful for.

I helped a client figure out a small ritual to do for herself to prepare for the transition from not having her children at home to their boisterous arrival. Even though this was a joyous time for her, it was also a distinct change in pace and we wanted to come up with a way to honor that. She decided to enjoy a few minutes by herself with a candle taking in the quiet and relishing it. In another case, a divorced parent’s kids would arrive home and rush off to play. This left the parent feeling hurt and unvalued. Together we came up with several rituals to both honor the familiar neighborhood and the parent relationship. The parent decided to create the ritual of pizza-making/movie Fridays with neighbors as a fun celebratory way to usher in the transition.

Destiny: The destiny phase is of course a chance to review what rituals to keep and explore how they may change and bend with time. It is also a great time to celebrate the fun and bonding that rituals give to a family.

As you may be able to tell, none of these rituals are huge changes. They are small little conscious ways to create the family life a parent wants.

For more on rituals, read this great book, Rituals for our Times: Celebrating, Healing and Changing our Lives and our Relationships by Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts or call Peggy Rubens-Ellis at 206-335-9051/m.rubens@comcast.net.

Copyright Peggy Rubens-Ellis, 2016. Used with permission.

peggys-photo-smallPeggy Rubens-Ellis is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and a School Counselor. Her mission statement is: Positive strength-based programming and coaching for educators, parents, and youth all with the same common goal of helping children and teens lead authentic and fulfilling lives.  Peggy has two specialties, coaching a parent after a divorce and coaching a parent who has a child with friendship challenges. Learn more here:  www.positiveparentingcoach.com

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I found the PCI course to be well researched and put together. I learned so much through the course, the reading materials and the interactions that I had with PCI instructors. It has been an incredibly enriching experience completing this course.
Laura MarkowitzCape Town, South Africa

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