She has trouble falling asleep at night, so her mother sings to her. When the man in their life joins mom in singing, her young daughter smiles sheepishly. This is her favorite. She whispers, “It’s just like a family.”

A group of women from diverse backgrounds sitting at the dinner table every month — laughing, crying, challenging each other and affirming each other — absolutely love each other, gravitate to each other, crave being together. Just like a family.

A young boy who never had a place to call home, adopted by a traditional family with teenagers. He’s desperate for their love, support, care and yet, he rails against it almost daily. He fights, hits, reacts, yells. All they ever wanted to do was love him and so they do, every day — just like a family.

The commonality in these three scenarios (all, by the way, pages from my current family life) are support, encouragement, connection, and enrichment. Building traditions into your chosen family life creates space for all of that and more. A few traditions from my world:

  • Storytelling — Storytelling is a rich heritage passed down in my family.  Both of my grandfathers, several of my uncles and my father made stories up complete with details, plots, morals, and a few scary parts. My adult sons still talk about Pumpkin Head, a fictional character that lived in the hills next to our home, a figment of their Grandad’s imagination. Storytelling connects us heart to heart and gives us a platform for support and enrichment.
  • Declare your Confidence in Each Other — Cast vision for who the people in your chosen family are becoming. Make it clear that they have arrived at a new place of responsibility and you believe in them. On my son’s 13th birthday, we invited all the men in their lives to give a gift from their own career and attach a lesson to it. The community leader gave a book because leaders are readers. The mechanic gave tools and explained the right tool will make or break you. The executive gave playing cards with the note that all work and no play eventually renders you useless. Intentionality in the way you declare your confidence in each other can change everything.
  • Togetherness — Gathering around the table for dinner provides a consistent place of support, even if you do it once a week. Make it a practice to express gratitude when you sit down for dinner. Then cultivate conversation. My mom is the master of 20 questions. This is where the magic happens. Occasionally, we had “serve supper only night.” This meant that you could not ask for anything. No one could say, “Please pass the potatoes.” All you could do was offer to serve others. The hope was at some point someone would notice what you needed and offer to serve you. Make time for calm, casual conversation. Learn about each other. Share the best moment from your day. These are moments that make memories.

Introducing a few traditions, routines, or habits into your chosen family will shift your focus, make space for rich experience and communicate how much you value each other. Focusing our lives around experience rather than things creates more lasting happiness.

Go ahead and get started.