Family Rituals, Rules and Myths

Influences that shaped your life

By Arlene Harder, MA, MFT and John Fabian, Ph.D.


“Like all cultures, one of the family’s first jobs is to persuade its members they’re special, more wonderful than the neighboring barbarians. The persuasion consists of stories showing family members demonstrating admirable traits. Attention to the stories’ actual truth is never the family’s most compelling consideration. Encouraging belief is. The family’s survival depends on the shared sensibility of its members.””
— Elizabeth Stone, Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins

Topic Stimulators


  • What is the earliest ritual you remember, for example getting money from the tooth fairy?
  • In what way have you continued that ritual with your own family today, or in what way has it changed?
  • What particular ritual did your family have that made you feel you were part of a family and belonged with the people who loved you?


  • When you reflect on the many rules in your family, which ones do you still follow today?
  • Of the rules that your parents insisted you follow, what ones have you discarded because they no longer work for you?
  • In what way were the rules under which your family operated consistent with what they said their values were, and what rules were not?


  • When your family got together at reunions and special events, what stories seemed to express some basic character trait about the people with whom you are related—stories that seemed to define who you all were, either positive or negative?
  • In what way have these frequently-told stories evolved over the years so that you now feel positive, or disappointed, that you belong to this group of people?