Family Ritual and Bonding


Spending time together as a family is important, not just as a nuclear unit but also with the extended family. ABDUL MUTALIF HASHIM shares why he makes time for this with his family.

Come rain or shine, my wife and I never fail to bring my four daughters with us to visit their grandparents every Saturday. Whether we spend the better part of the day with them, or just a short visit, this is a family activity that we have stayed true to for more than twenty years, ever since the birth of my twin daughters in 1985.

Visiting our parents has been something that my wife and I have been doing ever since we got married. This may seem like a natural obligation to many couples who do not stay with their parents but for us, it is more than that. These visits are a joy and a break from the day-to-day routine; it is something that we look forward to from the bottom of our hearts. Even if I have to work on Saturdays, or attend work-related events, I will still make time to bring my daughters to visit their grandparents.

It is a pity to know that some only reserve visits to extended family for special or festive occasions. Grandparents, with their rich experience, have many stories for us to learn from. Other than learning more about themselves and their family, my daughters can also pick up valuable tips and folk wisdom from their elders. Amongst some of the gems are their knowledge of certain natural remedies, treatments and practices – something that cannot simply be found over Internet even in this day and age. These visits and the time shared also ensure my daughters’ awareness of the family lineage, continuity, and traditions.

Strengthening of intergenerational ties

Aside from knowledge and better understanding of heritage, I want my daughters to build a sense of familiarity and develop that connection with their grandparents. It is pleasing to know that they have built a good relationship. In fact it is so good that at time, I wonder if they are fonder of their grandparents than of my wife and I, as they are more likely to receive strict discipline from us than them.

Such visits also remind them that they are part of something bigger; that they belong to a family larger than just the members of their household. This is as often, we are not the only ones visiting their grandparents. Hence these visits also create the opportunities for my daughters to bond with their aunts, uncles and cousins who are present. A ‘must-do’ activity during each of these visits would be a sit-down dinner with all the members of the extended family.

It is unfortunate that such strong three-generational bonds among family members are slowly becoming a rarity, especially when children are more familiar with their friends than with their own grandparents nowadays. The three-generational bonding plays a huge part in building the resilience of a family and in times of adversity, unity will be the greatest weapon to help us tide over. It is our sincere hope that this will be passed on to the next generation, and we can look forward to welcoming our grandchildren into our home when our daughters have set up families of their own.

It starts with the little things

In the Malay culture, the connection between the young and old can be demonstrated even in a basic cultural gesture practiced by most: the kissing of hand. It is done as a greeting and a sign of respect; the younger ones would often kiss the hand of their elders upon meeting them and when saying goodbye. We practice this daily in our household. Not only does this practice involve physical touch, which is essential in family interactions and bonding, it is also symbolic. It accompanies another cultural practice carried out during Eid celebration the asking and granting of forgiveness from family members and friends.

Carrying out this gesture daily reaffirms our love for each other and forgiveness of the day’s transgressions. The importance we place on forgiveness translates into another house-rule we have set – to never yell or shout at one another, no matter how angry one might be. This is not a rule just for my daughters, it’s for everyone in the family. Instead of saying hurtful things in a moment of anger, we make it a point to talk things out calmly and make peace thereafter.

Of course, family rituals are not complete without setting aside time for family. We do try to sit down together as a family every day for dinner, though it is not always possible amid our busy schedules. Nevertheless, we will usually make up for whatever time we miss out on at dinner when we watch television programmes together. My wife and I share an interest in reality singing competitions like American Idol and The X-Factor with our daughters. Such rituals act as a bridge between the generations and allow us to understand more about the children’s likes. It also regularly engages us in quality conversations.

Family rituals go a long way in setting the right tone for the family. However small, the gestures all relay or impart certain family values such as one’s commitment to the family, and add up to form strong family ties. By family, I do not just mean those members living under the same roof, but our extended family as well. Every family has its own practices; mine has served us well, contributing much to the close camaraderie and the merriness in our home today.


–        Mr Abdul Mutalif Hashim, President of Just Parenting Association and ADAM Association and Representative from Dads for Life, a workgroup under National Family Council