Our Readers Share Family Rules and Traditions That Shaped Their Parenting

Updated: Nov. 10, 2022

Genes aren’t the only things we inherit. Readers share the family traits and traditions that made them the parents they are today.

We all had traditions growing up, whether intentional or not. And the habits and rules that were ingrained in us as kids undoubtedly shaped us into the people we are today. We asked our readers to share how their own parents influenced the way they now parent their kids. Their stories will warm your heart, and they may even make you laugh more than these relatable mom memes and dad jokes. If you’re searching for funny parenting stories, these will surely put a smile on your face.

Winning hearts

Both of my parents chose service professions (teaching and nursing) and spent nights and weekends volunteering. Both taught that a life dedicated to helping others is one full of purpose and meaning.

I am a physician and have worked with the homeless community for 11 years. I’m also a mom to two boys who ride dirt bikes. At their first race, my oldest went first and managed to catch a little air. My youngest surprised me even more. Every time a rider fell or crashed, he’d stop and wait until they got up. He lost the race but won at being a good human. Parenting isn’t easy, but it’ll surprise you. —Sara Doorley, Tijeras, New Mexico

Just fishin’

My dad was an avid fisherman and loved taking me with him. We’d wake up early and drive to his favorite fishing hole. We’d stop for breakfast, and he’d get steak and eggs. I’d be his helper, launching the boat and holding the line while he parked the car. Then we’d head out to catch “the big one.”

Now I take my granddaughter fishing. She has caught bullhead and bass—what excitement!—and can cast her own line. Nana hooks the worms.

The Trace Adkins song “Just Fishin’” goes, “She ain’t even thinkin’ ’bout what’s really goin’ on right now, but I guarantee this memory’s a big’in and she thinks we’re just fishin.’” Every time I hear it, I feel my dad’s love. I hope my granddaughter feels my love for her. —Barbara Fagenbaum, Penfield, New York

Banding together

I started band as a high-school freshman with my brother’s baritone horn. I didn’t have prior lessons, as my bandmates did, so it was much harder for me. When I told my mom I was quitting, she promptly told me I was not. In due time I absolutely loved band.

Years later, my daughter Sheena was in the band, using the same baritone. One day, she, too, said she was quitting, and I told her she was not. She kept at it and came to love it too.

Now Sheena is in her 30s and still tells me how glad she is I didn’t let her quit. Me too, Mom. Me too. —Janet Brandes, Collins, Wisconsin

Like a champ

I grew up a very athletic tomboy. My mother occasionally told me to let the boys win, because they wouldn’t like me if I always beat them, so I did. My daughter is also quite athletic and has never heard anything even slightly resembling those words. I tell her she’s as good as those boys and to do her best and win. And she has. She has grown up very confident and is even more broadly admired for her determination. What a difference a generation makes. —Klari Frederick, Linden, Michigan

Quote: What a difference a generation makes

Choose your battles

Many parents talk about video games being bad for kids, but I built an arcade machine with my son. I loved arcades as a kid, and my dad and I are software developers, so it’s a bit of a legacy. Plus, it’s a good lesson: If you want something, build it!

Of course, it’s also just something fun to do together. Many think video games are isolating, but arcade games invite others to gather and play. It’s a nifty bit of bonding when we help the other player get out of a corner the bad guys have backed them into. —Joe Hocking, Highland Park, Illinois

The whistle effect

My father’s whistle could be heard all over the neighborhood. My friends recognized it too. They would tell me, “Your dad is looking for you.” I never considered claiming I couldn’t hear it.

I eventually learned to whistle just as loud as he did and used it to bring my daughters home too. But now, grandkids are shepherded home via technology. I reserve the whistle for recitals, sports events, and awards ceremonies. I’m certainly not the only one who can shatter the air, but every time I hear a grand whistle, I smile and think of my dad: “There he is!” —Mary Jo Ingolia, Schaumburg, Illinois

Buckle up!

When I was growing up, many cars didn’t have seat belts. Nevertheless, my brother and I were told to buckle up on every drive—no exceptions to Dad’s rule.

Now that I have kids of my own, they also have to wear their seat belts on every trip. During my daughter’s driver’s education lesson, she hopped into the back seat and put her seat belt on when it was another student’s turn to drive. An oncoming vehicle hit them head-on. Everyone was seriously injured. A paramedic said the seat belt had broken my daughter’s sternum—but that if it hadn’t been there, she’d have gone through the windshield. My dad’s rule saved my daughter’s life. —Penny Males, Lucas, Texas

Snow time like the present

My kids have gotten to do some pretty outrageous things thanks to my mom. She always prioritized exposing me to new experiences. We visited Canada when I was 11. My heart was brimming with excitement when I saw my first snow. My grandmother suggested that it was too late and that I could play tomorrow. But my mom said, “No, I think I’ll let him play a little now.”

It was 70 degrees the next morning. No snow for the rest of our trip. I got to play in it because my mom didn’t want me to miss an opportunity. It’s a philosophy I’ve implemented in my own parenting. Just one exception for my dear daughter: No skydiving, please! —Jonathan Gewirtz, Monsey, New York

Following the clues

My mama took great joy in having fun with her kids. She loved to make up songs and poems for us. She had a Louisiana accent and amused us with expressions like “fiddlesticks” and “punkin'” and her pronunciation of Chicago (Chicargo).

Holidays were her chance to really get creative. One gift began with a clue. Upon finding that clue, we’d find another that would send us after another until we found the gift. The whole family would help search.

My children never met my mama, but her memory, humor, and gift-giving idea live on. One of my greatest joys has been witnessing my sons set up gift hunts for their own kids. —Cindy Stillings, Topeka, Kansas

Next, read up on these funny parenting tweets that perfectly nail what it’s like to be a parent.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest