The definition of family has evolved significantly over the years. There is no right or wrong, there is no “normal” or “typical”. Just family- your family!
No matter how family is defined or what person(s) make up a family, each family is uniquely shaped by its very own culture.
Culture is often thought of from societal points of view. Towns, cities and countries have their own cultures. Businesses and organizations create cultures (Google and Zappos are well known for their unique culture), but family?
A culture exists within any group no matter how large or small. It is often overlooked, it may go unnoticed or it perhaps simply goes unstated, but it’s there. It is made up of roles, rules, goals, strengths, beliefs, attitudes, practices, priorities, personalities, values, and traditions that have either naturally or intentionally become part of the group.
How do you define family? Who are the members of your family? What makes your family special? What is important to your family? What does your family believe in? What makes your family work? How does your family solve problems? How well do you know each family member, their beliefs, their values, and their desires?
How often do you actually take the time to think about these questions? Most of us run on auto-pilot simply getting through each day, passing each other along the way, checking off lists (and probably not even checking it twice!). You know the routine- up, dressed, breakfast, school, work, activities, dinner, homework, prepare for tomorrow, bed, only to do it all over again.
When we allow each day to run into the next, we tend to forget to stop, breathe, and take time for (and with) each other thus missing out on the magic of what it means to be family. A family is like a machine- each part needs to be cared for and attended to in order for all other parts to work the way they in which they are meant to. When all parts are in working order, the whole machine will operate at its fullest potential. When parts are neglected, the machine is then at risk for breaking down.
In order for your family to function at its best and to reap the benefits of being a family, it is important to identify and understand what you want your family to be about including goals, beliefs, values etc.. So what is important to you and to your family? Is it developing character, responsibility, independence, work ethic? Is it creating a love for learning, travel, volunteer work? Is family togetherness, laughter, empathy, respect, faith part of your culture?
Steven Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, encourages families to begin with the end in mind; to have a vision of what they want for their family and how to get there. And then, enjoying the journey savoring in the smallest of moments that you experience along the way can be priceless!
One very effective exercise is for families to create a Family Mission Statement. Businesses have them which helps keeps them on track and moving forward so why not families?
According to Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, “Good families, even great families, are off track 90% of the time. What makes them good is they have a clear destination in mind and they have a flight plan to get there. As a result, when they face the inevitable turbulence of human error, they keep coming back to their plan.”
Creating a Family Mission Statement (maybe you want to call it your family playbook , operating manual or road map instead) is interactive, fun and filled with discovery about one’s self, about one another and about family, including its culture. So often, we make decisions based upon our preconceived perceptions of what we have determined that others think only to discover that we are wrong. One mother I spoke with was shocked to find out that her children wanted more family time and less planned activities with friends. This information was a game changer! It resulted in the family feeling less stressed, enjoying more down time together as well as the kids (and for that matter the parents, too!) actually being more cooperative!
Unless we ask what is important to others, instead of assuming we already know (and we know what it means to assume), we miss out on gaining a deeper understanding of one another and the opportunity to create the family it can truly be.
Franklin Covey has created the below questions to get you started:
- We are at our best when……
- We are at our worst when…….
- What do we really love to do together?
- As a family, how can we better help each other?
- As a family, how can we contribute to others or how can we help people outside our family?
- Are there things we should be doing or changing as a family, even though we’ve dismissed such thoughts many times?
- What are these things?
- In 30 years, what do we want people to honestly say about our family?
- People view our family as______________
- If our home could be filled with one emotion, what would it be?
- What are the principles we want our family to operate on? (trust, service, honesty, kindness…)
You may want to consider the following questions-
- What words best describe our family
- What is most important to our family?
- What are our strengths as a family?
- How would others describe our family?
- What sayings best capture our family? Favorite quotes?
- What would we like to be different about our family?
- What is the best way to handle upsets, disagreements in our family?
- When there is a problem, how should it be solved?
- If the children do something that is not appropriate, how should that be handled?
- If the parents do something that is not appropriate, how should that be handled?
- If we change how we treat each other, what would that look like to us?
- Describe how you want your family to be or to act on a daily basis.
- Describe your best possible self.
Once you and your family have created your mission statement, post it, frame it and visit it often. If a family member or members act in ways that are in conflict with the agreed upon values and parts of your “machine” become stuck or break down, pausing and reflecting on the family mission statement will help put the pieces back together allowing for reconnection and forward movement.
Sharon Egan MS, CP is a parent coach and founder of Parenting for Happy Families, where she helps parents take the challenge out of raising independent, responsible children in order for families to grow and thrive together.