Thursday, September 26, 2013

Where We're Going and How We'll Get There

One of the suggestions in Bruce Feiler's The Secrets of Happy Families is to develop a family mission statement and core values. The purpose of the process is to "force everyone to sit down, talk about what they believe in, and articulate a common vision." Working together to identify their primary goal and values has a unifying effective on any group, including a family.

We'd actually already done something very similar to this before I read the book, and it's always nice to read an expert telling you to do something you've already done. Makes me feel like I'm doing something right...

Back when Will was in kindergarten we developed a set of five (at the time) family rules to help him figure out what behavior was acceptable at home and at school.  Will, who was five, and Josh, who was only two, were an integral part of the process and came up with some great ideas.  The only structure we parents imposed was that the rules had to be positive statements.  I didn't want a list of what we wouldn't do or allow; I wanted statements of who we wanted to be.  We've tweaked them a little over the past six years, and here's the current iteration:

1) Show respect for others.
2) Speak kindly.
3) Everybody helps.
4) Gentle hands.
5) Take care of our things.
6) Listen the first time.

We started reciting these rules together as a family every night at bedtime to reinforce the kind of behavior we wanted to see from our kids - and ourselves.  It became easier when something happened to just say, "What's rule number 2?" or "Remember rule number 3 - everybody helps," or "Is tearing that book in half really taking care of our things?" No longer was there a need to launch into a long-winded and ineffective lecture. The kids had better, positive guidelines that they were invested in because they helped create them. Remarkably, we have yet to run across a situation not covered by at least one of those six rules.

Eventually, though, we decided as a family that we needed more focus. We needed a single statement that could act as a mantra to remind us to treat others kindly. So we settled on the Golden Rule as our new family motto:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

We added that to our bedtime routine and it seemed to provide some of the context for our family rules. It was a reminder that the way we treat others doesn't depend on how they treat us, and that our actions can have a positive effect on those around us.

And that was working pretty well, but it still seemed to me that there was something missing.

So for Family Home Evening one night we talked about goals. New Years' goals, personal goals, family goals, goals for work or for school, just all kinds of goals. We decided after a great family discussion that our ultimate goal as a family is:

to return to our Heavenly Parents and live together forever

When you get right down to it, that's the whole reason behind our family motto and our family rules. We want to make good choices and become better people. We want to have good relationships with each other so that being together forever sounds like fun instead of punishment!

The six rules have been hanging on an increasingly tattered piece of paper on our refrigerator since we developed them, and we'd never come up with a visual reminder of the family motto and family goal, so I finally decided this week to make them a more permanent display.

(Please ignore the detritus that has accumulated above and below.) 

This wall-mounted, mirrored coat rack was a wedding present and hangs right by our front door. I like the idea that every time anyone leaves our home, there is a obvious visual reminder of our family rules, motto, and goal. It puts where we're going and how we're going to get there front and center, spelled out for everyone to see. Of course, we don't always measure up, but we're trying and we, both individually and as a family, are better for the efforts.

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