We all have individual moments where we snap out of routine and suddenly realize we are not where we want to be and we adjust. With our family life, if we are not intentional, we risk bending to the whim of social trends rather than moving from a desired vision. Information-age parenting is overwhelming; there is no shortage of books, blogs, and classes to consult as well as the casual advice by way of family members and friends. Much of it is helpful. A lot is contradictory or impractical to the specific family circumstances. Yet we read on because we know life’s small details add up to a very important whole, as they are expressions of the values and priorities we communicate to our children.
How do we tune in through the static and know we are making decisions proactively and authentically? One possible tool is to create a family mission statement. Crafting a statement of intentionality around the most important events and relationships in our lives leaves us less vulnerable to others filling the page for us. Stephen Covey writes “A family mission statement is a combined, unified, expression from all family members of what your family is all about – what it is you really want to do and be – and principles you choose to govern your family life.”
In many ways, the process of creating a mission statement is more important than the product. The family conversations about values and principles are enlightening and really can range as far and wide as serves the individual family, from “What kinds of things do we want to do?” to “What do we want to be remembered by?” or “Try to discern a list of core values, those central principles that honestly resonate and guide your decision-making.” Elementary children are introduced to a deliberate exploration of the different values in the classroom and so a meaningful connection to discuss these at home. It’s great to write a few notes that can be revisited from time to time or posted somewhere in the house. It might even be fun to make a family motto.
Ideally, it will be a platform, a rubric used for identifying which puzzle pieces do and do not fit with the family’s mission. When we are feeling frustrated, returning to this statement may offer some insight as to why and should offer a fairly clear action item. If adventuring in the outdoors is part of the mission statement but all of the weekends seem to be consumed with commitments, then the next step is to begin blocking out days proactively. If service is a core family value, what can be planned in the next few months? If our mission is to be patient and kind to one another, we can practice new ways of speaking (and be patient with one another as these skills develop).
The end result of a family mission statement is that everyone’s enjoyment of daily life improves. Members feel that their dreams and desires are a part of the family fabric. We feel strong in our family choices, priorities, and the ability to set aside information or advice that doesn’t honor the mission. Our children benefit doubly as their voice is a part of the family mission, and they also learn to ask meaningful questions of themselves and use this self-knowledge as they become more independent from the family. By being intentional, we shield ourselves from the urge to compare our lives or our children’s paths to others’, and instead feel a sense of security, value, and appreciation for the wonderful path that is our own.
Dawn Cowan, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School