A Great Family does not come about by luck or by circumstance. It comes about due to intentional action, discipline and focus. Most people just meander their way through life. Some are more successful than others, but most move from one short term action to another. In business, companies that meander often don’t last long. They lose focus and are overtaken by competitors. Families can be the same way. While families generally don’t just fall apart and close up shop as businesses do (well, hopefully not), they can lose focus and underperform their full potential.
So how does a family maintain focus? Enter the family mission statement. The family mission statement contains the ideals that your family seeks to live by and acts as a guidepost for what you want your family to become. Families, like individuals or any other entity, can lose track of the long term goal due to the minutia of everyday life. A family mission statement, one that is revisited and discussed regularly, keeps a family on track. It is not a map that sets out a route from A to B; rather, it acts as a compass that points the family in the direction it wants to go.
Our family mission statement was put in place shortly after the birth of our second child. We spent several family meetings discussing our long term goals and our vision of an ideal life. We worked to determine our core values. Starting from scratch can be intimidating, because there are so many core values worthy of being included. In the end, the biggest challenge was keeping it short and succinct. We ultimately decided on the following:
“We will live a simple, healthy, and balanced life, express gratefulness for our blessings, give generously to those in need, be life-long learners and curious about the world, speak kindly, build lasting foundations, and work to the best of our abilities. We will honor the past, plan for the future, and live joyfully in the present. Above all else, we will always strive to better ourselves and those around us.”
Is it perfect? Probably not, but that’s okay. It hits the big points about how we want to live our lives and how we want to raise our children.
First, why bother with a family mission statement? After all, there’s nothing as natural as a family. Being a family is in our genes as human beings and has been for millions of years. Keep in mind; we want to build a Great Family, not just an average family. Average is easy, and we must strive to be above average.
Most organizations have a mission statement, be it a company, non-profit, or even a government agency. These organizations use it to help focus their culture and articulate the values and ideals that matter to them. This is far more important for families than other organizations. We’re not just trying to provide a service or create a better widget; we’re raising children and trying to ensure that all of our family members are the best people that they can be. Focusing the culture and articulating the values and ideals is more impactful for a family.
Our goal as parents is to build a positive culture where all members can thrive and continually better themselves. The worst case is that something goes dramatically wrong in your family before you decide on what your family values even are. It’s best to discuss and decide those ideals first and help to prevent those negative incidents as much as possible.
A family mission statement also helps to bind parents, children, and future generations together and provides the context for actions that family members take. After all, attitude is everything, and that goes double for building a Great Family. A family mission statement makes your family unique (both in the fact that your own mission statement is unique and in the fact that most families don’t even bother to create one) and makes kids and parents alike feel like they’re part of something special. Hopefully, it will encourage family members to want to live up to these stated ideals. Further, the family mission statement provides accountability and transparency. Everyone is aware of what the families ideals are and can help each other to live up to them or get them back on track when they don’t.
How to Start
So you agree that a family mission statement would be valuable and want to make one for your family. How do you start? The most important thing is that the process itself is highly impactful. Make sure everyone is on board and involved, otherwise they may not feel a sense of ownership to the end result. Ensuring that everyone has a sense of ownership will make it more likely that all members of the family take the mission statement seriously and try to live up to its ideals.
The first step is to start with a family meeting. You’ve begun to have those on a regular basis, right? Make this meeting a special one. This one is a big deal. These are the principles that you are going to base your life around and want your kids and their kids and their kids’ kids to emulate. Go somewhere special (although make it somewhere quiet where you can converse!), order a special dinner or a treat, or do it on vacation when you have a free evening. Make it a big deal for you, your spouse, and the kids.
Begin by having conversations about what you feel your personal values are and how they might fit into a family context. Someone needs to step up and be the person to guide the conversation. Be that person; just make sure that you do not end up dominating it. Get everyone’s input. Use the concept of a servant leader as a guide: focus the conversation where necessary, but delegate input and responsibility as broadly as possible.
Don’t plan on writing your complete family mission statement in one sitting. The process itself will take several weeks if not longer. Plant the seed and get everyone thinking about what their values are now and what they want their values to be going forward. Remind them occasionally over the coming weeks to think about these things in their daily lives. Events may trigger something that they had not thought of previously.
Get input from everyone and use examples to guide the process. There are many character building books for kids that use short stories to illustrate positive ideals. Use these if you think it will help bring focus for the kids. Ask questions and try to expand ideas that are brought to the table. Good examples include:
- What’s the point of our family?
- How do we want to treat each other and those around us?
- What does our ideal life look like?
- What principles do we want to teach our children and grandchildren?
- What kind of a home would you be comfortable inviting friends and extended family into?
- How do we support each other and help each other build their individual ideal life?
- If we had complete freedom (of time, finances, commitments, etc.), what would we do each day and how would we spend our time?
- Who out there already inspires us and why? What traits do we admire in that person?
- What would people say now about our family and what would we want them to say about our family?
- Where do we want our family to be in five, ten, and twenty years: financially, spiritually, intellectually, in relation to each other and those around us?
Once you’ve discussed these questions, try to determine your 6-10 core values that you either have and want to improve, or that you want to have and need to develop. Start putting together a few sentences around these core values. You don’t need nice flowery language, but you do want it to be something that you’re all proud of. Don’t be afraid to Google the core values and feel free to steal someone else’s flowery sentence if you want. This is for your family and no one else, so plagiarism be damned!
While you are in the process of writing, don’t plan on sharing your mission statement publicly with the world. You’re not trying to make something to impress others. Instead, write something that will impress upon each other the ideals that you wish to live by. Your family mission statement does not have to be perfect for everyone. In fact, it likely never will be. However, everyone in the family has to agree that it summarizes and articulates the values that your family holds. The family mission statement is a lot like the U.S. Constitution. Most of it was written early on, but we always have the ability to amend and change it through time. It should be with your family for generations, and it would be unreasonable to assume it will stay constant.
What to Do with It When It’s Done
Once the family mission statement is created, treat it as a special document. It is! Send it to an artist on Etsy to put on a big canvas and hang it prominently in your house. Go on to one of the photo websites like Shutterfly and get it made into refrigerator magnets. Print it out on a business card and put it in your wallet so you see it regularly. Make sure everyone knows that this is an important document. Display it as such.
In the normal course of daily life, refer to the mission statement often. For example, we like to discuss one part of our mission statement at each family meeting. Use it as a teaching tool, both for yourself and your spouse, as well as the children. Additionally, it can be a very important accountability tool. On occasion, discuss whether or not you are living up to those ideals you put forth for yourselves. All families go astray occasionally. After all, people rarely get from A to B in a straight line. Just don’t let yourself get too far away from where you want to be.
Finally, and most importantly, use it to help resolve conflict in the family. When conflict arises, reference the family mission statement for the conflicting parties and ask them if they think they are living up to the family ideals. You don’t need to assign blame; the act of pointing out the mission statement will often be enough. Beyond typical family fighting, it can also resolve conflicts in time management. Say you have two competing events that different members of the family want to go to, but only one can be attended. Use the family mission statement as part of the discussion to decide which event to attend. Does one better align with the family values? Would going to one versus the other better support the family? Since you’ve all agreed to the family values up front, accepting the outcome will be easier for all parties when the decision is put into the context of your family mission statement.
Attitude and Intention Build a Great Family
Great Families are not built by accident. They are built by the intentional actions of the family members. As in most cases, the process begins because a few individuals made a decision and stuck to it doggedly through time. Be that person to decide to build a Great Family, and stick with your decision. Creating a family mission statement with everyone involved will be a strong first step in that process. It’s a fun but challenging activity that helps focus the family on its core values and helps to make your family unique.
Keep building my friends.