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Strengthening Family Bonds by Aligning Core Values

Looking back across time, in the decades and centuries that have come before us, we realize that families have always strived to function as a unit according to core values, spoken and unspoken.

There were rules and expectations for parents and children alike. There was a cohesiveness within social norms and family life that helped set those standards. Life, it seems, was slower, easier to understand and navigate. That was then.

And this is now: In our digital nano-second, twenty-first century world, families are confronted with myriad lifestyle choices, bombarded by mass media messaging, and exposed to the troubles of a global world. Combined with radically different demands at work, school, and in relationships, families are struggling to establish a sense of unity, to identify themselves and their place in the world. Defining and aligning core values as a family is one way to promote harmony and stability, which bolsters the family, individually and collectively.

What are Family Core Values and Why Define Them?

Values…you may hear this word used at work, in a spiritual or religious context, and in other types of organizations. Simply stated, a value confers the degree to which something is of importance to an individual, a group, or an organization and which actions help live out that belief. Defining core values as a family inspires action, guides decision making, strengthens communication, and builds trust for the family unit and its individual members. Core values set the stage for how to respect and be respected and can be a source for the grit necessary to persevere through challenges.

Children are keen observers of adult behavior, especially their parents. In some cultures, children will question if the “things you’ve been teaching them” align with the behavior and words used by the adults in their lives. If you profess “family time is my top priority,” but you always miss family plans for career obligations, then your value – family time- is not aligned with your actions. Children see that hypocrisy and respond accordingly. Usually, this creates discord–arguments and hard feelings–between family members. In other circumstances, you may very well align your values and actions, but a child rebels against those values. In other cultures, values may play a more dominant role and questioning and rebelling against them is not acceptable. They may do so at a later time, or not at all–carrying those values with them into the next generation.

Even as there are cultural differences in family values, and different values held among families in the same culture, research indicates that families who align their actions and behaviors with their values are more resilient and experience greater harmony at home.

Benefits of Aligning Family Core Values

When you sit down together as a family to discuss your values, you are creating a road map that will guide and support the family for the present moment, and as you grow and change together. Consider these benefits of aligning family core values:

  • Providing family members with a way to view the world and situations they encounter.
  • Helping to establish emotional and behavioral expectations and accountability for each other. “This is what matters most to all of us. This is what we will fall back on when confronted with tough decisions, uncertainty, and so forth.”
  • Providing a family identity and helping each member shape their own identity in a positive, self-affirming way.
  • Strengthening family ties through guidance, affection, and support. By bolstering esteem within and between family members, family values serve as a source that family members can draw upon to make decisions and can protect children from decision making that could be hurtful, physically or psychologically.
  • Kids arguing? Parents not seeing eye-to-eye? Trouble with a personal decision that has implications for family life? Refer to your family values so that you can be proactive and responsive, instead of reactive and distressed when faced with difficult situations.

Examples of Family Core Values

Below is a short list of the types of core values that your family can consider and define for themselves. Before choosing, really think about the meanings of each word and then what the word means to your family members.

  • Acceptance
  • Awareness
  • Balance
  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • Community
  • Creativity
  • Discipline
  • Empathy
  • Freedom
  • Gratitude
  • Humility
  • Leadership
  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Peace
  • Service
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Togetherness
  • Trust

Tips for a Successful Family Meeting

We’ve talked about the importance and benefits of establishing a family’s core identity and values, but how do you actually go about it? It starts with desire and communication.

The following are basic steps for starting the family values conversation. One important consideration: Timing of the meeting. It will be easier to get everyone involved if you announce the meeting in advance and at a time when there is low demand on everyone’s energy, such as during a school vacation week, or a Sunday evening after dinner, or around a holiday. Also, don’t try to come up with core values in one sitting, allow for at least two meetings.

  1. Call a Family Meeting. Make sure everyone has a seat at the table, even the “new talkers” in the family. Everyone should have some paper and pencil and can record things based on questions such as:
    – What values did we grow up with (adults)?
    – What do we admire and respect about other families we know?
    – What do we enjoy doing together? How do we spend time on our own?
    – What do we admire about each other? What drives us nuts about each other?
    – What place does religion/spirituality have in our lives?
    – What does each family member see as their own strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Make a values word bank. When you feel your discussion(s) are complete, use a word bank of “values terms” to conceptualize the ideas and preferences that you identified in your conversations. Here’s an example:
    – Togetherness
    – Selflessness
    – Courage
    – Creativity
    – Honesty
    – Open Communication
    – Trust
    – Having Fun Together
  3. Keep it simple. There’s no limit to the values you can identify as important to your family. However, keeping it simple, keeps it more meaningful to each family member. One tip is to limit the number of values to the number of family members, and to agree on the values chosen.
    Example: In a family of 4, the four key values were Honest Communication, Respect, Responsibility, and Cooperation.
  4. Arrange the values into a Family Values Statement. Using the example from above, the family wrote:
    “We show RESPECT for self and each other, our feelings and belongings. We COMMUNICATE thoughts and feelings honestly, calmly and kindly. We COOPERATE with other family members by helping out so everyone feels good instead of stressed. We are RESPONSIBLE for our own things and activities at home, at school, and in sport.”

Once you have created your Family Values Statement, it is time to make it part of your day to day life. It will take time to change behavior and you may want to consider working with a professional. The process you go through may look different and may take more than a few attempts to get everyone on board (especially teenagers).

 

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