Family Values: How to Find and Use Yours
You walk into a room full of strangers and you get a sense of what people value by what they wear, how they stand in the room, how and with whom they interact and the topics of their conversations. You sense their personal values. You are a guest at someone's home and you sense power, friendship, connection, independence, fun, and more. You sense family values.
Personal values develop unconsciously, through our parents and other influencers, and life experiences and it's good to discover them. (Read Why you need to know your Values and how to find them). With family values, my experience is that we need to consciously create them.
And the reason to clarify family values is this: Knowing your family values helps you take a stand and make parenting choices based on what you feel is righteous.
Here is a story about how family values started in my family.
When our son was a couple of months old, my husband and I started setting up a kids ISA. To decide how much we want to put aside monthly, we started to discuss what final amount we are aiming at in 18 years time. And there, it appeared that my husband and I have totally different visions for our son's future. I was convinced that this money will be spent on his education. My husband burst into a laugh, saying that we will have no control over that money and at the age of 18 he is more likely to spend it all on partying. We were stuck in our decision making. We started to discuss our vision for the future and a couple of weeks (and emotional discussions) later, we had our first version of the family vision and values. We are reviewing them every year or so to check we are still on course.
Here is what I learnt from the experience:
Family values are different from your personal values because they need to be a consensus between you and your partner. Family values are likely to reflect your personal values still. But through clarifying your family values, you learn what's important and what's not, you learn about each other's vision for the future and commit to a shared one. Articulating this sounds common sense but seldom done. Each of you might be surprised by the other's views but this is exactly the point - to agree now on the safe land before you are in the midst of fire-fighting. Question: Where do you see your family in 5 and 10 years time?
Knowing your family values helps you take a stand and make parenting choices based on what you feel is righteous. With values clarified, a decision about one or other parenting approach would feel right even if you change your mind later. If the decision resonated with your core values, you are unlikely to punish or second-question yourself later. When the values are not honoured, parents feel internal tension and dissonance. E.g. if trust/connection is your core value, leaving your baby to cry it out will likely feel wrong to you. Question: Pick one parenting choice that feels deeply right and another one that makes you squirm. What values are being honoured or betrayed?
Knowing your family values helps you set yourself back on course. For example, choosing the right school can become an overwhelming experience. Having a clear vision of the future and knowing what values you want to instil in your children will help you choose the right school. Question: what values you want to instil in your children?
People tend to judge their values. Don't be tempted to take others' values as your own. If you are presented with a list, we are tempted to go shopping for values that look good on your CV and remove the ones we originally wrote down. Or we hear people we value People experience more fulfilment when they stay true to their core beliefs. If you feel a value is not present enough, you can consciously work on introducing a specific action to honour a particular value. Question: What do you think are your family values (five-ten)? Then put them in the order of priority.
There should not be double standards - values should apply to parents and kids. It does not mean equality though. As parents, our role is to be a stronger carer creating a good growth environment for our kids. So if your value is around healthy eating - you as an adult decide what healthy eating means for you and your child at her age. But you being allowed a dessert and your kid not allowed one is a double standard. It goes hand in hand with modelling your values - below. Question: What double standards you might have in your household?
Live your values. As you might have already discovered for yourself, children do not do what we say, they do what we do. Modelling your family values is the best way to instil those values in your children. Talk about your family values with your kids, explain them how you apply family values. Notice how they show up. One of my coaching clients beautifully described here how she uses the values exercise in her life. Challenge: Will you commit to consciously applying your values for a week?
Have a go at the questions yourself and ask your partner to do the same and then discuss your results.
I want to finish with this quote by one family psychologist: "Better to make our methods by hand, rather than to apply ready-made ones."