"Parents must decide what quality of family life they will have and then use the necessary discipline to accomplish this. Otherwise life will push the family in diverse directions...Those parents who have carefully examined their values and their view of life are going to be those whose influence on their children is most consistent. Why? Because what they believe is important to them...Our priorities are determined by our values." - Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child's Heart.
You don't get a second chance at raising your children. Brainstorm what you ideally want for your family life, write it down, and then be disciplined enough to implement it. Build the various aspects of your ideal family culture into your routine and they will come naturally. It may help to think about your ideal family culture in terms of these four broad categories:
1. Family Statement of Values
Having a statement of values gives your family a clearly elaborated purpose - what are your ideals and where are you going together? What are your shared goals? Most of us have a general idea about this, but I find it incredibly healpful to really think about it in detail and then write it down. Take a good long time to mull this one over with your partner and children (if they are old enough to contribute).
Once you decide on what is most important for your family, the next step is to write those principles down and finally, to incorporate them into your life to whatever extent possible. Your family state of values should become something that you not only think about often, but build into your daily routine so that it becomes second nature.
2. Daily Habits and Rituals
These could include things such as making time to read to your children every day. Honey For a Child's Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life, is a fabulous book about the value of reading to children and contains an extensive bibliography for all ages. It's author, Gladys Hunt, remarks that reading brings out the good:
"The savoring of life is no small thing. The element of wonder is almost lost today with the onslaught of the media and gadgets of our noisy world. To let a child loose it is to make him blind and deaf to the best of life."
Having family meals together once a day or at least a few days per week could also be important to you since (electronics free) shared meals offer a valuable chance for face to face interaction and conversation. Mealtimes could also include a Stoic daily review (reflecting on what you did well or poorly that day and how you could improve in the future), Bible study, or whatever shared family activity is most important to you.
3. Shared Norms
“For only in this way will philosophy be of profit to anyone, if to sound teaching he adds conduct in harmony with it.” – Musonis Rufus
Norms could have to do with eating a health promoting diet yourself and teaching your children that eating is primarily about nourishing the body rather than enjoyment. You only get one body, and it’s important to keep it in good health.
Another norm could be unwillingness to shout at each other, thus modeling self-restraint. Parents could wait until children are calm to offer correction or help navigating strong emotional reactions, or suggest taking some deep breaths until the child is able to discuss the situation calmly.
Kindness could be one of your family values which you then put into practice by helping each other, picking out clothes or toys to donate to charity, or saving money to give to a good cause.
4. Family Traditions
Traditions differ from daily habits and rituals in that they happen weekly, seasonally, or annually. Like positive daily habits and rituals, traditions enhance the bond you share together and help you to make great memories together. Traditions also add to the cyclical and seasonal nature of life and offer a feeling of security.
You should select traditions that uphold the specific values that you are important to you, using traditions as a way to teach something specific or celebrate in ways that your family find's meaningful. Traditions could be based on your cultural heritage, religion, or philosophical beliefs. Traditions shouldn't be pointless or stressful.
The Art of Manliness blog has an extensive list of family tradition ideas if you need help thinking up creative ones.
I hope that this post has inspired you to create a more intentional and ideal culture for your family. Please feel free to comment and tell me what you are doing to create a great culture in your house!
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