My wife and I sat at our kitchen table with Evernote open to a blank note.
“OK,” she said to me, “who are we?”
For several months we talked about creating a set of values for our family. This past year, I’ve been obsessed with company culture, corporate values, and how articulated missions, goals, and the cultural values of an organization impact how it operates. The more I learned about it, the more I realized I wanted to apply those principles to our family.
My wife eagerly agreed.
Guiding a family as parents isn’t easy. There are lots of big decisions that need to be made and, honestly, a lot of small ones that can be easily as impactful. After all, those small decisions add up when talking about forming your kids (and yourself).
A set of articulated, written down family values helps to guide those decisions. It is one thing to say, in passing, “Yeah, we want to be generous people,” and it is another thing to write it down and define what that means.
I think every family needs a set of family values, and I believe they need to be written down, displayed, discussed, and demonstrated. Like any goal, once it is out of sight, it is out of mind.
We talked about defining our family values for a few months, but it only took us a couple of weeks, individual and collective prayer, and a few intentional conversations to define them. Our family values are:
Our family is faithful. We trust that God provides for us and this gives us the courage to be bold in our lives and to be joyful because Christ has won the victory.
Our family is loving. We treat others with kindness, practice radical hospitality both inside and outside of our home, and seek reconciliation with each other when it is needed.
Our family is grateful. Every gift we receive is from God and we’re always mindful of the ways others have blessed us.
Our family is generous. We are good stewards of our finances and work hard so that we have the ability to bless others.
Our family is honest. We speak the truth even when it is difficult, communicate with each other openly and give and receive communication with love.
Making Your Own Family Values
Here is how we came up with them and how you can do the same thing:
First, spend some time praying as a couple about your family identity. If your kids are old enough, you can and should involve them, too. Pray about who you want your family to be, how you want others to see your family, and who you feel God is calling your family to be. Those three things should line up. If they don’t, look for the points of incongruence and work through them.
Next, write down a list of words you want to define your family. Some of these will become family values, some will get worked into other values, and some may be dropped altogether.
Then look for words that match. Our five big family values are “faith,” “love,” “gratitude,” “generosity,” and “honesty.” We listed a lot of other words, though — like hospitality, stewardship, courageous, truthful, communication, joyful, kind, and reconciliation. We worked those words into other values and highlighted them.
Limit your values to between three and seven. If you have less than three, you are going to leave too much ambiguity when some big decisions come up. If you have more than seven, it is going to be too difficult to remember and you likely could be more concise. We found five to be a great number for us. Find your number and start coupling value words together and dropping some other ones.
Recognize that is OK if your family decides it doesn’t value something. That doesn’t make you a bad family or person. Every family has a different set of gifts and a different calling. One family may have a call toward radical hospitality to the poor, and another may be called to a different kind of service. If your values aren’t authentic to your family, you will give up on them. At the same time, you want to challenge your family to be the best it can be; don’t “aim low” on your values.
Once you have your three to seven values, put them into statements that begin with “Our family is…” or “We are…” Those statements are easy to remember (and easy to teach to young children) and change your values into active statements. One of our values is “generosity,” but the active value is “Our family is generous.” These statements hold us accountable. When someone needs something from us, but we are looking at a tight budget, we step back and say, “But our family is generous,” and we know what decision we need to make. We opt for generosity.
After those statements are set, spend some time defining them. Even with a clear statement, there can still be room for ambiguity. This is where you work in some of the value words that you pared up but didn’t choose as your “big values.” Our family put “radical hospitality” in with our value of love. Create longer statements to follow your “Our family is…” statement. This helps everyone in your home understand what the value means. If we fail to define a value well, we risk it developing a different meaning to different people.
Once you have your statements set, let them sit a couple of days and revisit them. Pray over them and tweak them as necessary. Don’t rush it, but don’t sit on them forever. Family values are only useful if you implement them. Give your family three weeks to modify and set the family values.
Then, write them down, display them in your house, and get to work teaching the values to everyone in your family. Displaying the values helps keep everyone mindful of who the family is striving to be and also lets guests to your home know what you stand for and the values they will experience inside your home. It also keeps you accountable — if one of your values is “hospitality,” you will go the extra mile to help a guest feel welcome in your home or risk looking like a hypocrite.
If you can get a designer to lay these out for you and print them, it is well worth it. Remember, these are values that are set for your family for a long time. Invest the money to get them designed well. We got ours designed by Ali Hoffman, who does some amazing hand lettering and is someone you need to follow on Instagram (@theoodlesofdoodles) if you don’t already.
Your family values give your family an identity and a context when big decisions need to be made. This isn’t just a “fun thing” to do — but a critical part of providing unity, clarity, and direction for the most important people in your life.
Tell me: What are your family values for 2019?