Creating a Values-Based Family Culture

BY  Patricia  Frazier

Chances are, if you are reading this magazine, you already live a values-based life. By that I mean you have defined your most important values and you are actively engaged in honoring them in your daily life. If that describes you, this article will serve to strengthen your resolve and leave you feeling proud of the work you’ve done so far to live a values-based life. If you are someone who hasn’t thought much about your values, you are likely to find rich discoveries about yourself and your family. Wherever you are on the range, I suggest keeping a blank piece of paper and some colorful markers within reach as you explore values.

When most of us think about values, we think of some of the biggies: respect, honesty and kindness. These are a terrific start. With further reflection, you can uncover values that might have names like “diver girl” or “Sesame Street.” The truth is, whether we have deeply explored values or not, we are acting them out with every breath we take.

A solid foundation starts with the individual self. A values-based culture is made of its parts. First we must ask ourselves: Do I (the mother or father) have clear values? What are they? Instead of asking yourself if honesty, nurturing, or love are core values for you, pay attention to how you spend your day. What’s the first thing you do in the morning, what’s the last thing you do at night? If in both cases, it’s caring for your little one, care for others might be what you call this value. Choose a name that works for you; maybe it’s extension instead. Or perhaps you’re a mother with an opening ritual of washing your face with your favorite herbally scented cream in the morning. You could say self-care is a value for you. Imagine asking your closest friends what they think your core values are. They might say adventure, communication, cooperation, or emotional intelligence. Within each parent, there are a good solid dozen living values being openly expressed within clear sight, every day. Write down yours, and have your partner write down theirs. Most couples have many overlapping values and some that are contrasting. This adds spice to a relationship.

My husband and I have discovered that fun is a very high value for him, and truth telling is central for me. We notice that whereas he might prefer spending a creekside walk exploring plants, I might prefer a conversation about our feelings. Since we share cooperation as a value, we do our best to mix it up, honoring both.

Once the individual parent(s) have a clear sense of their values, the values of the couple as a leadership entity can be explored. What drew you together as a couple? Was it proactive politics expressing a reverence for nature, or long nights on the dance floor expressing a bust-a-move value, or the way s/he listened, that showed you spaciousness mattered? As you built your relationship as a couple, perhaps you can recall a conflict that entered your space. What value was being violated in this situation? Maybe you realized you didn’t have clear agreements about this value, you hadn’t established it as a relationship value, prior to this situation. Conflict can be extremely illuminating in its ability to point out our values.

Families with clear values among the parents have head start in creating a values-based family culture.

Enter the baby. Though a baby’s wellbeing depends on a strong sense of safety and leadership from its parents, you can bet there is a leader within the baby too. Right from its emergence from the womb, a baby is expressing its values. S/he brings these into the family culture, to be blended with the parents’ values.

I had an all-natural home birth with now 11 month old Helena Beam, born 3.5 weeks prematurely, and then we were rushed to the hospital when she had trouble breathing and was found to have pneumonia from the womb. In the 10 days we spent in the NICU while her lungs developed, as she recovered physically and we all were stretched emotionally, she revealed numerous values to us. Tubes in her mouth and nose, tape stuck to her silky soft belly, she clutched my hand as if to tell me, “Mama, I will welcome all your affection when I get out of here.” It was clear she wanted affection and knew that it mattered. While affection is a human need, it can also be seen as a value.

Establishing a more values-based family life is largely a dance of observation, communication, expression, and acknowledgment. First we observe what our values are and what we want them to be, then we as parents communicate about them, then as a family we consciously (and unconsciously, for those values with which we exude unconscious incompetence!) express them, and finally since “what we focus on, grows,” we acknowledge each other when we see these values being expressed. This important step of acknowledgment ensures we are seizing opportunities to convey to our family members that these values matter to us, and we want to continue seeing them expressed in our family culture.

One fun exercise is to spend a day in celebration and cultivation of your family’s values. Spend the first hours of morning in observation–noticing and then drawing and writing out your noticed and desired values on a large blank sheet of paper. Next, spend lunchtime communicating about what we notice, and adding notes and drawings to our paper about which values we want to see expressed more often, sort of an act of voting about your preferences. Then spend the evening paying attention to how your family expresses these values–how they’re lived–and acknowledging each other when you see your family values being expressed.

There are hundreds and hundreds of values alive in our world, and you will generate your own. Yet for those who’d like a little kickstart, here are some thoughts. Values you might consider include the popular ones like respect, honesty, and acknowledgment. Other values to trigger your process might include adventure, exploration, kindness, firmness, clear boundaries, listening, gentleness, self-control, self-expression, empowerment, allowing, acceptance, open communication, intuition, and trust.

Try giving some of your values any creative names you come up with, that might more accurately describe the value to your unique family, than a simple and popular word does. For example, in our family, the value of acknowledgment is fondly called Sesame Street. Or maybe one of your values can’t be articulated in one word, and calls for a phrase instead. For example, diver girl in our family refers to a value of not always letting safety get in the way of fun. The term was birthed when Helena Beam discovered how fun it was to dive head first off the side of the bed, and while Mama had inner red flags buzzing in concern for safety, Papa was thoroughly enjoying the diving game and the laughter that ensued when Baby landed happily and safely in his catching hands.

Leading a values-based life is a key to happiness. For groups and individuals alike, when we are aware of our values and practice living them, we thrive.

May you and your families revel in the joy of consciously living your values!

Recommended Reading

Synchronicity, the Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski

In the Name of the Family: Rethinking Family Values in the Postmodern Age, by Judith Stacey

The Book of Virtues for Young People: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, by William J. Bennett