What kind of family did you imagine you would create when you were younger?
Chances are, if your childhood was a happy one you imagined that your family would look very similar. On the other hand, if your childhood was difficult or traumatic, you probably hoped that the family you created one day would be different.
The Importance of Creating a Family Culture
Every family is unique--because every family dynamic is unique. And whether you had a positive experience with your family of origin or a difficult experience, you now have the opportunity to be intentional about the culture of your own family. Being intentional about the values and culture you want your children to internalize is key to successful parenting.
When your children look back on family life, what will they remember? What will it feel like? You have the chance to shape that by creating a healthy family culture.
Identify Your Values
Your first goal is to identify what it is that makes your family unique. Is your family particularly musical or artsy? Are you all interested in politics? What values do you hold to? Creating and fostering a family culture is really about identifying what’s most important in your household and taking ownership of those attributes. For example, perhaps love, respect, trust--and a love of outdoor sports--will be the bedrock your family. As challenges arise, these are the values and qualities that family members can rally around in different ways. Other such values your family might identify with could be hard-work, religious beliefs, cleanliness, integrity, and any number of interests and hobbies.
Lay a Foundation
Values should be the tools your child reaches for to use whenever he or she comes into conflict or challenges. These values will be the foundation from which they make decisions about what is right and wrong--and the repercussions extend far beyond the home.
When your child needs to decide how he or she will respond to cheating in the classroom, bullying, an opportunity to experiment with drugs or alcohol, an argument with a best friend, an invitation to go the extra mile, or simply the stress of everyday life, your child will pull from his or her experiences with your family values to act. It could be as simple as releasing stress by going for a walk in nature--an activity your child has learned to enjoy in your family--or it could be as significant as deciding to apply for college because learning and continuing education are important values in your family.
Kids are still learning and growing and deciding what’s important to them, which is why it’s important to make room for your child’s unique voice and developing life as you rally around your family values. Make room for differing opinions and expanding horizons. And avoid the urge to be so specific that kids feel boxed into the family values. For instance, instead of cultivating a culture in which “Our family aligns with the democratic party,” perhaps a more inclusive value might be to determine that “Our family values participating in the political process and being informed on important issues.”
Allowing room for differences gives everyone space to grow and learn from one another while still rallying around a cohesive and beneficial family culture and values.
Put Connection at the Center of Your Values
How can you decide if a value should be at the center of your family? One of the best ways is to ask yourself, “Does this activity or value lend itself to connection in our family?” If the answer is yes--and the activity or value helps family members connect with one another, learn more about each other, and experience life together, chances are this value is worth cultivating.
Other interests and values may still be good, valuable, and worthwhile. But try to focus your family’s culture and values on the things that will bring you together the most. It can help to imagine a Venn diagram of overlapping circles. Ask yourself, is this value or activity inclusive for all family members? Does it foster connection to build our relationships and rapport with one another? If the answer to both questions is “yes,” it’s a keeper!
Putting Values Into Action
So, what might your family’s values and culture look like in action? If your values are core to your family, you’ll see them in action constantly.
When your son loses a soccer game, will he shake hands with the other team despite his disappointment? If respect is an important value in your family, he will.
When you struggle with a loss as a family, how will you move forward despite your sadness? Perhaps your faith in a particular religion or your ability to connect to one another through a shared interest will help you process your grief.
Lead the Way
Remember, as a parent you’ll lead the way in intentionally creating a family culture. Get the ball rolling by coming up with the values and interests you think your family rallies around and should cultivate. Then, have a conversation that involves everyone. Do these values resonate? Is there room for improvement? Keep the conversation lines open, and as life’s challenges and opportunities arise, find solutions and responses that incorporate these values together.
These experiences, over the course of a childhood, create a strong and healthy family culture that children can take with them throughout their lives.
Interested in what you see here? Idaho Youth Ranch offers parenting classes to help parents develop skills to build and maintain positive relationships with their kids. Join our parenting gurus for this series where you can learn skills, ask questions, and have discussions in a non-judgmental, relaxed environment. Learn more about upcoming parenting classes here.