Steven Covey’s best-selling book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People made a great case for individuals and families to draw up mission statements. He suggested the mission be timeless (ongoing), and that the statement include both the means and ends (the hows and whys) for the mission.
Different families have different top priorities. I’ve seen families that were dedicated to such goals as staying together, getting educated, making money, respecting family elders, teaching self-worth and identity, serving God, and keeping the peace.
I believe the most common mission is seldom stated or even admitted, but actions speak louder than words. The typical American family seems to me bent on this mission: “To keep the children happy, older family members will give children what they want unless it’s obviously unsafe, bad for them, or too expensive.”
A better mission might be this one: “To give and receive love, respect and understanding in all our relationships and activities, we will start by doing this with each other.” Whatever mission your family adopts, it can’t just be dictated by the parents. It has to come out of much discussion by the whole family, as in the kind of family meeting described in last week’s column.
Once a mission is established, families need to consider using family meetings to draw up some rules or guidelines for achieving their mission. Here are some guidelines I’ve found helpful in creating healthy, happy families:
Each of us needs privacy, and the freedom to be one’s own unique person.
Yet we do not lie to each other, or cover up what others need to know.
We may not tell the whole truth, but we’ll tell nothing but the truth.
Criticism should say “You’re a better person than that,” not “You’re a bad/lazy/stupid person.”
If it will help a child or spouse grow or learn, we can tell them the truth politely, even if it hurts their feelings or wounds their ego.
Discipline teaches better when it comes with expressions of love.
Parents avoid giving to others the time, money or attention needed by their marriage or children.
Children need their parents to give as much to their marriage as to any of their children.
Parents should put their children’s needs ahead of their own until they are of age (18-25).
Children need to lose for a short, set time those privileges and activities which they abuse.
Discipline should not take away from children an activity they need for their well-being.
Discipline should not take away from children a privilege they have not abused.
Children need to be given a way to earn back lost privileges and activities.
Parents need to be a united front so children cannot play one against the other.
Parents need to avoid disrespecting or disagreeing with other authorities (teachers, grandparents, etc.) in front of their children.
Parents should not criticize a child in front of others.
Families and individuals should remain open to guidance and support from outside sources.
Though trust must be both earned and given, forgiveness can only be given, and it benefits everyone involved.
Finally, apply all guidelines in light of other guidelines, and the family mission statement.