When Bill and Jane got married, each had a vision of an ideal family. Bill’s father didn’t spend much time with him when he was young so Bill knew that he would be the kind of father he’d always wanted. Jane’s family was poor and she longed to make life easier for her kids. Before they had children they shared their dreams, but never talked about how to turn dreams into reality.At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Bill and Jane would find it so difficult to carry out their visions of family life. But after the kids came, they bought a house in the suburbs and Bill found that his weekend projects around the house kept him from playing with his kids. Without noticing it, he had become his father. Jane’s income allowed them to buy their nice house and things for the kids, but she felt a great sense of loss, of missing out on their childhood. In spite of their good intentions, these parents were losing track of what they really envisioned for their family.Too many of us simply let life happen without setting goals or adopting priorities for our family.
When was the last time you and your spouse took stock of where your family was heading and discussed the principles you want your children to learn? Are you living according to the values you want to teach them? Are you modeling the kind of life style you wish for your kids? Are you taking the time to be with them and show them that they are more important than household projects, careers, cleaning, shopping, going to meetings, or other nonfamily activities?It’s never too late to create a family philosophy. A philosophy, or set of principles, begins with you, Mother and Father (or single parent), clarifying the values that are important to you and that you expect to pass on to your kids. You can do this formally or informally, but do it together, allow your children to participate in the process and contribute their own ideas. As a family, talk about which values are appropriate and acceptable. As your family changes and your children grow and develop, continue the process of clarifying what your family is about.What kinds of topics should you include in your family’s philosophy? The list is endless, but here’s a sample of what you might include:
OUR FAMILY’S PHILOSOPHY
PRIORITIES What are our family’s priorities? In what order of importance do we put on childbearing, marriage, career(s), making money, practicing religion, obligations to relatives, friends, community, or….?
PROCESS After we decided on your priorities, how will we implement them in our family? How will we use our time, energy, talent, skill, money, and other resources to assure that we remain true to our priorities?
RELATIONSHIPS Do we agree on the kind of parent-child relationship we want and how to achieve it? What is our parenting style and how can each of us make a unique contribution based on our own temperament, style, and ability?
BEHAVIOR How do we expect our children to behave? How much do we value obedience, freedom, responsibility, politeness, assertiveness, humor, passivity, kindness? What level of activity can we tolerate? What do we do if our expectations are not met? Do we punish or solve problems?
HOME-MAKING How do we envision our home? Can we tolerate messiness or insist on cleanliness and tidiness? How will each family member contribute to the home life we hope to create? How will household duties be divided and what will be the rewards or consequences?
WORK Do we want to mix work with family life? Should we keep work separate from family or make it part of family life? Do we want to insist on dinner together as a family, spend family time, limit TV, help with their education, attend religious services?
PLAY How important is playing with our kids, participating in sports, the arts, literature, and other enriching activities? How do we make the time?
Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.