“A Rich, Full, Meaningful Life: Part 2 - Your Family.”
Would you like to live a rich, meaningful, connected, thriving family life, that supports your kids wellbeing and resilience?
Would you like to feel empowered in parenting and family life no matter what twists, turns, ups and downs, changes, and challenges life throws at you?
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life, and bogged down in chores, driving kids to extra curriculars, and work. But what if you could find a way to slow things down and live more intentionally in family life? Connecting with your parenting and family values is a fantastic way to do just that.
In this blog, I will be helping you explore family values, including parenting values. One thing is for sure, parenting is something that everyone has an opinion and idea about. In fact, there are so many ideas about parenting floating around and sometimes foist onto us that it can make raising our kids even trickier. But what if you could connect to what really matters to you? What if you could become more connected to your parenting and family values and principles and feel more solid in yourself as a parent? What difference would this make? Read on to find out more.
1. How do Values help Parenting and Family Life?
“Our lives revolve around relationships – with ourselves, others, and everything we encounter in the world around us. The more you act in line with your values, the better will be the quality of those relationships and therefore the more enjoyable and rewarding life will be.”
Parenting and Family Values are important for all aspects of family life. Here is a summary of some key aspects of family life in which developing and having family values really matter and help:
Creating a sense of family connection and belonging
Supporting communication and problem Solving e.g., respect
Encouraging fun and enjoyment e.g., adventures together
Providing clarity, consistency and stability with family structure through parents sharing a united vision for the family and values
Developing nurturing relationships e.g., a value of caring
Family values guide family decisions, especially when emotions are high & topics are challenging.
2. Types of Parenting and Family Values
There are different areas we can have values in, or different “types” of values. These include:
Our relationship to others
Within the family
Outside the family
E.g., Patience, feeling connected, kindness, gratitude
Our relationship with ourself
E.g., Growth mindset, self-compassion
How you spend your time
E.g., Family time Vs Career time
E.g., How many scheduled extra-curriculars and how much free time and down time
Responding to changes and challenges
E.g., Resilience, perseverance, hard work, creativity
It can be helpful to reflect on your values in each of these areas.
3. Parenting and Family Values
When it comes to family life, families do best when parents are on the same page with parenting and family values. This helps with united, confident, consistent parental leadership, maintaining a focus on what matters most. Having shared values doesn’t mean you have to be exactly the same as parents, it just means you share some key ideas and use these as a basis for actions and responses.
You may want to set aside some time to talk to your partner about parenting values and what matters to you. Be sure to include values about emotions, behaviour, and discipline because depending on the family you grew up in, you could have very different ideas about this. It’s great to be open and curious about each other’s growing up experiences and how these shaped each of your sets of values.
Consider, what sort of parent would you like to be? If your automatic response is “a good parent”, let’s unpack this a bit to discover your values regarding being a good parent with this question. What qualities would you want to have as a good parent? E.g., loving, kind, supportive, patient, fun, firm, accepting, active, involved. You may need to really sit with this question and reflect on it. The family you grew up in, community, culture, and social media invite us to have certain ideas about life, including parenting and family life. If you could hold these lightly (or cast them aside if needed) what qualities would you decide were qualities of the good parent you’d like to be.
After you’ve discussed the values you each have, talk about which values you choose as shared parenting values.
Having some key shared parenting values really helps to provide united, consistent leadership in families. It’s also great to have shared family values. This can add to creating a sense of family belonging, keeping the family together and acting as a compass for all of the family in navigating life.
You might like to get curious with your kids asking them what type of family they would love to be e.g., active, connected, fun. You could also brainstorm a mantra or choose a song that represents your family.
Keep in mind this isn’t a one-off conversation or activity in family life. As your family journeys through life your vision for your family and your family values may grow and change to reflect the stage of life in your family journey e.g., as your children become teens, values around independence or contribution may come to the fore. And you may also find your teens are more open to having conversations about who they are, what is important to them and what type of friend and family member they’d like to be.
4. Building Family Values
Family values can be built and amplified in a variety of ways including activities, conversations, moments, and noticing.
A values-based activities is the Family Card Sorting Activity I created.
To find out how to do the activity watch this YouTube clip
And you can download the activity from my website www.drleoniewhite.com
Family values can also be built in what I call “values-based conversations” and there’s a few different ways to do this. One way is to use the cards from the card sorting activity, but just choose one card at a time to discuss at family meetings/meals. When discussing family values it is great to identify family values, and it’s even better to drill down into what the value means and what it looks like put into practice. For example, if your family are discussing “Respect” as a family value talk about concrete examples of what respect looks like in family life, how each family member can show other family members respect, how respect is demonstrated at school, with friends and in the community.
Other ways to have values-based conversations include:
Seize the moment if something comes up
E.g., if there is something happening at school
E.g., if you find a wallet at the shops
Weave values into supportive conversations
E.g., if you child is struggling with a friendship issue
E.g., being a team player in sport
Engaging kids and teens in these types of conversations can be tricky so here are some tips to help you. Make sure to gauge your child’s interest and investment in the conversation. Sometimes it is all about timing and if your young person has something else on their mind then it’s most likely a values conversation will work better another time. Another tip is to use questions, and gentle reminders instead of ‘lecturing’. Questions are particularly great because they get your young person thinking, and demonstrate to them that you believe in them and in their ability to reason things through and work things out. This type of process helps kids develop their problem solving skills, autonomy and resilience.
Values-based moments can also be very powerful and done in a variety of ways.
One way to create a values-based moment is to notice others in real life or fiction, e.g., TV, books, movies. When you are watching a show together you might make a comment like, “Woah that was/wasn’t very kind”, or a brief chat, e.g., “What did you think about the way that [TV/book character] treated their friend?.... responded to what happened?”
Another way to create values-based moments is modelling. Yes that’s right, what you model to your family. Modelling is how you show your family that you live into your values. Let your kids and teens see you:
E.g., Write in your gratitude journal or practice ‘favourites’ at dinner
E.g., Have a ‘quality connection moment’ with the person serving you at the grocery store
E.g., Communicate respectfully and demonstrate compassion to self and others
E.g., Exercise, spend time in nature
5. Different Family Constellations and Family Values
I really want to normalize and validate the different challenges faced by different family constellations, including developing family values. Here’s some tips for building values in step families, blended families, foster families & kinship families :
Acknowledge and honour the first family’s values
Take extra time and patience in building family values
Different family constellations will have different challenges.
As parents and carers practice self-compassion, validation, and gentle persistence.
6. Remember to Write About Your Family Values.
In Part 1 of this blog I shared the importance of writing about your values. This also goes for your family values, so be sure to create a list of your values.
The short term benefits of writing about your values include:
Makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud and strong; makes people feel more loving, connected and empathic towards others; increases pain tolerance; enhances self-control; reduces rumination following stressful experiences.
The long term benefits of writing about your values include:
Boosts academic success; improves mental health; helps with weight loss, quitting smoking and problem drinking.
Remember, even writing about your values once for ten minutes can have benefits from months to years. The reason it’s so powerful to write about your values is that it transforms how a person thinks about and copes with stressful experiences by helping to find meaning.
Connecting with your values can be especially helpful in stressful times and when dealing with adversity. You can connect with values either by looking at values you’ve written down or writing about your values. Connecting to a physical reminder of your most important value (e.g., putting it on a keychain or engraved in a bracelet, using a post-it note or a photo on your phone) also has demonstrated benefits.
7. Evolving Family Values
Family Values Evolve. Family values, and actions that flow from your values, will change as your family changes, e.g., as your family moves through the Family Life Cycle. The Family Life Cycle is an incredibly useful understanding from family therapy. It refers to the progression of the family unit through transitional periods in its lifecycle. Most people are familiar with the individual life cycle – the different ages and stages of children as they grow, having birthdays, start school, become teenagers, and then adults. Typically though, when we think of lifecycle transitions, we think of these as individual milestones. But families have a lifecycle too, and the family life cycle refers to the stages and transitions for the family system. Sometimes these transitions can be tricky.
What are the stages of the family life cycle?
Leaving home (accepting financial, practical, and emotional responsibility for oneself)
Partnering up with a significant other to create a new family system (the joining of families through significant relationships/marriage and commitment to a new system)
Families with young children (accepting children as new members of the family system)
Families with teenagers (increasing the family system flexibility and allowing growth and independence)
Launching teenagers and moving on in midlife (the family system adapting to ‘exits’ from the system, and entries too)
Families in later life (the generational roles shifting e.g., as parents may become grandparents, or as people retire)
As your family travels through the family life cycle revisit and update your values and family vision as often as needed and definitely at transition points.
Find out more about the Family Life Cycle in this animation I created
I hope you’ve found this blog helpful. If you’d like to dive more deeply into building family values, you can access my free mini course “Building Family Values: Creating the Family You’d Like to Be”.
I’m going to leave you with a favourite quote.
This is one of my favourite quotes - it reminds me to walk my talk. Sometimes we need to do this for ourselves in relation to our individual values and sometimes for our family in relation to our parenting and family values. Remember, opinions are like elbows - everyone has a couple ... especially when it comes to raising kids. But when you are clear about your parenting and family values you can take a stand for yourself and your family.
Dr Leonie White - Clinical Family Therapist and Psychologist
Helping people grow, connect and thrive in life’s unique journey.
Please note - this article is educational in nature and does not constitute therapy advice.
Please seek help from a professional if you require support.
First Photo - Vecteezy Pro
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Nichols, M. & Davis, S. (2017). Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods. Pearson Education Inc: New York.Smith, E.E. (2017). The Power of Meaning: The True Route to Happiness. Rider: London.
White, L. (2021). Helping Families Thrive Cards: Cards to Nurture Families with Growth.