What’s your family mission statement?

05 October, 2020

Use this time to articulate your shared values and priorities as a family

Over the past six months, many of us have spent more time at home, with our families, than ever before in our working lives. There have been moments of pure joy, like sharing meals in the middle of the workday and pursuing new activities together. Many families have rekindled traditions like movie nights, weekend arts & crafts and evening walks – activities that got pushed into the background during busier times.

Along with these precious upsides, there have also been immense challenges, from arguments around screen-time for kids to squabbles over household chores. Issues such as educational disruptions, financial troubles, relationships within and outside the family, serious illness or loss have impacted us like never before.

We talk a lot about company mission statements and personal purpose. This may be a great time to create a family mission.

As we slowly return to our lives outside the home, how can we retain the best parts of family life while also equipping ourselves to better handle future hurdles?  When things are going well, it’s easy to be pleasant and supportive towards one another. But when put to the test, it’s equally easy to become disconnected and lose our way.

So, what is the secret quality that sets apart well-functioning families and helps them overcome major obstacles together? For me, the answer is summed up in a single word: “intentionality”

So, what is the secret quality that sets apart well-functioning families and helps them overcome major obstacles together? For me, the answer is summed up in a single word: “intentionality”  – to be deliberate about your collective values and priorities, about the direction in which you’re heading as a family and how you want to get there.

Stephen Covey popularised the concept of a family mission statement in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, defining it as follows:

A family mission statement is a combined, unified expression from all family members of what your family is all about – what it is you really want to do and be – and the principles you choose to govern your family life.

This week, my message focuses on co-creating a family mission statement. Why is this process so enriching, and how can you go about it?

All families can benefit from building a shared vision – couples, parents and children, multi-generational joint families. Of course, the exercise takes on added significance when there are kids involved. As parents, we want our children to develop a strong internal compass and cherish certain values, but it can be hard to inculcate these in the daily hustle and bustle. Covey notes:

Without this vision, kids can be swept along with the flow of society’s values and trends. It’s simply living out the scripts that have been given to you. In fact, it’s really not living at all; it’s being lived.

As parents, too, we surely have room to grow. Are we modelling the qualities we preach, or have they become mere catchwords? Is our parenting guided by an underlying purpose, or has it been reduced to mostly firefighting? By articulating these ideas, you can build a family culture that’s better aligned with what truly matters to you all.

The journey is as important as the destination

Creating a family mission is an experience, not a to-do item to rush through. The process of brainstorming, discussion and listening empathetically to one other is where much of the value lies. As you identify shared principles and dreams, you’ll have the chance to bond in meaningful ways as a family. According to Covey: 

The very process of writing and refining a mission statement becomes a key way to improve the family. Working together to create a mission statement builds the [capacity] to live it.

So, don’t try to do it all in one sitting. A marathon session is a sure-fire way to turn an engaging exercise into a painstaking chore. It will likely take multiple family meetings of 30-45 minutes, spread over a few weeks, to create your mission statement. That’s okay – enjoy the process.

It’s all about co-creation

As parents, resist the urge to simply draft a mission based on your own ideas and present it to the kids. Without their involvement and commitment, it will become just another set of rules. For this exercise to be at all meaningful, it needs to be a shared process in which every member of the family plays a part and has a voice.

Teenagers may need to be persuaded, especially if family meetings aren’t a regular occurrence. Keep at it, gently. Once they realise that you really want them to participate, they’ll come around. Younger kids should also be included. In fact, their input can make your mission-meetings a lot more enjoyable and rewarding. If they suggest “game nights” or “telling jokes” as a priority, it’s because they love sharing fun and laughter with their family – a worthy addition to any mission!

Embrace family fun and uniqueness

Don’t make the project relentlessly serious. Go ahead, crack jokes and share a laugh between intense conversations. Fun can be a part of your mission: in many families, things like humour, spontaneity and adventure are a core part of the culture. Don’t worry about what your mission “should” be. No two families are the same, we all have different priorities and ways of functioning. Focus on what genuinely matters to you as a group.

Here are five steps to help you create your family mission statement:

1. Begin with questions.

Kickstart the process with a family mission meeting. Make it feel like a special occasion – maybe get pizza, or sit outdoors if possible. You’ll need basic brainstorming supplies, like a flip chart/chart paper and markers.

Begin by asking a series of reflective questions. Here are some questions recommended by Covey for families with children. Feel free to change them as you like.

  • What is the purpose of our family?
  • What kind of family do we want to be?
  • What kinds of things do we want to do?
  • What kind of feeling do we want to have in our home?
  • What kind of relationships do we want to have with one another?
  • How do we want to treat one another and speak to one another?
  • What things are truly important to us as a family?
  • What are our responsibilities as family members?
  • What are the principles and guidelines we want our family to follow?

Covey offers an additional list for couples, including the following:

  • What kind of marriage partners do we want to be?
  • What is the purpose of our marriage?
  • How do we want to treat each other?
  • How do we want to resolve our differences?
  • How can we both support each other in our respective goals?
  • How do we want to handle finances?
  • What traditions do want to keep and create?

Bring a non-judgmental and empathetic approach to the table. You might be surprised by one another’s answers, but don’t dismiss them – remember, it’s a family mission. A Parentco. article warns parents against lecturing:

For moms and dads, be careful not to turn this into a discussion of what kids are doing wrong – even if Timmy bringing up “responsibility” as a value seems like the perfect opening to bring up that he doesn’t always do his chores!

2. Identify core ideas.

Write down all the values, goals, activities and principles that arise from the discussion. You’ll soon have a very long list, and some overlapping themes will start to emerge.

Next, whittle this unwieldy list down to about 10 core ideas. First, remove any repetitions, i.e. the same concept expressed in different words. If there are certain values/goals that everyone is on board with, highlight them. Others may elicit very little enthusiasm on second thought – eliminate them. For the remaining items, try one of these strategies:

  • Pair up all the ideas and discuss them in twos. Decide which one to keep and which one to set aside. Repeat the exercise until you’re down to 10.
  • Use Covey’s voting method. Allocate 10 votes to each family member (you can use up to three votes on a single idea). The 10 highest scorers are your core ideas.

3. Get specific.

This is a great opportunity to understand how big words – “honesty”, “courage”, “sustainability” – translate into everyday life. When assessing different values, talk about associated actions and behaviours. For instance, what does “kindness” mean to each family member? To your toddler, it might mean sharing their toys with their sibling. To your teenager, it might mean helping out an elderly neighbour with groceries. To you, it might mean handling some of your partner’s chores when they’re extra-busy.

4. Create your mission statement.

Pull your ten core ideas together into a simple, succinct and timeless mission statement. Some families write paragraphs or bullet points, others express themselves through art. You might keep it short – just a single phrase, or you may even choose to write a song. Do whatever works best for your Most importantly, do it together and make sure everyone is happy with the result.

This is the Covey family’s mission statement: 

The mission of our family is to create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation, and to provide opportunity for each individual to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, in order to serve worthy purposes in society.

Here’s another example from author Bruce Feiler’s family, co-created with their five-year-old: 

May our first word be adventure and our last word be love.

We live lives of passion.

We dream undreamable dreams.

We are travelers not tourists.

We help others to fly.

We love to learn.

We don’t like dilemmas, we like solutions.

We push through. We believe!

We know it’s okay to make mistakes.

We bring people together.

We are joy, rapture, yay!

5. Bring your mission to life.

Give your mission statement a visible place at home, so everyone can refer to it often – for the self, as well as to bring each other back on track. When faced with family decisions or disagreements, this agreed-upon compass can guide you towards resolution. It can also help you explore more enriching avenues as a family, as Covey explains: 

As the children grew, [our family mission statement] gave direction to many family discussions and activities. It caused us to plan each of our summers, our vacations, and our leisure time in a way that would help us realize our dream. For example, one of the ten things on our list was the ability to survive in adverse conditions, so to help the children develop this skill, we enrolled our family in survival programs.

While a family mission should be relevant for decades to come, you can revisit it at milestone moments, such as when your kids enter the teens or are off to university. In his Psychology Today article, Dr. Thomas Lickona advises quick, regular check-ins: 

“How are we doing with our Mission Statement?”

“What’s been better?”

“Where do we have room for improvement?”

Before we get swept up again in our fast-paced “regular” lives, let’s make time to redefine the path ahead. Becoming more intentional as a family can be deeply rewarding, even transformative. By articulating a collective vision, a family mission strengthens your identity as a unit, creates more opportunities for fulfilment, and gives you a foundation to deal with challenges together.


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