The Unifying Power of a Family Mission Statement
The chaotic, hectic pace of a home-based business underscores and even heightens the need for each family member to feel anchored and unified in what the family is all about. Without such anchoring, everyone goes their own way and the family ceases to be the vital source of nurturing support and enabling power that it can and should be.
Creating a family mission statement can be a transformational event. Most people’s first mission statement happens during wedding vows. The second happens in stages—often without realizing it—when large life decisions are made. Through the years, your mission statements will change as your family changes, but it gives a common sense of destination and manner of travel that represents the social will and culture of your family. Directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, it guides your family.
The First Family Mission Statement
If you plan to marry or be in a long-term relationship, take the time to talk about what that looks like to you. Discuss your respective families and backgrounds. Discuss which traditions and learned behaviors you want to continue in your relationship and which you’d rather do differently.
When you lay out these principles as two halves of a unit, you put them before both of you and both of your families. This can provide the strength to apologize, to forgive, to be kind and to keep returning to the joint flight path time and time again. You might find that the more you are able to center your lives around these principles, the more wisdom and strength you can access—especially in situations where it would be easy to be centered and even controlled by other things, such as work, money, possessions or even family itself.
A family mission statement is a decision to live by a set of agreed-upon principles. Without that decision, you might be more dependent on one another’s moods or other out-of-your-control factors to glean your sense of security.
How to Create a Family Mission Statement
Creating your family mission statement is simple in theory but requires each member to show up with vulnerability and trust. It starts with three simple steps, each of which should be tailored to your own unique circumstances and preferences: 1. Explore what your family is all about; 2. Write your family mission statement; and 3. Use it to stay on track.
Step 1: Explore what your family is all about.
Start by asking each family a variety of questions about what they value, what they consider important, and whom they consider a representation of those values. You will probably hear a variety of responses. Remember that everybody in the family is important. Everybody’s ideas are important. You may have to deal with all kinds of positive and negative expressions. Don’t judge them. Respect them. Let them be expressed freely. Don’t try to resolve everything. All you’re doing at this point is preparing minds and hearts to think reflectively. In a sense you’re preparing the ground and beginning to sow a few seeds. Don’t try to get the harvest yet.
You’ll find that these discussions probably go better if you set up three ground rules: First, listen with respect. Make sure everyone has a chance to give input. Remember that involvement in the process is as important as the product. Unless people feel that they have had some say in the formation of the vision and values that will govern them, guide them, lead them and measure their progress, they will not be committed. In other words, “no involvement, no commitment.” So be sure that everyone knows his or her ideas will be heard and recognized as important. Help children understand what it means to show respect while others are speaking. Assure them that others, in turn, will show respect for their ideas.
Second, restate accurately to show you understand. One of the best ways to show respect is to restate others’ points to their satisfaction. Then encourage other family members to also restate the ideas that are expressed—particularly when there are disagreements—to the satisfaction of the other. As family members do this for each other, mutual understanding will soften hearts and release creative energies.
Third, consider writing down the ideas. Perhaps you’d like to invite someone to be the family scribe. Ask that person to write down all the ideas that are expressed. Don’t evaluate the ideas. Don’t judge them. Don’t compare their relative worth. Those are tasks for further down the road. Just capture them so that everyone’s ideas are “out on the table” and visible to all.
Then you can begin the refinement process. You’ll find that the greatest struggle in doing mission statements is prioritizing destinations and values—in other words, deciding what is the highest purpose and the highest value,and then the next highest and the next. This is a tough duty.
Step 2: Write your family mission statement.
With ideas out on the table, you’re now ready to have someone in the family refine and distill and pull them all together into some kind of expression that will reflect the collective feeling of the hearts and minds of those who have contributed.
In one sense, it is extremely important to get this expression down on paper. The very process of writing brings a crystallization of thought and distills learning and insights into words. It also imprints the brain and reinforces learning, and it makes the expression visible and available to everyone in the family. In another sense, writing a mission statement on paper is not as powerful as writing it in the hearts and minds of family members. But the two are not mutually exclusive. One can lead to the other.
Let me emphasize here that whatever you come up with at first will be a rough draft—possibly the first of many drafts. Family members will need to look at it, think about it, live with it, discuss it and make changes.
They will need to work with it until everyone comes to agreement. Keep in mind that a mission statement doesn’t have to be some big, formal document. It can even be a word or a phrase, or something creative and entirely different, such as an image or a symbol. Some families might write a family song that embodies what matters most to them. Others might capture a sense of vision through poetry and art. One family structured their mission statement by building phrases around each letter of their last name. There’s even one family that gets a powerful sense of vision from a 4-foot stick. This stick goes straight for some distance and then suddenly corkscrews and gnarls at the end. This serves as a reminder to this family that “when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other.” In other words, the choices you make have consequences, so make your choices carefully.
It doesn’t have to be some magnificent verbal expression. The only real criterion is that it represents everyone in the family and inspires you and brings you together. And whether your mission statement is a word, a page or a document; whether it’s written in poetry or prose, music or art; if it captures and gives cohesion to what is in the hearts and minds of family members, it will inspire, energize and unify your family in ways that are so marvelous, you have to experience them in order to believe.
Step 3: Use it to stay on track.
A mission statement is not some to-do to check off your list. It’s meant to be the literal constitution of your family life. And just as the U.S. Constitution has survived for more than two hundred sometimes turbulent years, your family constitution can be the foundational document that will unify and hold your family together for decades—even generations—to come.
Will you live out your mission statement every day? You’ll try, but you’ll also mess up all the time. You’ll find yourselves constantly having to pause, reconnect and apologize. But when you know one another’s hearts and intents and desires, isn’t that what life is about: apologizing and forgiving?
Remember, great families—like most airplanes—are off track 90 percent of the time. The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the “track” looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again.
This article was published in June 2008 and has been updated. Photo by @crystalmariesing/Twenty20
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