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.

Please forgive the very intimate sharing of our own family’s life that follows. It reflects our own deep values and beliefs, which may differ from your own. Though it’s much more personal than I would normally be, I share it with a desire to affi rm your potential to have a rich family life in your own way. The key lies in the principles, not in our family’s particular application of the principles.

If you were to ask my wife, Sandra, and me, “What has been the most transforming event in your own family history?” we would answer without hesitation that it was the creation of our family mission statement.

Our first mission statement was created in a sacred marriage ceremony some 50 years ago. Our second mission statement was developed in stages over a period of 15 years and several children. Through the years, these mission statements have created the common sense of destination and manner of travel that has represented the social will, the culture, in our family. And directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, almost everything else in our family has grown out of it.

The Art of the Covenant On the day we were married, immediately after the ceremony, Sandra and I went to a park called Memory Grove. We sat together and talked about what that ceremony meant and how we were going to try to live our lives by it. We talked about the two families we had come from. We discussed what we wanted to continue to do in our own newly formed family and what things we wanted to do differently.

We also reaffirmed that our marriage was much more than a contractual relationship; it was a covenant relationship. And our commitment to each other was total, complete, and for always. We also recognized that our covenant was not only with each other; it was also with God. And we determined that we would be able to love each other more if we loved Him first.

So we made the decision to put principles ahead of each other and ahead of our family. And we feel that one decision, more than any other single factor, has given us the strength to apologize, to forgive, to be kind, and to keep coming back to the fl ight path time and time again. We’ve discovered that the more we are able to center our lives on these principles, the more wisdom and strength we can access—especially in situations where it would be very easy to be centered and even controlled by other things, such as work, money, possessions, or even family itself.

Without that decision, we are convinced we would have been far more dependent on each other’s moods or on our popularity with our children for our sense of security, rather than on our own inner integrity.

Developing Your Own Family Mission Statement I invite you to engage with your family in developing your own family mission statement. I recommend 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 One: Explore What Your Family Is All About Consider asking your family questions like those listed above. As you do, 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 tough duty.

Step Two: 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: “This is what this family is about. This is our mission. We believe it. We buy into it. We are ready to commit to living it.”

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. I know of some families who have written a family song that embodies what matters most to them. Others have captured a sense of vision through poetry and art. I have known of families who have structured their mission statement by building phrases around each letter of their last name. There’s even one family I know of that gets a powerful sense of vision from a fourfoot 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.

So you see 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 Three: 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 United States 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.

Do we live our mission statement? We try to, but we mess up all the time. We’re constantly having to pause, reconnect and apologize. But when we 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.


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