Being a parent is one of the most important jobs on the planet. The job of raising children is both exhausting and exhilarating. As more women “lean in” to the work force, and as more fathers “step in” to parenting roles, there is a new and desperate trend of parents craving an answer to the question, “How do I parent effectively?”
One answer to this question is to run your family like you would run a business. In order to achieve this, parents must begin by slowing down and thoughtfully creating a meaningful, visionary mission statement for their family.
Creating a parent mission statement gives parents an opportunity to define their values and create a foundation for family culture. A parent mission statement can be a guiding star as both parents and children face challenges and make both big and little decisions. Additionally, this statement can be a source of inspiration as families create personal and collective goals.
The first step in creating a visionary mission statement is to clarify your family’s most significant values. Before beginning, it is helpful to review a list of 24 character strengths described by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman in their renowned book, Character Strengths and Virtues.
As you review the list (included below), parents should reflect on the following questions: Why did you have children? What hopes and dreams do you have for your children? What drives you to wake up each morning and provide for your children?
Identify the top five character strengths that align with your parenting philosophy and write them out with their definitions on separate index cards. You also can create other values that are not included on this list.
The 24 Character Strengths:
- Zest: approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated
- Grit: finishing what one starts; completing something despite obstacles; a combination of persistence and resilience
- Self-control: regulating what one feels and does; being self-discipline
- Social intelligence: being aware of motives and feelings of other people and oneself
- Gratitude: being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
- Love: valuing close relationships with others; being close to people
- Hope: expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it
- Humor: liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing a light side
- Creativity: coming up with new and productive ways to think about and do things
- Curiosity: taking an interest in experience for its own sake; finding things fascinating
- Open-mindedness: examining things from all sides and not jumping to conclusions
- Love of learning: mastering new skills and topics on your own or in school
- Wisdom: being able to provide good advice to others
- Bravery: not running from threat, challenge, or pain; speaking up for what is right
- Integrity: speaking the truth and presenting oneself sincerely and genuinely
- Kindness: doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
- Citizenship: working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group
- Fairness: treating all people the same; giving everyone a fair chance
- Leadership: encouraging a group of which one is a valued member to accomplish
- Forgiveness: forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting people’s shortcomings
- Modesty: letting one’s victories speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlights
- Prudence/Discretion: being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks
- Appreciation of beauty: noticing and appreciating all kinds of beauty and excellence
- Spirituality: having beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe
After you have sorted through all of the 24 character strengths, show your cards to your partner. Then identify any common cards and narrow the cards down to a total of five cards, which embody and define the values that represent the vision of your family. This can become intense as parents rank their values and are confronted with their preference for one value over another. Once you have identified your values, read them aloud and ask yourself, “What would it look like if my family lived these traits?”
A parent mission statement should be simple. It should embody the feeling of why your family exists and its reason for being. Before writing, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of raising this family?”
For example, after completing your family statement, it could look like the following: “The Smith family as a unit and individually are open minded. We are bold citizens who believe that a balance of perseverance and a zest for life are the tools one needs for a happy and blessed life.”
Once you have identified your mission statement, write it down and celebrate. Parents may choose to create a visual piece of work so that the entire family can refer to their mission statement at all times. Parents can hire graphic designers or artists to help, or turn the exercise into a family art project.
Writing a mission statement invites parents to focus on what University of Chicago professor James Heckman--considered to be among the most influential economists in the world--refers to as “non-cognitive skills.” These skills are not related to cognitive ability. Rather, they are a different set of skills, which include interpersonal skills, persistence, communication skills and other "soft" skills not objectively measured. Non-cognitive skills are related to many of the 24 character/values used to develop a mission statement
The exercise of developing a mission statement should be fun. It should make you and your family members feel inspired. Use the list as a guide or rubrics, as opposed to a checklist.
Stay away from any language that uses negatives. For example, do not write, “We will not live in fear.” Because it matters how you use words, stick to the positive by writing, “We face our fears.”
Your mission statement can change as your family grows and changes. For example, as children grow from tweens to teens, some families add a tagline to their mission statement such as, “We never leave each other angry, and we forgive each other again and again and again.”
Writing a mission statement is only the beginning of understanding how to parent effectively. The next step is to create a home culture where parents model and create opportunities to live the values they have created. Stay tuned for Laura Barr’s next article on living the family mission.
Running your family like a business can help improve parental effectiveness. And creating a family mission statement is the first step in parenting effectively. When parents are intentional in designing a mission statement, they can create a direction and mission that is a guiding star. This statement allows parents to identify their driving values, which helps them become clearer about their family purpose. Additionally, by creating a mission statement, parents buy into the latest research that invites parents, educators and psychologists to look past IQ scores and instead, focus on non-cognitive skills that are more likely to help children succeed.
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