I remember when my wife was pregnant with our first child. I was excited…and a little bit nervous. I wanted to provide a great family environment and be a “perfect father.” Eighteen years later I know I fell short on the “perfect father” part. No one does this “parenting thing” perfectly. We all make our mistakes. However, that time of nervousness did make me think about the family priorities I wanted to instill in my children. Having values in mind helped cover my imperfections. Rather than dwell on my mistakes, I could pull back to our family values. Our family priorities became the foundation on which we could build a healthy family…the roadmap that kept us on the track toward a healthy family life. I realize now that without clearly defined priorities, each family member eventually drifts away and does their own thing…alone, without support or direction. Family values and priorities make up the glue that holds our family together when times get rough. They are the life-giving “meat-n-potatoes” of our days together. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Aye, that gives me an idea. Sometimes we focus on the icing. I mean, I love icing, but, if all I eat is icing I get a headache, my stomach hurts, my thoughts become fuzzy, and I get downright mean. I need “meat-n-potatoes” to live a healthy life. Our family needs the “meat-n-potatoes” of values as well. So, where do you focus your attention: on the “meat-n-potato” values and priorities that make for healthy family life? Or, on the sweet icing that leads to headaches, fuzzy thinking, and conflict? Take some time now to consider your family values, the meat-n-potatoes of your family life. To help you do so, consider these ideas. Which do you value more?
- Do you value successful performance and achievement or learning resilience and perseverance? Of course we want our children to succeed. More importantly, we want them to learn to persevere in the face of difficulties. We want them to “bounce back” from seeming failures. Learning resilience and perseverance encourages them to try new things and not fear being less than perfect. It encourages them to keep working for improvement. When we focus on performance, our children become afraid to try new things, afraid to fail…afraid to disappoint.
- Do you value structured routines or time with family? I believe in having structure based on routines and respect in the home. At the same time, those structures remain secondary to family relationships. If a structure begins to interfere with family relationships, we need to change it. In some cultures this means that bed times, although generally structured, are changed and modified for times of family gatherings.
- Do you value the independent person or the person who accepts help and helps others? Our culture tends to emphasize the self-made man, the independent person who has pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. However, do we really want our children to believe they are completely independent? Don’t we want them to reach out to others and offer assistance when appropriate? Isn’t it beneficial to have the ability to reach out to others when in need? Surely we have to establish a balance in this area.
- Do you value getting great grades or becoming a well-rounded, socially adept, and hard-working person? When your child is 30, no one will remember whether they got a “C” or an “A” in Physics. What will really pay off when they are 30 is that they learned to work hard for the best grade they could earn. And social skills will most likely have a greater influence on their long-time work success than their high school GPA. So, we may want our children to develop a well-rounded education that included academics, social activities, and a variety of interests.
- Do you value getting the athletic scholarship or learning self-discipline, humility, and teamwork? We love to see our children score the winning touchdown, block the shot to save the game, or outmaneuver their opponent to move the ball down field. It is exciting. But we have to face the facts…only a very small percentage of excellent high school athletes actually earn a living playing their sport. On the other hand, athletic practice and competition is an excellent arena to learn self-discipline, teamwork, how to bounce back after a failure, and how to lose (and win) with grace and humility. Which will you emphasize?
- Do you value your reputation or your child’s character? It is easy to get caught up in our children’s behavior…to believe their successes and failures are a reflection on us. We push them to achieve on the sport’s field or earn high academic honors or get the star role in the musical or band…all for the parental bragging rights. Sure we are going to be proud of our children’s achievements…but won’t we be even more proud to witness our children’s character of humility, integrity, and selflessness toward others!
There are many other areas of priority to consider, but these six represent an excellent starting point. Take some time to think about these priorities. What do you want for your family? How will you model these priorities for your family? What practical steps will you take to assure that you and your family live these values over time? It takes some thought…and then some effort…but the long term returns are a celebrating family filled with honor and grace!