Creating a strong family is one of those idealistic things that everyone wants but in reality may not know how to achieve.
“Strong Family? Why yes! I’d like one of those please. Can I also get a side order of joy and harmony? Hold the conflict.”
If only it were that easy. But it really isn’t as hard as you think AND it is one of the most important things you can do for your children to give them a sense of home, a sense of belonging, and most importantly a sense of love that will permeate their entire lives.
So how do you do it? Simple. Develop a family creed.
What Is A Family Creed?
Simply put a creed is a statement of belief.
Think of it as your family’s mission statement. It is the foundation on which your family is built. It is at the core of every action you take with your family, and when I say family – I don’t just mean the kids. I mean family. You, your spouse, your kids and even your extended family if possible. It is the heart and soul of your family life.
How to Create Your Family Creed
Creating a family creed really is simple and you probably already have one sketched out in your mind, though you may have never articulated it aloud. The first thing you need to do is sit down with your spouse (if you have one) and discuss the 3 core values you believe are important to you. Be broad in your thinking. In other words, don’t think happy, think joyful. Joy is so much more than happiness. Don’t think honesty, think integrity. Integrity includes honesty, courage and honor. Get it?
Talk about all the things that come to your mind, why you each find them important – you’ll probably learn somethings about each other in the process – and jot them down if needed. Remember, these aren’t just ways you want to raise the kids, but complete and comprehensive values you want your entire family organization to operate by – you and your spouse included. You both have to agree to champion these values in your daily life. To be a shining example of them to your children and to others. To embrace and honor and defend them.
The Essential Family Creed
Hey! I thought you said this was SIMPLE. This sounds like a lot of work.
Every family is different, so knowing what is at the core of your heart will make it easier to implement, though I have found that there are 3 characteristics that serve as a good basis for any family creed and will help ensure you have a stronger, happier family. They are Love, Loyalty and Respect.
Boy, oh boy those sound good right? But kinda like the whole “Hope”, “Change” and “Forward” slogans of the Obama campaigns they really don’t mean anything unless you can quantify them.
This one is the easiest to do with our children and sometimes harder to do with our spouses, siblings and our own parents. We are so much more patient, kind, giving, thoughtful, tender, and understanding with our children (especially when they are young) then we are with adults who we feel should know better. This is why I firmly believe teenagers piss us off as parents so much. Dammit. They KNOW better. Why are they behaving this way?
So what does love look like?
- It looks like patience
- It looks like understanding
- It looks like compassion
- It looks like thoughtfulness
- It looks like kindness
- It looks like generosity
- It looks like tenderness
- It looks like forgiveness
Love is what compels you to run out and scoop up your child to comfort them when they fall and skin their knee. Love is what makes you help a senior citizen with their grocieries. It is what makes you put little notes in your kids lunch. It is what drives you to take a deep breath and really listen to your spouse and hear the message not the tone of what they are saying. Love motivates us to apologize to others, even our children, when we have behaved badly and it is what compels them to forgive us. An easy way to implement love into your daily life is to pause before you speak or react and consider if what you are about to do or say is rooted in patience, understanding, compassion, thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity, tenderness or forgiveness. Modeling this behavior to your children is the easiest way for them to understand it and imitate the behavior themselves.
I have a 13 year old son who is being flooded with hormones right now. He’s an emotional wreck. The volume of testostrone flowing through him gives him uncontrollable fits of anger and rage. Just yesterday he completely lost his shit because he couldn’t figure out how to fold a shirt and then started bitching and complaining like only a teenager can. It is really annoying and difficult to deal with. The first few times I had to really focus on being compassionate, patient and understanding. I had to disregard my gut response to tell him to stop whining and being an insolent little snot. Amazingly, by exhibiting love to him, (which in this case means speaking calmly and not allowing him to suck me into the insanity) he started to calm down and return to reason. There have been many times where he has hugged me after an “episode” and apologized for being such a pain and thanked me for being so patient with him. This is a perfect example of love being given and returned.
I now see him frequently stopping, taking a deep breath or walking away from his little brother when what he really wants to do is knock his block off or yell at him. They still fight, but my oldest is realizing, when you love someone – sometimes it’s just not worth the argument at the cost of erroding the relationship. And guess what? Now he’s being a shining example of patient love to his brother – who will, in time do the same. Never doubt the power of imitation. We mirror the behaviors around us.
This one can feel like grabbing onto mist when you try to quantify it and put it into daily practice. Never fear, it’s really not that hard. Loyalty is simply giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution. The people in this case are your spouse, children, and your own siblings and parents. The institution is the very family they represent. You show loyalty to your family through firm and constant support. You show loyalty to your employer or place of business by doing your best and being a dependable part of that organization. You show loyalty to your spouse by supporting them and not straying from your vows. You show loyalty to your country by upholding the rights and values defined by our founding fathers. (Don’t tell me if you disagree with me on this one. This is something I firmly believe in and we’ll just end up arguing and that would not be very loving at all.)
So what does loyalty look like?
- It looks like firm and constant support
Loyalty is what keeps your kids from selling you out to their teacher when you loose your temper and yell at them for no good reason on the way to school in the morning. Loyalty is what drives us to be in life-long committed relationships with our spouse, family and friends. Loyalty is what makes you stand up for what you believe in. Loyalty drives you to die for what you believe in. Loyalty is what is behind every action you have ever taken as a parent to execute your firm and constant support of X, Y or Z. Is prayer before dinner something you believe in and want to be a shining example of for your family? Loyalty to that belief will ensure you remember to bow your heads and give thanks every night.
To some of you this is going to sound crazy (and that’s okay) – but I have a firm belief that eating around the dinner table each and every night is critical to the success of upholding other values I hold dear – like unity, communication, and well, just a general sense of family. My belief in this is so firm that once my oldest son was old enough to sit in a highchair we would all sit around the dinner table for supper. My ex-husband thought I was being silly. “He’s only a baby! He won’t remember.” Exactly my point. I wanting eating as a family to be such a constant fixture in my son’s mind that he could never remember not doing it. I explained also that by doing it while he was so small, it would prevent future battles and “Why’s?” when he was older. To him, it would just be the way it is and has always been. Kids tend not to buck a system they don’t know can exist any differently. Because my ex-husband was loyal in helping to uphold the values I felt important, he agreed. My family has eaten at the table ever since (without the TV on in the background). Oh sure, every once in a while we’ll have a “family picnic” where the kids get to grab their plates and eat around the coffee table – but this only happens 2-3 times a year. Now that my kids are older they have asked me “Why do we always have to eat at the table?” and I tell them the reasons stated above. They see eating together as an act of love and that is a belief they can be loyal to. See? The whole thing is really connected. One value feeds the other.
Man, oh man do disrespectful people piss me off. Especially children. I don’t know if it was because my dad was “old world/old school” and my mom was “children should be seen not heard” but nothing chaps my ass more than watching some kid being flip with his parents, teacher or another adult. I’m convinced that disrespectful kids grow into disrespectful husbands, wives and employees. They are the selfish bastards that cut you off when your driving. They are the jack asses that complain about the old ladies in line who still slowly and carefully hand write out a check for payment. They are the people who interrupt you when you are talking, eat your sandwich you left in the fridge at work or give you shitty looks while you are carefully covered in a quiet corner breastfeeding. No one likes a disrespectful fool, in fact my friend Kris has dedicated an entire business to this belief (that’s loyalty in action folks; firm and constant support) called Be Good To People – and it all started cuz someone was being a disrespectful jerk.
So what does respect look like?
- It looks like a high esteem or special regard for someone or something
As people we respect values (or the people and institutions that embody those value). It was my ex-husband’s respect and loyalty that caused him to sit around the dinner table with an 8 month old for dinner when what he really wanted to be doing was sitting on the couch watching TV while he ate. It is our respect (include love and loyalty) that prevents us from telling our parents to go take a flying leap when they say or do things that really frustrated or anger us. It is respect for mom and dad’s rules that keeps junior following them. Respect is one of the hardest concepts for some children to grasp. Especially when they hear “respect is earned”. Then you can get into all kinds of sticky situations where your children argue with you on how you have to earn their respect. Resist the very natural urge to smack them (that wouldn’t be in-line with your family creed) and realize that the statement is actually true. However, as parents we earn our children’s respect by being firm, consistent and fair. We are able to do this through love and loyalty. The same goes for our spouses and other relationships. If you don’t want people to treat you like crap, then show them the esteem or special regard not to treat them like crap. It really is that simple. Sure we all slip up sometimes, but that is where love comes in. You will have the good sense to apologize and they will have the courage of heart to forgive you. I can’t say it enough, love, loyalty and respect build and feed on each other.
Let’s go back to the example of my 13 year old son – not only did I show him how to be more loving when he flipped out, but I earned his respect and he’s now trying to show me and others the same respect by attempting to control his outbursts.
How To Implement Your Family Creed and Strengthen Your Family
After you have decided what values you want your family creed to contain you have to implement upholding those values. If your children are older than three, sit down and talk to them. Explain (in age appropriate terms) what is important to your family. Why your family is special and why they should be proud to be a (insert last name here). A few other ways to implement and really connect with your family creed are:
- Make a sign or plaque and display it in a special place in your home.
- Journal – write about the ideals and values you’ve chosen to create your happier family dynamic.
- Prayer / Meditation. Spend quiet time in prayerful or deep thought. Visualize your happy family. See the unit coming together in good times and bad. Visualize the joy that is your family.
- Make your family creed important to everyone in your family. Share it, if your children are older, get their input.
- Read books about building stronger families.
Your Creed is the Core of Your Strong Family
The DNA of any strong family is hard coded with love, loyalty and respect. If you are true to your creed, allow it to permeate your every action (or at least try really, really, really hard to) then operating in this mode will be as immutable as the color of your eyes. Your kids will look back on their family life and realize their house was their home and their parents and siblings were more than relatives – but instead a strong family. A family where you could count on each other, depend on each other, love each other, forgive each other, share dreams with each other and aspire to be more today than you were yesterday.
What is at the core of your families creed?
What does it look like and how will you implement it into your daily life so that you can be a shining example to your children, spouse and others of what it means to be a family?