What does your family value most? Would your kids’ answers mirror yours if asked that question? As parents, one of our biggest jobs is to help our kids develop their own internal compass – a framework to help them make decisions when we aren’t with them. But with all of the outside influences kids experience today, how can you make sure that your children really understand what qualities and traits are important to your family? One way is to create a family mission statement in which everyone has a voice in articulating your family’s purpose.

The family mission statement is a concept described in author and businessman Stephen Covey’s 1989 book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.” Many successful corporations craft mission statements so that all employees can work together toward a common goal.

Covey contends that families, like businesses, need common goals and values to function well:

“A family mission statement is a combined, unified expression from all family members of what your family is all about — what it is you really want to do and be — and the principles you choose to govern your family life.” – Stephen Covey

To start developing your statement, hold a family get-together. Covey recommends that you keep the meetings fun: combine it with a pizza party or fun activity. If your kids are young, keep the meeting short. You don’t want this important discussion to become a chore! Keep in mind that it may take more than one meeting to complete your mission statement.

Where to begin

Start with reflection questions to get everyone thinking. Read each person’s answers out loud. Make sure that there is a strict rule that no one is allowed to laugh at or judge another’s thoughts. For moms and dads, be careful not to turn this into a discussion of what kids are doing wrong – even if Timmy bringing up “responsibility” as a value seems like the perfect opening to bring up that he doesn’t always do his chores! The discussion should focus on what the family is doing well in the present and what you hope to do better in the future.

There are step-by-step documents and tutorials available around the blogosphere if you want some guidance. If you feel stuck, consider using one of these as a starting point and modify to fit your family dynamic:

Or try some of these sample questions and add your own:

  • How do we show our love and support for one another?
  • How do we treat others?
  • What do you like about our family?
  • What do you like about coming home?
  • Think about your favorite memories of our family time? What were we doing? What made that time special?
  • Can you think of other families whom you admire? Why?
  • How do you think others describe our family?

After the refection answers are read, you will likely see some similar values start to repeat. For example, does everyone agree that supporting each other is one of your family’s core values?

Stick to values and keep it fun

Once you have culled a list of values from members’ reflections, write them down. Try to stay away from goals. This is because goals are situation specific, while values are timeless. For example, a goal would be “We will volunteer as a family each summer,” while a value would be “We serve others.”

Every family will have a different list. Be sure to include fun values as well as more serious ones. Your list will likely be very long initially. You might need to get together more than once to whittle it down. The end goal of creating your statement is honing it down to a memorable sentence or short paragraph. Some families even choose a movie or book quote that immediately brings their philosophy to mind.

Once you finish, display your hard work! Print it out and frame the page, paint it on the wall or create a piece of art to symbolize your unique family vision. The important thing isn’t how fancy it looks or whether guests visiting your home will understand what you wrote, as long as it holds meaning for your family.

Taking the time to figure out what your family is about and what you truly value can be anything from a fun family activity to a transformative experience. At the very least, it will spark discussion!