Steven and I did a fantastic exercise that I wanted to share with you: deciding on our Top 5 Family Values. We work with Zach Brittle, a Seattle area Gottman Institute based-marriage therapist and coach, and he recommended that we develop our family’s value system as a way to guide our long-term life decisions and direction as well as our daily activities. I’ll detail out below how to do this, and along the way I’ll talk through the over-arching concepts of Mission-Vision-Values and why they will significantly help your marriage and family.
As a quick review, ‘Mission’ is your purpose and direction, ‘Vision’ is your wish for the ‘ideal’ future and ‘Values’ are your principles which guide your day-in, day-out actions. These started as business concepts but are now, thanks to the popularity of coaches, are being applied personally and as couples too.
So why bother having a family Mission-Vision-Values?
Once you have your specific family values, they can help you do quick checks to see if your everyday actions align with what’s important to you and make sure that your long-term plans can be accomplished.
It can be applied to mostly everything—budget, vacation planning, and activities for the kids for example. We use it almost daily but have found it’s incredibly helpful in moments of conflict or indecision. It’s made major life adjustment decisions relatively easy because you have clear touch points while working through them.
By the way, just to clarify, I am talking about you and your family determining what values are important to you—not some prescribed set of values that ‘good’ people should adhere to based on politics or religion.
Easy Way to Create Your Family’s Value List
- Buy a values card deck. We got 2 sets to make the discussion phase easier but you can definitely do it with 1, it just takes you making notes. There are other brands I believe, but we liked these and felt like they weren’t too ‘business-oriented’. You might be able to find downloadable, print-at-home versions out there as well, but it is crucial to have physical versions of the cards for the exercise to go well.
- At different times and without consulting, you and your spouse use the cards to choose your top 20 Values. Note: if you have two decks of Values Cards, simply set aside your top 20 Values; if you only have 1 set of cards, either write a list of these or take a quick picture with your phone. It is IMPORTANT to keep note of all 20 of these for the discussion phase.
- From the top 20 Values, narrow down to your top 5 Values and make 2 piles of Value Cards—Top 5 and the Remaining 15 ‘Top 20’ Values.
- Set aside about an hour to discuss each person’s Top 5 Values. We flipped a coin to see who went first, then each spoke about the meaning of the values chosen and why they chose those particular values. Note: it’s important to let the person talk through all of their Top 5 Values fully and without interruption. This is not about right and wrong or my choices are better than your choices. It’s about being fully present and listening.
- Form a Joint (i.e. the Family’s) Top 5 Values—see #6 about how to do this. While it may be tempting to include your kids at this point, it’s recommended not to since you as the parents are the ones that use the Values to make the big decisions and guide the family. You will discuss the ideas at the end of the process with your whole family to get them involved so don’t worry, you won’t leave them out of the conversation.
- Like the countless variations available to you, there are many different ways to decide on the Family’s Top 5 Values. Just be sure to keep the process upbeat and collaborative. To do this, we:
- Laid out the combined “top” 10 cards; we each chose the Value “Creativity” so it was moved to the “Final” 5 pile and we had 8 “top” cards remaining for consideration.
- To help the discussion, we also laid out the other 30 left over “top” cards separately (meaning each of our 15 left over cards displayed together).
- If two values are close in meaning, we showed them together; discuss which of the two best suit your family or look through your bigger 30 Value pile to see if there was a different Value that incorporated both ideas; this step reduced us down to 3 of the Top 5 being decided and left us with 4 remaining for discussion.
- Talk through if the Values remaining until you’ve ended up with your Top 5; again, look to the bigger pool of 30 left over values to see if there’s a compromise value. It was extremely helpful to us to look at the wording of the definition listed with the Value.
How to Get Kids On Board
Once you decide on your Top 5 Values, WRITE THEM DOWN! Make a poster or frame a pretty version of your family values and hang it someone central for everyone to see. We have a simple word doc framed in our kitchen. Have a family meeting to talk through what these values mean to you and why they’re important to your family. Even if you have very little kids, it’s great to start talking about them right away. They may not fully understand the meaning now, but they will grow up with them being part of how your family does things and decides things.
How to Use Your Family Values
Use the values to guide decisions and activities. For instance, if Adventure is a family value then it makes sense to devote a big part of your budget towards travel and exploring. If Creativity is a value, like it is for us, it’s not only something we devote budget to but also a way of thinking that we encourage. Creative problem-solving is talked about often at our dinner table.
Since time and money are both finite and limited things, using your values to guide actions is a fantastic way for your family to operate. It’s interesting how many situations could have turned into a back and forth argument or big, tough discussion yet when the Values were used, it turned the decision into a quick, neutral one. We’ve found that it’s help reduce the overwhelm we feel as well.
Optional Values Exercise for Your Kids
Once you get your kids used to your Family Values and have them integrated into your everyday life, have them do their own individual values exercises once they’re old enough. Then occasionally revisit them—like once a year, or every other year. A 7-year old’s top value might be Fun but a 9-year old’s may change to Adventure.
All Photos by Nicole Vaughn
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