Several years ago while hiking with our kids in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Rocky Mountain National Park, we realized that our beloved boys were doing a great impression of ungrateful, whiny brats. This perplexed and frustrated us until my husband and I remembered an earlier lesson: When we are not enjoying our children, it often means that we are the problem. Rather than railing against them (my default reaction), it became clear that we needed the parenting equivalent of a chiropractic adjustment.
That night after they went to bed, Christopher and I began processing where we had veered off track. It didn't take long for us to realize that we carried expectations for who they ought to be and how they should behave that we had never clearly communicated to them. We wondered if we could initiate a conversation that would get us all on the same page.
The next morning over breakfast, Christopher asked, "What are some of the characteristics that we already have as a family and what are a few areas where we could grow?" It became one of the most engaging, dynamic conversations that we've ever had! What started as a problem led to a powerful process of solidifying our sense of family identity.
Together we identified the following ten family values.
1. Hospitable. We practice hospitality on a regular basis. Whether it's inviting international visitors or neighbors over for a meal, we take seriously the notion that sitting down at the table with others is one of the best ways to get to extend God's kingdom.
2. Generous. We are generous with the resources that we have. This runs the gamut from cheerfully sharing our personal belongings to sponsoring several children through Compassion International, to giving money to those in need whenever we are able.
3. Truthful. We commit to not deceiving anyone, regardless of the cost to us. We admit it when we have neglected or wronged someone. We communicate with one another when something is bothering us. We do so assuming the best of the other and maintaining a commitment to work things out.
4. Forgiving. Closely connected to number three, we forgive one another. The process of forgiveness is perhaps one of the most essential ingredients to living in harmony. It is also a cornerstone of our faith. This is something we can't take for granted. We taught the boys a script when they were younger that they still follow. After one son punched and blooded another son's nose, he was "encouraged" to say, "I am sorry that I punched you in the face. Will you forgive me?" When he was ready, the injured son responded, "I forgive you for hitting me." Then they hugged. It may sound contrived, but it really works.
5. Engaged adventurers. We choose to engage physically, spiritually, and relationally with the world around us. Since we are well past the midpoint of our life, Christopher and I are very much aware of our many limitations. Though we respect those limitations, whenever possible, we will not be defined by them. For example, Christopher has some significant fears of heights and flying, but on vacation last year, he bravely conquered a high ropes course.
6. Resilient. The scientific definition for resiliency is "the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity." Pediatrician and developmental specialist Dr. T. Berry Brazelton wrote, "How an individual deals with disappointment is the mark of true maturity." This has been an aggressive teaching point for all three of our sons and, might I add, for me as well. We have learned together that griping, pouting, or angry outbursts really have little impact. While we certainly offer grace and allow for grieving when the disappointment is legitimate, we have found that intentionally returning to our original form minimizes the losses.
7. Flexible. We Grecos tend to be planners. Sometimes wisdom dictates dropping those plans, regardless of how wonderful they might have been, in favor of an unexpected opportunity.
8. Grateful. We choose to have thankful hearts and express our gratitude often. Starting at an early age, we have trained our boys to always say "Thank you" to whomever prepared their meal. They also get numerous pokes to write notes of appreciation to their teachers or other significant adults.
9. Curious. Learning requires humility and a willingness to submit ourselves to the discipline of scholarship. Our commitment to intellectual growth is motivated by the goal of having a rich understanding of history and the people in our lives rather than in order to be prideful about our knowledge.
10. Creative. We believe that we are created in God's image and have unique gifts that we are meant to develop and offer to the world around us. This requires discipline, perseverance, and a willingness to risk expressing our own style and viewpoint.
What might your family's list look like? What values, choices, or priorities encapsulate who your family is and who you desire to be? How might a conversation distilling your family values help you grow and bond together?
When we composed this list, our sons ranged between the ages of 9 and 15. Obviously, it would be challenging to enter into a dialogue about such sophisticated endeavors with a 2-year-old! However, values like these can often be simplified so that even young children could understand and embrace the basic concepts. Furthermore, because we change, a list like this shouldn't be static. As we each continue to grow chronologically and developmentally, we might add or subtract specific values. For our family, having a clearly defined sense of our values in front of us on a daily basis helps us to live purposefully and avoid unnecessary conflict. (Oh, and by the way, the remainder of our Colorado vacation was incredible and without annoying behavior!) Have fun developing your list!
Dorothy Greco uses words and images to help folks find transformation through Jesus Christ and see the beauty in everyday life. She currently lives outside Boston with her husband and two of her three sons. You can follow her via Facebook or by visiting her site: www.DorothyGreco.com