Every business seems to have one—on a plaque, on the wall—an attractively worded statement of vision and purpose and goals. Some call it a Mission Statement. Employees are proud of it and hopefully do their part to bring it to pass.
For many years the late Stephen Covey was our mentor, along with his wonderful wife Sandra. One night at dinner, many years ago, Stephen asked us if we had a Family Mission Statement and we were embarrassed to say that we did not. I had a mission statement for my consulting company, and he said that was fine, but that a family vision statement was ultimately more important—that it would draw our family together and give each child equity in the family and an identity larger than him or herself. We began to think about how to develop one and how to get the kids involved in the thinking.
About that time we happened to meet a man who carried two mission statements—in the two inside breast pockets of his suit jacket. In the right pocket was his corporate mission statement—he was president and C.E.O. of a highly profitable mid-size company. In the left (“over my heart,” he said) was his family mission statement. He told us that he and his wife had taken their three teen and elementary-age children to a resort hotel for a long weekend, rented a conference room there and held four two-hour sessions (interspersed by swimming and activities) where they hammered out a family vision statement.
He said they’d started just talking about their family, their love for each other, their desire to stay together and support each other, and how they could use what they had to help others. The dad had read them some corporate mission statements and asked if they thought one was needed in the family. At a second session they had each written down what was most important to them and, interestingly, a list of their favorite words. At a third session they’d each written up a simple personal mission statement—hopes and dreams for their individual lives. At a final session they pulled everything together and created a family mission statement. They had a big, framed copy at their home and each carried a laminated personal copy.
We did something similar, although some of our sessions were held on camping trips and in the van on long road trips. We didn’t rush the process and we made sure every child was involved and had a voice. We kept emphasizing the idea that this was a chance to design the type of family we wanted to have. Some of our kids were teenagers, and they decided that they also wanted to have a personal mission statement. For example, 15-year old Noah came up with the following”
“My vision is to be one who is looked upon by others and by God with a smile always. To be filled with a joy which others can feel. To find this joy through service. To watch, to absorb, to learn, to find, to discover. To always look forward to the next day.”
Our first draft, collectively-written family mission statement, because it had so many inputs was more than a page long. Then we whittled it down to a couple of long, run-on sentences:
“Create together an identity-building, support-giving family institution which fosters and facilitates a maximum of broadening and contributing by its members, each of which become strong, independent individuals, committed spouses, and parents beyond their parents; first receiving and then giving the gifts of joy, responsibility and sensitivity and approaching the world with attitudes of serendipity, stewardship and synergy. Help children to grow up and spin off into independent orbits, still feeling the gravity and light of parents with whom there is a consulting relationship in which advice is freely asked for, freely given and used or unused without offense to parent or pressure to child.”
After some additional discussions, it was finally shortened to a three word “Family Mantra” that simply said, “Broaden and Contribute.” Because it had been boiled down from longer statements and from everyone’s inputs, it meant something to each of us and has influenced our individual and collective decisions and directions now for more than 20 years. One year, our children had it done in gold-leaf and calligraphy and gave it to us on a plaque which still hangs on our wall.
Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in a series of 10 where the Eyres are sharing the ten best parenting ideas they have come across during their three decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. Each is coupled with the key parenting challenge that it helps to solve. The ideas are not in any particular order, but each represents a simple, practical “best practice” that can be implemented in any family. Most of them center on a “prop” or physical object that symbolizes the idea and makes it real and memorable.