(Contains affiliate links)
When I thought about family culture, I started out thinking about the Olympics, and how those athletes needed to have started training from a young age! I wondered what was going on in their families that those kids felt supported or encouraged to pursue something to the point of competing at an Olympic level! Because I have an imperfect family of my own, I also started to notice that there were some of those families in the neighborhood or at church who always seemed to just have it all together. Their kids seemed to be so well-behaved. I started to ask myself how they were doing it! How are these families so successful? Is it just an appearance? The Olympians aren’t faking it, even if their parents forced them the whole time. At some point everything would explode, right!?
That’s when I started to investigate what this family culture thing is all about. I started my podcast to interview experts and successful individuals who seem to have figured something out, or could at least give me clues about what was going on in their families that led to such success. I started to discover that family culture is something we all experience even if we don’t even realize it. It’s our language, it’s the way we discipline, it’s our habits and routines, it’s the way we feel around each other, it’s the things we value and the traditions we honor. Family culture is our identity and the narrative we perpetuate in our homes.
Our family culture is founded in the things we default to, our habits and norms. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it because it is just the way things are. Family culture just is, even without thinking about it. Think about a time you walked into a home and you could tell there was a different feeling. Maybe the parents talked to each other differently, or they treated their kids differently. Maybe their home was decorated differently. Whether better or worse than what you’re used to, you notice. I had this experience when I went to have dinner in a home with a couple who were not getting along before I was married. They were short with each other, and the conversation gravitated toward the point of conflict which was that they had such vastly different backgrounds. There was a distinct feeling there. I didn’t know how to resolve it at the time. I asked someone more experienced than me what can be done. I knew that when I got married, there would be differences in our expectations of what is normal. I knew this would be the case even if we were next-door neighbors and seemed to have the same beliefs! This person told me to forget about my background. When I get married, my husband and I would have to agree on what was normal for our own family independent of where we came from or how we were raised. If our background influenced our identity as a family, we would discuss it and agree on it together.
I learned from Nicholeen Peck that family culture is what we default to, but those defaults can be shaped and changed according to our values. I talked to Mary Ann Johnson about how to be more intentional about our habits by starting with a vision and creating a mission statement. First, we start with what our values and standards are. Values are those things that are most important to your family. Standards are the principles that shape appropriate behaviors and establish a code of morality and respect. Write down what you come up with. Mary Ann even gave me a template for how to write out a mission statement.
So, what about those habits? Aren’t habits just a part of who we are? In a book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, I learned that habits can actually be shaped intentionally. You first identify a trigger and reward for the behavior you wish to change. Perhaps you want to work on the habit of coming home and turning on the TV to recharge after a long day. The trigger is probably the fatigue of coming home after a long day. The reward is recharging. Once you have identified the trigger and the reward, you can think of an alternative behavior to take when you are triggered that would give you the same reward. If the goal is to recharge, then coming home and going for a walk, or reading something funny, or take a quick snooze. Habits can also be worked on using the “5-Second Rule” prescribed by Mel Robbins in her book by that name. She recommends that when you catch a trigger, you count down from five. Counting backward awakens your thinking brain and stops you from falling into the default pattern. Then, you can choose a new behavior or thought pattern.
That is a good place to start. Habits can be continuously worked on and you can decide what habits are important to your family values. Once you know what your family values are, you can also start talking about some other aspects of family culture that create that feeling in your home that you are seeking. Why? That is a good question. Creating a family culture is a lot like cultivating a garden, like I learned from Kathy Mellor in our interview. A garden with poor soil, wild with weeds, or no access to sunlight or water will die. Good soil is like a solid vision that nourishes your family and the choices you make. Weeding the garden is like encouraging good habits and plucking out bad ones. Nourishing with sunlight and water is like feeding our souls with traditions, stories, positive language, learning, and love. Families who prepare their homes like a garden will reap a bountiful harvest.
The traditions and stories we tell are another big part of our family culture. In a New York Times article called The Stories that Bind Us, I learned that our family identity is shaped by the narrative we create about our family history through traditions, and family history. Traditions create stories and memories that shape that narrative. Learning our family history, and telling stories about our own history also create a resilience in children because it creates an identity of where they came from, and who they are in the world. Those stories and traditions help create a feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself. When you feel like you’re a valued part of something bigger, you want to work at cultivating unity.
The whole idea I want to present about family culture is that we can be intentional about it. We don’t have to, and indeed we should not, just sit back and let our family culture unravel because of neglect or ignorance. Our family culture can be shaped and designed by our intentions, our vision of what we want our family to become, and allowing our family to grow in an environment that will allow them to thrive. My children may not grown up to be Olympic athletes, and we may struggle every day to live the vision we value. But, having that vision is what guides our choices and behaviors that make us who we are, and create a home where we feel happy and fulfilled. The values in your home may be different than mine, but as long as you decide what those values are, your family will be guided to becoming the best version of themselves.
Throughout this blog, I hope to tell you about my journey of uncovering what family culture means to me, the tools and tips I learn from my guests on my podcast, and struggle with me as I work to reshape my habits and beliefs around my vision and goals for myself and my family.