Know (and Nurture) Your Family Culture

The Incredibles: The Culture of "I've Got Your Back"
The Incredibles: The Culture of “I’ve Got Your Back”

Whether you can easily define it or not, your family has a culture. That family culture can be a source of inspiration, motivation, and resilience. It can also provide clues for how to resolve challenges within your family or prioritize your time.

Your culture is a combination of things, but at its most basic, your culture is based on your values, priorities and beliefs. Behavior is also a key element because while we all have the best of intentions, if we don’t consistently behave in a way that reinforces our values, priorities and stated beliefs, they are based on aspiration and not reality. Culture is solidified by walking the talk.

Why is it important to be aware of your family’s culture? Because it is directly related to your parenting, the choices you make, the people you spend time with, the things you choose to do with your spare time, and how you spend your money. The culture of your family is a big part of your legacy. In many ways, your family culture is more meaningful to the individuals in your family than any financial assets you convey as part of your broader legacy.

You likely have a pretty good sense of the culture of your family. It’s going to be informed by your experiences growing up, those of your partner and the adjustments you have made inspired by your life’s experiences. If identifying a statement of your family’s culture doesn’t come easily to you, here’s another way to get at it:

  1. Write down a list of the values that guide you. These are words like honesty, integrity, loyalty, dedication, tolerance, compassion, etc.
  2. Pick the top 5 you think are most important
  3. Write a list of what you feel are the biggest priorities in your life – this is not supposed to be your “bucket list” of things you want to do but rather the categories of things in your life that are most important to you, such as family, education, community, health, travel, etc.
  4. To wrap it all together, create a sentence that starts “our family believes that”, continues to list your top 5 values and ends with “are values that should guide our behavior and decisions.”
  5. The second sentence begins with “These are the things we believe to be most important for our family” and continue with the list of your priorities.

This is your simple family culture statement.

Now it’s time for the gut-check, which you get by asking your kids what they think the culture of the family is. Keep in mind that you may not like all the answers they give you, but their responses will likely give you some insight into where there may be disconnects between the culture you aspire to create and one you actually have. In other words, the kids will keep you honest.

Ask them what some of the most important lessons you have taught them. Ask them what they think you care about most in your life (and if you hear answers like “your iPhone” or “your job”, don’t discount that. Try instead to understand what that means). Ask them what they think the family cares about and what they care about independently.

To keep this light, you can turn this into a version of MadLibs by using the same format outlined above for creating your family culture statement.

Compare yours with theirs.

You will likely have lots of opportunity for discussion about the differences between your statement and what you hear from your kids. Try not to take this too personally. The point is that it’s the beginning of a conversation that you should have with your family. Keep talking about it. Ask for examples of behavior. Think about opportunities to change your behavior that is more consistent with your priorities. Add or adjust your priorities if you need to.

Let me know how it goes.

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2 Responses

  1. Krista ANDERSON-Ross

    This is a timely post during a frenetic time when individuals and families don’t know if they’re coming or going. We spend so much time just catching up and surviving, with not enough intention around what we want to cultivate. We had a Korean exchange student living with us this past week, we were talking about “American culture.” He and we were hard pressed to come up with examples! Best to keep it close to home and cultivate the culture we want for ourselves and family and hope it extends from there. Great food for thought – thanks for this post Jamie!

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