Many families gain a sense of who they are from the opinions and perceptions of those around them. As a result, families can end up allowing circumstances, habits, and society to shape who they are and what they accomplish. The most effective families, however, fashion their own future. Instead of letting other circumstances or people determine their destiny, effective families plan and create their own positive results. The method to accomplish this is to create a family mission statement. But first I want to tell you about a small little tree that illustrates the tremendous power of a family mission statement.
A “Bamboo” Family
You may have never heard about or even care about a tree called Chinese bamboo. As you will see, however, this special little tree has more to do with your family and its success than you may realize. What’s so special about bamboo dads? The Chinese bamboo tree does not produce much noticeable outward growth for the first four years of its life. Instead, as the result of the right kind of soil, water, sunlight, and weeding all of the growth takes place underground. All that is visible from the surface is a little bulb and a small shoot coming out of it. Does it sound like the perfect marriage relationship? Just wait.
The Chinese bamboo tree first develops thick stems or roots, called rhizome. The surface growth is limited because the bamboo’s network of roots spans deep and wide to provide a firm base to allow massive growth in the future. Literally, if you looked at a frail Chinese bamboo tree, you might think, “That is the puniest, most pathetic tree I’ve ever seen. It’s been several years without any noticeable growth. There must be something wrong with this tree.” At that point, you might even attempt to dislodge the pitiful tree. But something amazing would happen. You would take hold of that tiny tree, and you would pull and tug and nothing would happen. You might yank and jerk as hard as you could and…nothing.
The beauty of the Chinese bamboo tree is that the roots are so strong by the fifth year that after little visible growth during the past four years, the tree shoots up a staggering eighty feet. Eighty feet! Can you imagine that? Something that had been growing from only a measly bulb and shoot develops into an eighty-foot tree within the same year! Believe it or not, the same thing can happen in your family.
If you want an eighty-foot Chinese bamboo tree-like family, all you have to do is learn what it takes to cultivate strong roots.
What is a “Mission Statement?”
Cultivating strong family roots begins with laying the proper foundation. Just like you need the right soil to grow a healthy tree, the proper soil is a family mission statement. A mission statement is a powerful document that expresses your family’s sense of purpose and meaning in life; it acts as a governing constitution by which your family evaluates decisions and chooses behaviors.
How to Create Your Own Family Mission Statement
Creating a family mission statement begins with exploring what your family is about and upon what principles your family operates by. It’s important to get everyone’s feelings and ideas out on the table. To understand what your family is about and your important operational principles, answer these kinds of questions:
- What is the purpose of our family?
- What kind of family do we want to be?
- How do we want to resolve our differences?
- What kind of parents do we want to be?
- What kinds of things do we want to do?
- What kind of relationships do we want to have with one another?
- How do we want to treat one another and speak to one another?
- What things are truly important to us as a family?
- What are our family’s highest priority goals?
- What are the principles and guidelines we want our family to follow?
- What families inspire us and why do we admire them?
- How can we contribute to society as a family and become more service oriented?
With ideas out on the table, you’re now ready to refine and pull them all together into some kind of written document that will reflect the collective feeling of the hearts and minds of your family. Write your family mission statement.
To give you some direction in writing your family mission statement, here is example: The Smalley family mission is to honor and serve God, others and ourselves. We will create a nurturing place of order, integrity, love, happiness, and relaxation. We will believe in each other. We will foster responsibility by teaching our children to love, learn, laugh and to work and develop their unique talents.
As you and your family write your family mission statement, you will become more aware of your family’s potential, natural talents and tendencies. Don’t rush the process. Instead, take time to think deeply on the two questions.
Taken with permission from Greg Smalley, Psy.D. Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at www.liferelationships.com.