Embracing Family Values
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Discipline. Money. Time. Relationships. These are just a few of the aspects of family life affected by family values. Family values are a thread that easily ties family education and spirituality together. Very early in my work with families, it became clear to me that I needed to learn more about the importance, role, and transcendence of values for families in all stages of the life cycle as well as find ways to help families both identify and pass on their values.
Importance and Role of Values
Values and morals were ranked by Curran as the seventh of 56 possible characteristics of the healthy family. Positive values including caring, equality and justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, and restraint were listed as 26-31 of 40 developmental assets for youth by Benson, Galbraith, and Espeland. Having similar values can also aid spouses in a happier relationship and helps individuals feel fulfilled when living closely in line with their values.
Family values are different for each family; however, values give families an outlook on life, a way to view the world and their situations as well as an identity by helping family members better understand their background. Part of the reason values are so important to families is they can provide a sense of hope and meaning or significance to family members, especially when facing challenges and crisis situations. Individuals can even feel a sense of despair when they aren't living closely in line with their values.
Values are important also because they provide a foundation as a source of protection, guidance, affection, and support. Instilling family values can protect and guide children against making hurtful decisions in the future as they teach a sense of right and wrong. They can add to relationships and influence judgments, behaviors, and parenting styles. Much of what we do and how we react to various situations and topics is a result of our values. Values give families an outlook on life, a way to view the world and their situations as well as an identity by helping family members better understand their background.
Through their recent project, Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? Marquardt, Stokes, & Ziettlow recognized that "parents have become more important than ever in determining the quality of a child's life." Intentional parenting is necessary for instilling values in children through rituals, taking advantage of teaching moments, and through the generativity of parents and grandparents. Values will be passed down from one generation to the next, therefore, parents need to be aware of the values they display in their day-to-day life—as they pass their values down to their children. Identifying core values and intentionally displaying them through words and actions gives the parent power over the fear of opposing influences. As opposed to avoiding outside interactions, parents can embrace these moments as times to help their children weigh decisions and struggles. Knowing why values are important and how to instill them in their children, parents can equip, support, and protect their children so that they are prepared to confront issues presented from experiences outside of the home.
Through working with families, I have learned that it is important for families to identify values and a plan that is unique to them as opposed to creating a template for all families to follow (as families have different values). Asking parents what is most important to them: "What values do you hope your child will hold as an adult?" or "What traits make a [fill in the last name of the family]?" Are your values honesty, faith, hard-working, kindness, compassion, etc?
Identifying values will allow families to become more focused on what is important to them—helping them better budget their time and other resources. Living by core values will also help filter conflicts and discipline—asking "does this violate one of our core values?" when deciding on how to handle a conflict and discipline measures. Families are better able to identify themselves based on their core values and create lives that reflect these values so that they feel fulfilled and connected to one another. It is also important to keep in mind that values may change as families travel through the different stages of the family life cycle or as they are confronted with various situations outside of their control.
Parents can do a variety of things to pass along their family values to their children. Foremost, they need to be intentional and sensitive (not forcing values on children). They can create meaningful family rituals that help children live out their values. They can also find learning moments in every day opportunities—such as watching television together and discussing what they're watching. This gives parents the opportunity to address actions and attitudes from the television that conflict with their values. Instead of "cocooning" their child, parents can gradually expose their child to the different situations found in society and help them learn how to respond to conflicting values within the safety of their own home.
There are many beneficial resources for parents and educators that help parents create caring conversations with their children. A few examples include:
- Faith Inkubator's "Faith 5" provides a five step format for families to use each day at mealtimes or whenever works best in their schedule as an opportunity to discuss their values and practice their faith in the home. Find more information at www.faithink.org
- Fed up with Frenzy by Susan Sachs Lipman provides ideas to slow down and spend time together as a family during everyday activities, games, crafts, celebrating seasons, and much more.
- The Intentional Family by Dr. William Doherty offers a guide to opening communication between family members through a wide variety of everyday family rituals.
- What Kids Need to Succeed (Revised and Updated Third Edition) by Peter Benson, Judy Galbraith, and Pamela Espeland uses the research gathered from 89,000 young people in 26 states to create a list of 40 developmental assets. Their research found that young people who have more assets are much less likely to get involved in problem/high-risk behaviors.
In conclusion, values are important for a variety of reasons. Values give families an outlook on life, a way to view the world and their situation as well as an identity. Values can also add to relationships and influence judgments, behaviors, and parenting styles. Family values serve as the core of what family members do the opinions they have. Instilling family values can also protect children against making hurtful decisions in the future.
As Family Life Educators, we can help families learn the role and importance of values, work with them to identify their values and then find ways to embrace and teach those values through everyday rituals and activities. Faith communities have a wonderful opportunity to help families with this task through their worship, classes, gatherings, and celebrations—as a safe place for families as they travel through the family life cycle.
Benson, P., Galbraith, J., & Espeland, P. (2012). What Kids Need to Succeed, 3rd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.
Curran, D. (1984). Traits of a Healthy Family. New York: Ballantine Books.
Doherty, W. (1997). The Intentional Family. New York: Addison-Wesley Company, Inc.
Marquardt, E., Stokes, C., & Ziettlow, A. (2013). Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? Institute for American Values, 44. Retrieved from www.centerformarriageandfamilies.org/shape-of-families on February 20, 2013.
At the time of publication, Brittany Gronewold, M.A., CFLE, worked with churches in the St. Louis, Missouri, area teaching classes on marriage enrichment, rituals, child development, and parent education.