Identity and Values
History shows that the family was the first institution. Research has traced evidence of the family to prehistoric times. While the nature of families and their roles in society have changed and continue to be in transition, the family remains an essential cornerstone of cultures throughout the world.
A family, no matter how that term is defined, constitutes a system in which all of the individual family members are interconnected. A change in any one member ripples throughout the system and influences the actions of every other family member.
In a similar manner, a family system is a subsystem of the environment in which it functions. The environment contains systems and subsystems of its own, including government, spiritual affiliations, neighborhoods, schools, media, other families and affilations, such as cliques or gangs, that frequently supplement or replace families.
In addition, a family itself is comprised of various subsystems. Parents and children represent two different subsystems. Brothers represent different subsystems than sisters. The number of subsystems expands exponentially as the family expands to include grandparents, great-grandparents, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and in-laws.
What is a family?
It is becoming increasingly difficult to define a family. The traditional nuclear family of husband, wife, and 2.3 children has given way to non-traditional and blended families. Blended families – which may include second marriages and children from previous relationships – can include members of widely disparate ages. Non-traditional families also include categories such as single parents, inter-racial marriages, living-together arrangements without marriage, same-sex couples, grandparents raising children, children caring for their live-in parents, and other combinations.
Each family has a unique identity that is determined by names, dates and places of birth, traditions, stories and myths, norms, beliefs, principles, values, passions, ideology, politics, education, spirituality, roles and expectations, occupations, mobility, behavior, respect for authority, outlook on financial responsibility and debt, perceived obligations to self, other family members and society, loyalty, fidelity, justice, philanthropy, time horizon, acceptance of diversity, willingness to share and dialogue, willingness and ability to display emotions, acceptance of change. The list goes on.
Families are often unaware of their identity. Elders fail to share family history and stories with younger members. They often believe that simply living out their values and principles will instill those same attributes in younger generations. Many families know and are proud of their heritage, and they are eager to pass that identity to their children. Other families would like to establish their identity but don’t know how.
Documenting family identity
Defining family identity is a process. After facilitated discussion with individual family members, couples, generations and the family as a whole, family identity should be memorialized through statements of family values, mission and vision.
A statement of family values should incorporate the most significant elements of family identity that the family as a whole desires to perpetuate. A mission statement should describe a family’s core values, principles and purpose. A vision statement focuses on a family’s future, providing a framework for articulating long-range inspiration, passions, dreams, goals, and planning.
SeekingNorth helps families describe their identity, establish consensus about values and principles, and develop statements of values, mission and vision. We seek to understand the family as a whole, its environments and individual members. This process typically involves individual, confidential discussions with members of three or more generations and helping them define their own roles as members of the family system. We would love to discuss how we can help your family in this important process.