A few weeks ago, one of our children (who shall remain nameless to avoid incrimination) made the choice not to go to a service event because he didn’t feel like it. He preferred to relax and watch TV. The event was a school commitment that could be missed if there was a compelling reason. Football on TV was, he decided, a compelling reason.
Our debrief meeting about the incident led to a discussion about our family’s values and how those values show in our actions. I was reminded of the Annie Dillard quote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We talked about how sometimes we have to spend time doing something we don’t feel like doing because it demonstrates something we value. For example, we might spend more time reading or doing homework than playing video games, even though we’d prefer to play the video games more.
We talked about how our actions (and inactions) reflect on us individually and as a family. What do people see us doing? What values do others see in us? Are those values what we want to stand for as a family?
Before we sat down to talk, I quickly jotted down some things we value. In our discussion, I asked my son to think about how we show each value. What do we do or how do we spend our time when we value a particular thing? Here are some of the values and representative actions we brainstormed together:
How we spend our time
|Being Healthy||• Running & doing other sports and outdoor activities
• Limiting soda/junk food and eating fruits and veggies
|Family||• Prioritizing family dinner – limiting other evening commitments|
|Education||• Reading at bed time every night
• Getting homework done before free/play time
|Faith||• Attending church and youth group
• Participating in service projects
• Donating to missions and other humanitarian causes
|Contributing to our Community & Protecting the Environment||• Volunteering our time and money to help our school and local community
• Using solar energy to power our home
• Donating used items for reuse
This was an excellent exercise that I recommend trying with your family. First, it’s interesting to see what our kids think we as parents value. Maybe they know what we value, but there might be something they don’t know about. Asking for their input gives a good start to understanding how well we’re doing at communicating and living out our values. Our discussion (and the chart) opened up a line of thinking for me about what we value as a culture, what we value as a family, and what I value personally. Our values, I’ve seen, can be accurately or inaccurately represented in our actual lives. After all, how we spend our time and our money says a lot more about our values than what we say we value. Our culture seems a bit off kilter with what is valued — fame is what most young people say they most want in life to be successful — so, while it can be difficult to go against the grain of culture and spend our time differently than what most people seem to value, I think living in sync with our values will make us and our children have much richer, more fulfilling lives.
I’ve been asking myself the following questions:
• Am I spending my days how I want to spend my life?
• Does how I spend my time reflect what I value most?
Since our family discussion a few weeks ago, I’ve thought more about my family and if what I am modeling for my kids is in sync with the values I want them to learn. Are we, as a family, spending our days in a way that reflects what we really value?
I currently give us a B- or C+. There are some areas where we’re doing pretty well; For example, we’ve always been an active family and have enjoyed many Saturday morning 5K runs together. We eat a salad or veggie at dinner every night. I think we show that we value taking care of ourselves and our health in our day to day lives. I also think we’re doing pretty well with prioritizing family time. We eat dinner as a family most nights of the week, and we also find group activities – like going in the hot tub – that we can enjoy together. We also clean up the kitchen together after dinner and have a TV show that we watch together one night each week.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t really happy with what I found when I investigated some other areas; Although we have, on occasion, signed up for volunteer opportunities, we haven’t committed to any regular volunteer and service time. It has always seemed too hard to fit it in with sports practices, homework, etc. We have let some valuable volunteer opportunities slip by in favor of activities with less significance (like watching football, playing video games, or, in my case, Pinterest). Finding some kind of regular outreach or service opportunity – even if it’s just once a month – clearly needs to be a priority if we truly value service to others.
I’ve decided we need to take a closer look at our time and priorities and get them aligned more directly with our values. And I think it starts with me getting my own time aligned. To start, I’ll look back at my week and see how I spent my days — how much time am I working, driving, getting or preparing food, on social media, exercising, talking to friends and family, reading, etc. Then, I’ll assess how it aligns with how I envision a values-driven schedule would look. And I’ll make the necessary adjustments.
I’ve learned from a few trusted sources in books I’ve read recently the importance of putting important, regular things on the calendar. For example, if having family dinner is a priority, then it needs to be on the calendar as an appointment. If getting exercise is important, it also needs a place on the schedule. If getting together with a close friend regularly is a priority, then it needs to get on the schedule. We tend to do the opposite and view those important, regular things as disposable. We don’t write them on the calendar, so that an evening appears to be “open,” even when we planned on it being family time. If we get invited to an event or meeting, we let that supersede family dinner. Exercise is the same way. Whether it’s a class at the gym or a walk with a friend, if it’s on the schedule it’s more likely to happen. And when we have something like family dinner or exercise on our calendar, there are times when we’ll need to say, “I’m so sorry but I have another appointment that evening.” Bob Buford, author of Half Time, put four family dinners on his weekly calendar that were viewed as real appointments that could not be changed. In that way, although he had a busy career and many responsibilities, he showed his kids how much he valued them and his family. And I love how priorities can be combined — like when I meet a friend for a walk to catch up!
It’s so easy to get caught up in what our culture values, which—according to how we collectively spend our time and money—are sports, education, entertainment, and buying and using lots and lots of stuff. Ick! I don’t want that to represent my family, and, yet, I see that cultural norm does represent us in many ways.
Within our own families we have the power to model our values through how we spend our time. And, by changing how we do that and by putting “first things first,” we help shape important values in our children.
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Defining Your Family’s Values, Parent IQ
Half Time, by Bob Buford
The Sweet Spot, by Christine Carter
Why Family Dinner is Important, Sunshine Parenting
100 Memories Activity, Sunshine Parenting
Family Meetings, Christine Carter