(*Originally appeared in the April Edition of Toledo Area Parent. See more here.)
I was recently in a conversation with someone I haven’t seen in roughly 10 years. We covered the basic topics of conversation that you would expect after such a time. As we worked through the names and ages of my children he asked “Wow, three girls! Did you ever think you would have 3 daughters?” Of course my answer was “No.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want three daughters, it was simply that I had never thought about it. I don’t necessarily think I ever considered how many children I wanted at all. And while you can barely control how many children you have, you certainly can’t control how many sons or daughters you have. That is a real trick.
While I had never envisioned a life with three daughters, there are certain aspects of my life right now that I did envision, and I think this is true for all of us. Certainly as parents there are many things that take place that we did not have in mind or plan for, but hopefully there are those other realities that we did have in mind. We all have hopes and dreams for our children. Big lofty dreams. We want them to fall in love, travel the world (safely of course) and get a great education and so on. This is often what we think about when we think about the vision we have for our families. I want to suggest here that the more specific and detailed the vision for our family becomes the more powerful it is in our day to day ives.
Often when when we set long term goals for our family we essentially settle in to vague aspirations. There is a big difference between goals and a vision. A vision isn’t something you can check off a list. A vision isn’t something you can accomplish or move beyond. A vision is a reality you can picture and imagine. It moves and ebbs and flows and changes as you do. So the vision we create for our family twists and turns as our family grows.
Here are two ideas to create a family vision:
Picture It, And Work Backwards. Picture a point out in the future and ask yourself, what does your family look like? What does a normal week look like for this imaginary family? Is everyone running a different direction involved in their own personal lives only sharing just a few moments together each week? Is dinner consumed separately, everyone looking at their own screens? Or do you share a meal at a table together? What else is your future family doing together? Do you volunteer together? Are you a part of a faith community on a regular basis? How do you spend your money? Do you travel together? Is there a regular rhythm to your year or do you try to cram relaxation in to one epic family vacation every year?
The key here is to get as specific as you can! Nothing is too small for this exercise. In fact, it probably is better to talk through the mundane activities in life. After all, is that most of family life together? Yes. Yes it is.
Once you’ve pictured it, it’s time to work backwards. While picturing life in the future is fun, realizing and working out it’s implications can be more difficult. Work backwards and figure out what needs to change. What needs to be added to your life? What needs to be taken away? It’s important here to give yourself margin and space to make these changes. Sustainable change needs to happen bit by bit. You can’t get to this future point on the calendar by rushing and your life won’t change that fast either. But as you begin living into this picture more each day eventually you will see it transfer from your brainstorming session to the pictures on your wall and the dates on your calendar.
Remind Your Family Who They Are. The second helpful idea to creating a family vision involves the most central part of any family, identity. One of the most powerful ways to create a family vision is to remember who are you are as a family. What is the character of your family? If you share the same last name, how do people with that last name behave? How do they treat people? How do they treat each other? How do they engage in their community? Why do they get up in the morning? If you don’t share the same last name, what about your physical address? How do people who share that home behave in the world?
This is one of my favorite ways to think about parenting. Now, I certainly miss the boat a lot with my own children. But, it is so much better to call our children back to who they are rather than simply telling them not to be someone. When my daughter is rude to her friends, reminding her that people in this family don’t treat others that way is much more significant than simply telling her not to be rude. We all want to be someone much more than we want to stop being something. The same is true for our families as a whole, isn’t it?
Most of us never could have imagined how many sons or daughters we might have, or what the make up of our family would be. But all of us, with a little bit of effort can imagine what we want that family to look like once it exists. So lets picture it, make it happen and remind ourselves of who we are.