Building Family Culture: An introduction

June 12, 2014 in Education

Family Culture

There is a lot of talk in the business world about developing the culture of an organization.

Thousands of dollars are spent on consultants whose sole purpose is to examine the existing culture and craft action plans for developing it with an eye toward collaboration, productivity increase, or some other attribute that is important tot he growth and development of the corporation at large and the individual members within it.

In the parenting world there is a lot of talk about patching the ship, surviving a given stage, “fixing” a certain behavior, instilling certain values and in general “doing the right things” for our children. There are innumerable systems and philosophies full of dos and don’ts that are, at once, dizzying and demoralizing. There is immense pressure put on parents to perform and to provide that elusive “perfect” environment for their growing progeny. There is pressure on the kids too, who are primped, paraded, and compared to their peers at every turn, from their grades and the school they attend to their after school activities and their “giftings.”

What if this is the wrong approach?

What if the basic philosophy of treating children as a product to be crafted and then “sold” at the end in to the “real world” is wrong?

What if it’s not at all about any of the things we spend so much time stressing out over?

What if, instead, it’s about creating a family culture, more than it is about creating an individual?

What if the individual is not a result of the series of behavior modifications and educational or enrichment “inputs” and what if, instead, he is the result of the culture of the family that is crafted around him? 

Notice I said, “crafted,” not born into.

Think for a moment about the implications of that. What if it’s the family culture that matters most?

What is your family culture?

What is culture?

It’s the synthesis of arts, human interaction, philosophy, literature, education, heritage appreciation and building, values, habits and customs.

Every family has a “culture,” whether or not they are aware of it. If you think about the families you know, you’ll be able to easily identify the prime aspects of their cultures in a very few words.

  • The Smiths have a culture of Joy
  • The Klaus’ have a culture of Blame
  • The Alberts have a culture of Peace
  • The Franks have a culture of Anger
  • The Browns have a culture of Respect
  • The Roberts have a culture of Adventure
  • The Edwins have a culture of Excellence

Of course there is more to a culture than a one word summation, but in that one word definition, you have an immediate picture of what that means within a family.

What word, or two, would sum up your family culture?

Are you happy with that?

Every family has a culture, but you’re not stuck with what you were born into, and you’re not limited by what you are right now. Culture can be made, it can be crafted. Indeed, it is always made, always crafted, it’s just that most people aren’t conscious of the process.

How is culture created?

Through intentional philosophy and through a myriad of small choices. 

This is why culture crafting in business has become such big business. The first thing that has to change, if the culture of a business is going to be overhauled, is the mindset of the leaders, the CEO and the management. These are the people directly responsible for the climate of the business both in the public sphere, but also behind closed boardroom doors and in the day to day workings. They pay the big bucks to have someone from the outside, with clearer vision, come in and point out what, sometimes, they’re too close to see: what their philosophy really is and how it is affecting everyone who works with and for them. Once the new philosophy is clearly identified, then any number of actions can be put into place to change the culture. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long term project.

It is the same with families. The responsibility for the existing family culture lies squarely with the parents, as does any hope for developing the culture beyond that.

What is your family culture? What do you want it to be?

Not sure? Ask someone close to your family to help you see more clearly.

Developing family culture vs. reactionary parenting

I think there is real benefit in considering this idea of family culture vs. reactionary parenting based on the ever changing whims of culture and the unending litany of books thrown at parents, marketed to their fears and weaknesses.

Developing family culture as your primary parenting strategy is something that will take forethought and cooperation. It will be a project that demands daily attention to the details. It will require faith in the 20 year process and value depth of interaction over instant gratification style results. Less emphasis will be put on what you’re seeing in front of you at any given moment. More emphasis will be put on what you’re trying to develop over the long haul.

A focus on building family culture takes the microscope off of the child. It also takes the child out of the center of the family and instead equalizes the values of all of the members.  All of a sudden Jr. is part of something bigger than himself, more valuable than himself alone. He’s clipped, like a bright new t-shirt, to a laundry line that stretches for generations behind him and off into the future ahead of him. He has a valuable place in it, but he’s not holding it together, he’s not holding it up, it’s not there just for him, it was there before him, and will be there after him. Over the years it becomes clear that he has a responsibility to keep the line going when his turn comes.

Building family culture means that you’re not just parenting your children, you’re equally invested in self development and the personal growth of your partner. It means that the decisions you make about education, activities, the way you spend your evenings and weekends, what you read and watch, the community involvement you have, the way you interact with grandparents and extended family, your attitude towards total strangers and the habits that you allow to form are all considered in light of your family culture and what you are trying to cultivate.

It’s a harder way to raise a family, because it requires constant thought and evaluation on the part of the parents. It requires a focus on philosophy and overall “plan” not just a “whatever works” mindset for the moment. But I believe it’s a more respectful way to parent, because children, after all, are not products.

  • They are not inconveniences.
  • They are not pets, or prizes or trophies to validate our self worth or a second chance at our childhoods.
  • They are living, breathing souls who will live on into a future we will never see.
  • They are our gift to the future.
  • They are the echo of our existence and the living legacy of our grandparents and great grandparents.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of my kids that way, as the living trust that my great grandparents fought wars (public as well as private) and famine on behalf of, it changes my perspective on my responsibility as a parent. It’s not just about me, and my kids. It’s about the past and the future of our family for untold generations ahead of me. How could I reduce that to a 1-2-3 method of parenting or a sound-bite, or straw-man generalization? Families aren’t that simple. Humanity is not that simple. 

Occasionally, in coming weeks,  we’re going to explore this concept of Family Culture further. We’re going to discuss what it looks like, how to build it, and we’re going to think about what that means in very concrete terms. I’d love to have your input. I’d love to have your suggestions, your observations, perhaps even your own article on what you’ve learned about family culture and the power of it in your own life. Please weigh in, and let’s talk.

As a generation of free-thinking parents, let’s lay down the over simplifications of our age and dig in to do the decades deep work of crafting a family and its culture.