Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

Draft a Family Mission or Vision Statement - and Use it!

What do you want to
do with your family?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

HRbrass.gif (3108 bytes)

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/fam/mission.htm

Updated  03-21-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles on evolving and enjoying high-nurturance families (Lesson 5). The series exists because the wide range of current social problems suggests that most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very well. That suggests the epidemic effects of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle proposed in this educational Web site .

      This article explores...

  • what is a mission or vision statement, and why make one?

  • a status check to help you identify your attitude about doing this,

  • typical steps toward making an effective family mission statement for (a) any family and (b) typical divorcing families and stepfamilies,

  • a sample family mission statement.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 5

  • traits of a high-nurturance family,

  • family-development stages; and...

  • this 3-minute thought-provoking video "The Dash"

  What is a Mission Statement?

      It is a brief, thoughtful declaration of what a person, program, or organization exists for. Some people prefer vision statement which focuses on a long-term dream or goal. Examples...

  • personal mission statement  ("This is what I'm trying to achieve with my life and what I stand for")

  • marital vows - declarations of partnership values and long-term goals; .

  • family statements - what the leaders of a family are dedicated to accomplishing over time; and..

  • corporate charters - what the leaders of an organization stand for, and why their organization exists.

Do you have one or more of these now? Do you use them to guide you in complex situations?

  Why Make a Family Mission Statement?

      Family adults (like you) who want to feel in old age that they've succeeded as persons, mates, and nurturers must want to agree early in their family's development cycle on what they're trying to achieve long term. The popular alternative is living reactively a week or two at a time with no long-term goals or plans on how to attain them.

      The probable result is realizing in late middle age that your life and/or family has not produced the results that your younger self longed for. A cultural norm is to steadily focus on short-term gratification, experience major regrets and problems in old age, and silently this attitude in the next generation. Do you agree?

      Not living from thoughtful personal and family mission statements is like gathering your kids and relatives on a houseboat and departing on a world cruise without a destination in mind, a map, a compass, a radio, and appropriate supplies.

  What is an Effective Family Mission Statement?

       It is one that...

  • defines values and priorities that keeps you focused and motivated  through confusing or chaotic situations, and it...

  • helps group-members clarify and progress on their personal mission  statements; and it...

  • helps people achieve key long-term group goals they set out at the beginning, which fosters old-age satisfaction and contentment.

An effective statement is one your family members spontaneously quote and refer to, rather than a document gathering dust in a drawer or file-folder. 

      Reflect - how would your parents and grandparents have reacted to what you just read? Did they have a clear idea of what they wanted their family to achieve across their years? Did they live reactively or proactively?

Status Check

      Picture all the people you call "my family" in a group now, looking at you. Imagine one of them asking "Do you want us to make and use personal and family mission statements?" Before answering, consider this example and imagine your family making and using one like it to help you all make important decisions together. Then...

      Reflect, and answer the question above out loud. If you say "No," "Not now," or "I don't care," then quit reading this article and continue living as you always have.


  wonder what you'll feel in old age about your answer,

  rank the nurturance level of your family (low > moderate high), and...

  decide who answered this question - your true Self, or some other well-intentioned personality subselves. If your answer is something like "I don't know," or "I'm not sure," read the rest of this article and then reconsider the question above to see if anything has changed.  

Learn something about yourself with this 1-question anonymous poll.

  How to Make an Effective Family Mission Statement

      These suggestions are for (a) all families and for (b) typical courting or committed stepfamilies.

Options for All Couples and Families

      Premise - The best time to draft partnership and family mission statements is during courtship. The next best time is as soon as practical after that.

      1) Family leaders help other members to get clear on your family's developmental stages over one generation, and to maintain a long-range outlook. "Long range" means the several decades it will take to complete your generational cycle. The common risky alternative is adults focusing on resolving short-range problems and letting "the future take care of itself";

      2)  Family adults discuss and agree on why families exist, and what it takes to be a high-nurturance (healthy, functional) family over time;

      3)  Family adults learn about and discuss the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and these related family hazards. Discuss honestly if and how the cycle and hazards has affected your family tree so far.

      4)  Evaluate (a) whether some or all your present family adults are Grown Wounded Children (GWCs), and (b) if so, what that has meant to you all.   

      5)  Each wounded adult commit to progressing at self-improvement Lesson 1 over time - i.e. commit to...

  • having their true Selves guide them in all situations, and reducing any inherited psychological wounds; and as you do...

  • clarify and affirm your personal mission on earth, and patiently enjoy overcoming obstacles as you pursue it (self actualize) within your limits. As you adults each do this...      

      6)  Family members agree together...

  • who comprises (belongs to) your family now;

  • what normal kids and adults need in order to develop their full potential, long term;

  • how to measure your family's nurturance level;

  • who among you - specifically - is responsible for...

    • setting long-term family goals, priorities, policies, and plans;

    • negotiating and managing family roles (responsibilities),

    • implementing the policies and monitoring progress over time;

    • managing major family changes, and...

    • resolving family problems as they arise.

      Recall - we're reviewing adults' options for creating an effective family mission statement.

      7)  Clarify and discuss your family's impact on the local and global environment, and your responsibility as members of our "global village." Then discuss whether it's appropriate to include that responsibility in your family mission statement.

      8)  Agree on...

  • what an effective vision or mission statement is,

  • what you adults want to feel about your family accomplishments when you're present adults are old, and...

  • evolve a mission statement that fits you as a unique multi-generational family. Then...

      9)  For more perspective, search the Web for other ideas on "family mission statements" and integrate what you find into these suggestions.

      10)  Use your statement as teammates to guide you all in...

  • negotiating effective "job (role) descriptions" (responsibilities) for each of your family members, and...

  • navigating stressful situations and important family changes and other major decisions. Finally...

      11)  Periodically discuss - e.g. at holiday gatherings or reunions - whether your mission statement is providing helpful guidance and inspiration well enough, Amend it as needed as your family matures and the environment changes across your years.

      Do these steps seem useful and practical? can you imagine your family adults discussing and acting on them together? When any family kids are middle-aged, what would your elders like to hear from them about your stance on these steps when the kids were young? Try interviewing your Future Self for some wise advice about making a family mission statement.

      If you're not in a courting or committed stepfamily and you don't expect to be, go here.

Extra Options for Typical Stepfamilies

      Typical divorcing families and stepfamilies are like intact biofamilies in some ways, and different in many other ways at the same time. These differences merit extra steps in devising and using an effective family mission statement. In addition to the steps above, do an appropriate version of these:

      12)  During or soon after courtship...

  • accept your identity as a stepfamily and learn what that means,

  • Read and discuss this summary of how typical stepfamilies develop over time. Then...

      13)  Do self-improvement Lesson 7 together, and use it together to develop your unique multi-generational stepfamily.

      14)  With your version of these factors in mind, discuss these extra developmental phases that your stepfamily must master across your years, compared to average intact biofamilies.

      15) Now all you adults agree on...

  • what an effective vision or mission statement is,

  • what you all want to feel about your stepfamily's accomplishments when you're all old, and...

  • evolve a mission statement that fits you as a unique multi-generational family.

+ + +

      Do these steps seem useful and practical? can you imagine your family adults learning, tailoring, and acting on them together? When any family kids are middle-aged, what would you elders like to hear from them about your stance on these steps when the kids were young?

      To make these abstract ideas more concrete, meditate on this...


       Before looking at factors that determine how well a family mission statement works, study the sample (bio)family charter below. It's from the "Personal Leadership Application Workbook" for Stephen Covey’s helpful  paperback "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People":

"The mission of our family is ...

to create a nurturing place of order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation; and...

to provide opportunities for each person

to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, ...

in order to achieve worthwhile purposes.

Our Family Mission

To love each other...

To help each other...

To believe in each other ...

To wisely use our time, talents, and resources to bless others ...

To worship together ...


       This brief charter says a lot. It states unmistakably what the leaders of this family want to do. What would it feel like to live in a family who's leaders really followed these ideas? Would a charter like this work as well for a divorcing family or a stepfamily as an intact biofamily? Where did the co-authors of this declaration start? I suspect they began with...

  • A shared high-priority need or dream to intentionally fashion a "good life" for themselves and their children. I further suspect they...

  • felt responsible for making this dream happen, rather than assuming that it would occur "some-how." Finally, the authors seem to have...

  • spent a lot of time thinking and talking about specifically what comprises the "good life" they wanted to co-create over time.

      Do you agree? Can you imagine what your family adults' version of this would look and feel like? I suspect you and any mate and relatives have an unspoken (semi-conscious) policy already... Notice your feelings and "inner voices" now.

      Are you curious, interested, and energized about making a vision statement, or are they feeling skeptical, resistant, or indifferent? The latter suggests you're dominated by well-meaning false seves.  

      Drafting a family vision statement is only half of the project. The other half is...

    Using Your Mission Statement

      Some usage options apply to all families, and some are specially useful for typical divorcing families and stepfamilies.

All Families

      Draft your own declaration together, rather than adopting someone else's. You're far more apt to respect your own heart-values and shared goals than those of other authors, no matter how venerated or articulate. Even changing, adding, or deleting several words can make someone else's inspiring words more yours.

      Consider incorporating key elements of your statement into any commitment vows your couples make;

      If you invite new people into your homes or families, invite them to read and discuss your mission statement as a way of getting to know each other better;

      Display your statement where residents and visitors to your home will see it when they enter or socialize together. The alternative is probably "out of sight, out of mind."

      Review your charter as a couple and a family regularly, like at anniversaries, reunions, celebrations, or January 1. And as you do with legal wills and insurance policies, authorize your Selves to revise earlier drafts as the environment and you all age and change.

      Read your mission statement out loud when you encounter serious role and relationship conflicts. This can refresh your focus and grounding in turbulent times. It can also lead to  important revisions.

      Use your mission statement as a foundation for...

  • negotiating new family roles and rules or upgrading old ones;

  • guiding the resolution of major crises and dilemmas among two or more family members or other people; and...

  • negotiating and applying clear family ''job (role) descriptions''  for each of your adults and kids; and...

  • celebrating your family strengths, milestones, and achievements along the way!

Options for Divorcing Families

      Divorce reorganizes a family, it doesn't end it. Legal divorce affects most current American families. The multi-year divorce process can cause significant confusion and conflict about who's included in the family, and who is responsible for what. The answer determines whom a family mission statement applies to. Typical kids believe both divorced bioparents and their respective ancestors are "my family," even if parents live apart and some kin "aren't speaking." Kids and adults each determine who's included (or not) depending on...

  • the degree of bonding (low to high),

  • their personalities and histories, and...

  • the quality of family relationships (toxic to nurturing).

If divorces are respectful and low-conflict, the two-home family's nurturing ability may be only mildly degraded. This is most likely if both mates and their ancestors have minimal psychological wounds.

      The average case is moderate to high divorce bitterness and conflict, lasting for several to many years. Where resentments, hostility, and distrust are high, mission statements may be drafted and observed by one mate and offered to the other and their relatives.

      Whether separated or divorced, relatives affect how well each person's local and long-term needs are met across their lives. This is specially true at communions, marriages, births, baptisms, bas or bar mitzvahs, graduations, birthdays, holidays, major anniversaries, divorces, and deaths.

      A danger in both ex mates not cooperating on this is their kids' being confused by shuttling between homes that have significantly different values and goals. This promotes stressful loyalty and values conflicts and relationship triangles in and between all family homes, weakens family bonding, and nourishes the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

       The challenge to divorcing-family adults is to transcend local relationship conflict and grief, keep a long-range view, and agree on common long-range nurturance goals. Note the option of making a vision statement for achieving a successful divorce!

Options for Typical Stepfamilies

      Though stepfamilies and intact biofamilies are similar in a number of ways, typical stepfamilies have unique developmental stages and adjustment tasks to factor into your vision statement. Invest several months during courtship working on Lessons 1-7 to gain accurate perspective on who you all are and what you're committing to do together. Invite kin, in-laws, and older kids to participate.

      Integrate your mission-statement in your commitment ceremony - specially if you've involved your kids and their other co-parents in drafting it. This can strengthen your union and your multi-generational stepfamily, and encourage healthy bonding and loyalties. Declaring your stepfamily goals publicly before God, your kids, and key friends and relatives, can impart special meaning to your statement that can amplify its usefulness across your years.

      Offer a copy of your vision statement to your kids' other co-parent/s. Ideally you'll invite them to help draft it, because it will affect them. Because of post-divorce and/or new re/marital bitterness and hostilities, this is often not feasible. 

      If the language of your statement specifically includes honoring the needs, feelings, and rights of your other family members they may be more receptive to it, long-term. They may also draft their own statement. All your adults and kids should at least be aware of these statements and what they mean. There may be value in giving a copy to your kids’ grandparents and other key relatives, too.

      Avoid demanding that all stepfamily members follow your stated goals or adopt the values in your declaration. Evolve a statement that (a) acknowledges the differences among you several biofamilies, and (b) acts like a guiding keel for your stepfamily ship rather than a confining, narrow channel.


      This Lesson-5 article summarizes...

  • what a family mission or vision statement is, and why make one;

  • a status check to discover your attitude about doing this,

  • typical steps toward making a family mission statement for (a) any family and (b) typical divorcing families and stepfamilies,

  • a sample family mission statement, and..

  • suggestions for using your statement.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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