Values in Action (Family Rules, Part 2)

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Last week I wrote about the process of establishing Family Rules in accordance with the Nurturing Parenting philosophy. As you’ll recall, I fumbled around a bit as I realized that in my household we didn’t really have an established set of rules, and that a lot of the parenting educators I spoke to didn’t have them either.

For the sake of emphasizing their importance, however, I decided to go through the process as I understand it. I want to make clear that the Nurturing Parenting curriculum is not responsible for any of my fumbling.

The first step is to talk about the Morals and Values that are practiced in my family. There is a distinction to be made between these two things.

Morals are the understanding of what is right and wrong according to our belief system. They come from religion, spirituality, or what they refer to in recovery as our higher power, whatever that might be.

I have a pretty good idea about what these things are. I came up with a list that puts things such as Honesty, Forgiveness, and Loving Words and Acts in the “good” column and such things as Lying, Blaming and Cruel Words and Acts in the “bad” zone. Easy enough, right? These are ideals of behavior that we can all agree on.

They are not Rules, because they don’t describe the behavior that we want to see. They are the blueprint for how we want our family to work. They don’t originate with us, but shape our Values from without (I defer to C.S. Lewis, who in his book Mere Christianity explains this much better than I could hope to do).

Values spring directly from this blueprint. The term “Family Values” has a lot of political and cultural baggage, but for the sake of this exercise we’re using it in its most generic sense: they are the things that we hold as important or sacred in our family. Every family has its own culture, and thus its own set of Values. Ideally, of course, the things that are demonstrably important to us will fall in line with our list of Morals (the “rights” rather than the “wrongs”). So, my list of Values is made up of many of the same things I listed above:

Honesty

Forgiveness

Loving Words and Acts

Other Values I came up with are offshoots of this, such as

Helping (being in Service to others). So far, so good.

The tricky part here is that, while our Morals come from outside the family, our Values are manifested in the things we actually do and say. With this in mind, I can look at a line of children and adults sitting on the sofa with books open on their laps and see that

Literacy

is a Value in our family.

So I wrote that down. And given that when my kids are not reading they are most likely making artwork, learning, or playing, I added those as well:

Creativity

Learning

Play

Good stuff, right?

This is where I stop and take a look at my actions and make some surprising discoveries. Very often in my interactions with others I value

Being Right.

I practice

Judgment, a lot.

And much of the time I obviously value children being

Quiet.

When looking for guidance, I am more likely to value

My Smartphone

over the contributions of people right in front of me.

Jeepers, what happened to my list? This last batch seemed to come out of nowhere, and it doesn’t exactly jibe with my Morals. In fact, it is arguably in conflict with the other things on the list. This is because we pass along our Values through what we do and say. We model them for our children, and reinforce them through consistency and repetition.

And that’s how our children learn, right? So what do I want them to learn? And how am I living those lessons?

Clearly, we’re not done here.