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Defining Your Family's Values

Susie Duffy, M.F.T

A family is defined as a social unit consisting of parents and the children they raise. 


Value is defined as the quality or worth of a thing.  To combine the words together yields a definition of:  a traditional set of social standards defined by the family and a history of customs that provide the emotional and physical basis for raising a family.   Our social values are often times reinforced by our spiritual or religious beliefs and traditions.  Do you have traditional family values?  How do you determine your family values? 


The values a family develops are traditionally the foundation for how children learn, grow and function in the world. 


Your family values definition consists of ideas passed down from generation to generation.  It boils down to the philosophy of how you want to live your family life.  Three traditional basic tasks in life have been described as work, play and love.  There are many activities that fall under these categories that define our values.  All of them are important and it takes work to balance these tasks.  However, we often get caught up in work and other activities and neglect play and love.  Often times we work hard because we are invested in our career goals, material things and financial rewards.  Yet without a balanced life of incorporating play and having loving relationships, our lives become stressful, overwhelming and unsatisfying.  Traditionally people define their values as stating that the family comes first, yet they find themselves with very little time or energy left over for spending time with the family. 


What does family time mean to you? 


This may mean something different to each member of your family.  How about a family meeting to determine what your family values?  Family meetings provide an opportunity for all members to come together and share their thoughts, perspectives and their lives.  It is easy to get caught up in activities and schedules which leaves little time for the family.  A family meeting is an opportunity to prioritize the things your family values and establish traditions.  Schedule a family meeting at least once a week to determine your family values.


Traditional family values that fall under the “love task” include all our relationships. 


Things such as how you view marriage and commitment, what role  religion/spirituality plays in your family, how emotionally available you are to others, your beliefs about sharing responsibility, the  common interests shared by your spouse and family, shared activities and hobbies, how family time is spent, how family decisions are made, common beliefs shared by you and your spouse regarding spirituality and religion, how family traditions are established, and so on.  These are good topics to discuss at a family meeting to help determine how these things are valued.  Often time assumptions are made about what another family member believes or values.  Misunderstandings and miscommunications can happen because of these assumptions.  


Our play time includes things like recreation, relaxation, alone time and exercise. 


What do you value in terms of your play?  Without a period of time to allow our bodies to unwind and calm down, the rest of our day gets out of balance.   How does your family incorporate these activities into life?  Are there things you and your family do to incorporate play and alone time into your lives?


Traditional family values usually include such topics such as religion, marriage, communication, traditions, morals, holidays, interactions with relatives and how time is spent together.  


To identify what your values are and the values of your family, it is helpful to get a clear picture of what that actually means.   Consider doing this exercise with your family at a family meeting.  Give each family member a clean sheet of paper.  Getting things on paper helps to give a clearer picture of what you desire your values to be and how you might set goals to achieve having your time spent around living these values.  Each person takes a sheet of paper and divides it into three columns.  The first column is to brainstorm a list of all the activities that you value, in any order.  The list may include  spending time with children, work, exercise, spirituality/religion, quiet time for yourself, education, time with spouse, computer games, being with friends, etc.  Then, in the second column, arrange the list in order of priority.  For example, if you value time with your spouse the most, put that at the top of the list and continue with the other activities that you value in their order of importance.  In the third column, arrange the activities in order of how you actually spend your time during an average week and list the approximate hours you spend doing this activity.  If you find spending time with your spouse is on the top of your list of valued activities and far down on the list of actual time spent, this disconnect could mean a problem.  This is a perfect opportunity to talk about your values as a family unit and get input from other family members.  What changes could you make in your life to incorporate the family values you have identified?  



All activities I value

Prioritized list of valued activities

Actual Time spent

Spiritual / Religion

1.  Time with spouse

Career:  45 hours

Family time

2.  Career









Family values are the foundation for how children grow, are taught and supported. 


Traditional family values are usually passed on from one generation to the next, giving children the structure and boundaries in which to function and thrive.  Family time, love, play and work give children this foundation.  Take the time to share your family values and traditions with your children.  Schedule family meetings together, share meals together where the family gets together to talk about the day, schedule recreation and relaxation into your day-to-day life.  The definition of family values is the social standards defined by the family and a history of traditions that provide the emotional and physical basis for raising a family.  Work together within your family to identify and create your own family values.

See the following FamilyIQ resources for further information:

Building Family Unity: Make Your Coat of Arms, Family Systems - Family Communication, Holding a Family Council


Family Identity: What Do You Stand For?


Strong Families - Family Values
Teaching Values to Children

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