Identify the principles that are most important to you.
Fam Pract Manag. 1999 Apr;6(4):60.
Do you often wonder where the time has gone? Do you struggle to get home early enough to attend your child's school play? Do the days fly by without meaningful conversation with your partner or your children?
Today's busy world is filled with endless choices and distractions. To have the family life we envision requires us to slow down long enough to gain insight about where we want to go and what may help us get there. It also requires a commitment to our families that's as deep as our commitment to our profession.
Our family has found that writing a family mission statement — a shared vision of what we value and who we want to be as a family — has helped us identify our most important priorities. Our mission statement has also helped us map our direction as a family and stay that course as we contemplate our life choices.
Putting it on paper
We started this process three years ago when both our daughters, then ages 6 and 9, were in elementary school. Establishing priorities became more important as we tried to juggle school, professional, couple-related, family, religious and personal activities. While we often talked about our goals, we had never put them on paper. So we decided to write a family mission statement.
During several short family meetings, the four of us talked about what was most important in our lives and what we wanted to accomplish. Each person's contribution held equal weight. For example, Jessica, who was then 9 years old, wanted to plant and tend a rose garden, become a better ice skater and do well in school. For our 6-year-old kindergartner, Julie, it was important to be a good student and make new friends. Karen and I wanted to make a positive contribution as volunteers in our community.
After much discussion, we developed a short mission statement — “be thankful for what we have and what we can give to others” — and 10 family priorities. Some of the priorities were individual goals; others were collective. For example, one of the most important priorities we identified was to spend time together and build each other's self-esteem. Another was to spend quality time with our family. Others ranged from recycling to saving 15 percent of our earnings to doing community volunteer work. The process of writing the mission statement required careful listening, clarification and sometimes compromise.
We've framed our family mission statement and keep it in a visible place on our kitchen counter. Each year, we review what we have accomplished, reassess our priorities and revise our mission statement. We don't always achieve everything we put down on paper. However, the process has helped us clarify what we want to focus on each year. As Jessica and Julie have grown older, they have become more involved in the process.
Everyone's family life is unique and very personal and so is a family mission statement. It doesn't have to be — and shouldn't be — an imposing document. There are many creative ways to express your ideas. (One family we read about wrote a song.) If you want some other ideas and step-by-step directions for writing a family mission statement, we encourage you to read Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (New York: Golden Books; 1997). It's a rich and uplifting book.
Take a few moments with your family and find out what each of you feels is really important in life. When you're honest and open to the process of creating a family mission statement, you'll find it to be an extremely rewarding experience. If you have questions or comments, or would like to share your mission statement, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
The Rivo family 1998–99 mission statement
Be thankful for what we have and what we can give to others.
Be together and help family members feel good about themselves.
Value and nurture family, friends and pets.
Enjoy and learn at school.
Make a positive contribution to community health.
Take care of our health.
Practice our Judaism and support Jewish causes.
Invest in the future financially, professionally and spiritually.
Perform mitzvot (good deeds) for the community.
Learn together through reading, school, our computer and classes.
Garden and support the environment.
Dr. Rivo is medical director of AvMed Health Plan in Florida, a clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Miami, a senior fellow at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California at San Francisco and medical editor of Family Practice Management. He and his family live in Miami.
Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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