This might seem like an odd topic to start our Back to the Basics series. Admittedly, I hadn’t thought of it. I ran through my ideas with my husband a few evenings ago—all the great topics you guys suggested, and asked him what further topics he could contribute.
Out of his mouth, without missing a beat, was, “The first post should be how to manage it all by finding your family’s priorities and ignoring everything else. No one can do it all, so it’s essential to start by finding out what you should do, and which things are okay to ignore.”
I’m married to a smart guy.
He’s absolutely right — so this week, the first step in heading Back to the Basics is to create your family’s mission statement. All the canning, ironing, and meal planning in the world will matter a hill of beans if they’re done out of obligation, or accomplished aimlessly out of not knowing what to do next.
I’m a big believer in following Elisabeth Elliot’s advice, “When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.” But it certainly helps if you have more of an idea of what’s the most important thing to do next.
In the 21st century, many of us respond to the tyranny of the urgent. One of the characteristics of a responsible adult is to recognize the difference between the important and the urgent, and then refuse to be tyrannized by the urgent; refuse to manage by crisis.
Easier said than done. Who hasn’t struggled to start dinner for the family (the “important”), but can’t seem to find the time it takes because of an exploding diaper, a sibling argument, spilled grape juice, and the ringing telephone (the “urgent”)?
But as home managers, we must know the difference. We cannot operate soley in response to the urgent for long — we’ll go mad.
This week’s task:
Create your family’s mission statement. Discover what you’re about.
Who this involves:
You and your spouse. The leaders of the family both need to collaborate and create this together. It’s a joint project.
How long will this take?
It varies. For some couples who have already thought through some of this, it’ll just take a few hours of reaffirming their ideas. For others, it may take a few evening dates over the span of several weeks, going through the questions, writing a draft, whittling it down, and finalizing the result. Overall, this will probably take around 2-6 hours.
Answer a series of questions, perhaps use some web tools, talk over your answers, pray, and write down your short-but-comprehensive mission statement. For fun, you can inscribe this statement somewhere permanent and display it in your home.
A timeless, easy-to-read, holistic family mission statement that applies to everyone in the family. By the end of this week, you should have a decent draft of this statement. This will help you make decisions, feel confident about saying “no,” and be a bit better at focusing on the important instead of the urgent.
Photo by Kwanie
Plan an evening this week to sit down over tea as a couple, and answer a few questions. These questions are not comprehensive — feel free to elaborate on your own, to skip some that don’t seem to apply, and to focus on what’s important for your family. Mostly, these are meant to serve as a springboard to get your thoughts flowing.
1. What are a few strengths of each member of our family?
2. Collectively, we are at our best when we are…
3. Collectively, we are at our worst when we are…
4. If we had a completely free day together as a family, how would we spend it?
5. What are practical ways we can serve each other?
6. What are practical ways we can serve others outside our family?
7. Name three things you think you could do better as a family.
8. What would people say today about our family as a whole?
9. What would we like people to say about our family as a whole in 30 years?
10. If our home could be filled with one emotion, what would it be?
11. Name three adjectives we would like people to use to describe our home environment.
12. If we could name one principle from which we want our family to operate, what would it be?
13. What are the top four priorities we want our family to value?
14. What is the main purpose of our home?
15. What is the secondary purpose of our home?
16. What is the individual purpose in life of each member of our family?
17. What is one way we are unique as a family?
18. Describe the status of our family in 10 years…
- relationally with each other:
- communally in our environment:
19. Where are you as a family in 10 years? What does your home look like?
20. What is the purpose of life?
Photo by Cia De Foto
Applying the answers
These are some heavy questions that could seem over-the-top about something as daily as grocery shopping or paying the bills. But here’s my point — unless there’s a motivating reason behind doing our day-to-day chores, we’ll lose heart, and we won’t care about our results.
When, as a family, we are convicted that our home is a tool by which we practice hospitality to others, it makes more sense to keep our home more “ready” to welcome friends. It’s a bit more motivating to keep it straightened.
If one of our main goals is to live simply and free from the burden of others, it makes sense that we live debt-free and not accumulate needless clutter. This greatly helps us make financial decisions — do we go in to debt to buy a plasma TV? Do we charge a luxury cruise vacation on our credit card, or do we save money and forego eating out for a few months, so that we can rent a lake house a few hours away and spend a quiet week together?
When we’ve made deliberate decisions about what we’re about as a family, certain choices become a no-brainer. Even fun. You’re at peace with the choices you make, because they align with your priorities, and they just make sense. You can sleep at night.
So here’s what to do with your answers:
1. Look at your responses and see if there’s a theme. If you repeatedly talk about making a difference in your community, perhaps God has given you that passion collectively with your spouse. Or if your priorities seem to point to being good stewards of the environment, maybe a priority for you is to leave the earth better than you found it.
2. See if you and your spouse differ on any answers. That could be a big deal, or it could be nothing. Either way, it should spark some discussion between you two.
3. Highlight a few of your repeated themes, and find a few descriptive words to encompass them. For example, if your answers repeatedly deal with being frugal, with not living among clutter, and having plenty of free time as a family, perhaps one of your descriptive words is simplicity.
4. Tweak some of your answers to be more timeless. For example, if your answer to the question about one principle from which your family operates (number 12) is “patience as we live through the baby and toddler years,” you could talk about whether patience is a theme that’s significant to both of you long-term. Perhaps one of your guiding principals is forbearace, which means patient endurance and self-control.
5. Start crafting a draft of your family mission statement by way of your answers to these questions. There’s no right or wrong way to write this, but I recommend keeping it short, timeless, and applicable. If it’s too vague, it won’t really help in your day-to-day decision making. If it’s too specific, it may needlessly paint you into a corner you never intended. And if it’s too long, it’ll be difficult to remember.
You could try a skeleton like this:
We, the [family name], believe that our purpose as a family is to [general mission statement]. We will accomplish this by:
• valuing [principal] and [principal] as our main guiding principals
• making our home a place of [adjective], [adjective], and [adjective] • prioritizing [value or action] above lesser values
• interacting with each other in a spirit of [adjective]
Let me emphasize that everything here — the questions, the outline, and everything in between, are just ideas to get you started. Be creative and original! Let your statement reflect who you are as a family.
Most of all, let your statement be one that guides you as you make future decisions — let it serve you as a family. It’s a tool, not an altar where you worship.
As you create your mission statement, you can create sub-points that can be a bit more immediate. For example, if one of your main points is that you will “value simplicity as a family,” you can jot down some ideas of what this looks like for you in the next year. For example, this could mean:
• We will operate from one income, so that I (the wife) can stay home and have adequate time to manage our family effectively.
• We will only allow outside commitments three nights per week, so that we have enough time at home as a family.
• We will eat out once every other week, so that we have enough funds to take a small vacation each year.
As you think through the implications of your family mission statement for the next year, you’ll be able to see how certain home management tasks will be a priority, while others won’t be as important. It’ll wipe away some needless guilt about “doing it all” (which is not possible, by the way), and will free you from a burden you were never meant to carry.
It’ll also motivate you to hone certain home management skills, so that you can better serve your family.
And if you’re really excited about your results, you can print and frame your statement. I also know of a family whose children wrote their statement with permanent marker on an inexpensive plate. They display their plate on a shelf in their living room.
Photo by Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic
Plan a time this week to sit down with your spouse and talk through some of your answers. Perhaps you can individually answer some ahead of time, so that you can compare answers and get right to the meat.
Steven Covey has an incredibly useful tool on his website, where you can create a family mission statement (and a personal one) online, for free. Maybe each of you can use this tool in your spare time, print your results, and then compare them over dessert and coffee one evening.
From your answers, create a mission statement draft. Just write something. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be a start.
Share your first draft on your blog, and write about your experience working through these questions and topics. Then link here on Friday, where I’ll also share our family’s results.
Alright, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this. Do you see the value of starting with a family mission statement? What questions could you add to this repertoire that could help us develop our statements?