I didn’t come up with the idea to create a family vision. One of my clients did. Excited about shared vision his team had created, Jack told his wife, Sharon, about it. And she suggested they create a vision for their family.
I was intrigued when Jack told me about it, especially when I learned his daughters were only six and eight years old. I asked if they had really involved the children in creating the vision. Jack replied, “Oh yes, we all sat around the kitchen table and talked about what we cared most deeply about and what our family meant to us.” They used the same process and principles to create the vision that I had used with his team. That was 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve seen the power of vision help many families transform from being oriented around problems to being focused on their vision for who they want to be as a family—all kinds of families, as families come in all shapes and sizes.
Why would vision make a difference for a family?
There are all kinds of forces affecting our children today—many that are outside of our control. In our own homes, children can watch a war in another country in real-time. And it is difficult, even for us as adults, to tell the difference between what is real and the simulated violence in movies and on electronic games. The statistics are not good. In the United States, according to SADD, nearly three quarters of students (72%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school, and more than a third (37%) have done so by eighth grade. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teenage marijuana and other drug use is on the rise for the first time in ten years. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, over 40% of all teenagers with Internet access report being bullied online.
In an attempt to support and protect their children, many parents resort to over-controlling and become was some call “helicopter parents.” Unfortunately this kind of parenting often leads to teenagers who either rebel or who don’t develop the resources to solve their own problems.
Other parents, realizing the futility of trying to stem the tide, just give up. This is not in the best interest of children either because they need consistent boundaries and guidelines.
Creating a shared vision with your children is an effective alternative.
Vision provides them with a strong foundation. It helps them know who they are. It gives them a base to test their decisions against. Having a vision is not just a picture of the destination. It also means having clear values that guide your journey. When someone is off-base, your vision can be used to hold each other accountable and get back on track.
7 Steps to Create a Family Vision
1. Set aside a specific time for the conversation. You can sit around the kitchen table or somewhere relaxed, but make sure you can each see each other.
2. Begin by imagining traveling in a time machine into a special future where your family is just as you want it to be. Imagine you are an invisible observer. What do you see? What does your home look like? How do you communicate with each other? What kinds of activities are you doing and with whom? See yourself and each other behaving in ways that are just as you want them to be. What are the underlying values that are operating? As you consider each of these questions, write in a notebook or draw a picture. (Drawing works well for any age, and especially with young children or those who are not as verbal).
3. Then each person take a turn and share what you imagined. Talk about what the family means to you, what you want it to be and what you need from the others. Follow the guidelines below in determining what to share: focus on what’s proactive, what you truly desire. The others should just listen. The only questions allowed are questions of understanding. The goal is to really hear each other; it’s not necessary to agree. That alone can be a powerful experience.
4. After each has shared, then have an open discussion on what you heard. Again, the point of this is to understand what each cares most deeply about, a vision is not a negotiation. Each person’s hopes and dreams are valid and deserve to be understood.
5. At the end of the open discussion make a list of the common themes. The vision should not include specific things like an iPad, a doll or a trip to the Grand Canyon. But it is helpful to consider the specific things that were mentioned and think about what they represent. Ask this question: “If you had that, then what would you have?” For example, a trip to the Grand Canyon might mean “my family does really fun, unusual things together.” That can go in the vision, as there could be a lot of creative alternatives that would meet that same desire.
6. Once you have the common themes, see what underlying values are implied. Agree on three to five and list those also. Give some behavioral examples for what each of the values looks like in action.
7. Now you have the basis for your vision statement. At this point, an adult can write a first draft. Once the first draft is complete, hold a second family meeting to discuss it and make any needed changes.
1. Be proactive, not reactive. Focus on what you truly desire, not what you don’t like or want to get rid of.
2. Don’t limit yourself by what you make think is possible. You might believe you’ll be fighting with your sister the rest of your life, but for this exercise suspend all negative beliefs and imagine what you want, even if you believe it’s not possible.
3. Give yourself permission to explore, to dream. Be creative. Be playful.
Moving forward toward your vision:
1. Maintain the vision. As a parent, hold yourself, your partner, and your children accountable to the vision. If it looks like someone has behaved inconsistently with the vision, it is time to sit down and discuss what happened in terms of the vision. Set household rules and limits that are consistent with the vision.
2. Model the vision. The adults in the house must act as role models that demonstrate the behaviors consistent with the vision.
3. When you encounter tough times, revisit the vision. The vision provides a great frame of reference to have discussions without blame or finger pointing. It allows you to focus on what you need to do, rather than making people defensive.
4. Update your vision as your children grow. The fundamentals of the vision will not change, but some of the description will change as your children grow older. Revisit your vision as a family yearly. It’s a great time to review how things are going and to update your vision.