When my husband and I recently took a small “life inventory,” we reflected on what went well during 2010. We also began identifying areas in our lives that we wanted to improve. For example, we acknowledged that we want to spend less time on the computer and more time engaging in focused activities that improve our relationship with each other and with our children.
In order to use what we learned from our “life inventory” and to define a clearer vision for our family, we decided to write a family mission statement. On a practical level, our statement will become a decision-making tool that helps us learn when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” More than that, it will define the kind of family we want to be.
To get started, my husband and I each answered a list of 20 questions that helped us to define our strengths, our priorities, and our desires for our family’s future. (Such lists are easily accessed online with a quick search using the words “family mission statement.”) The list included questions such as “What is the purpose of our family?” “What would we like people to say about our family as a whole 10 years from now?” “What is one way we are unique as a family?” “If our family could be filled with one emotion, what would it be?”
Working through the questions took a significant amount of time, particularly when we had to define what we want our lives to look like in the future. It forced us to think about how our lives will be different with a house full of teenagers, instead of one filled with preschoolers and toddlers. At one point, my husband paused and said, “This is hard. I keep realizing that I’m writing down one thing and that I’m living in an entirely different way.” I felt much the same way; writing down what I wanted made me think about the disconnect between how things are and how I want them to be.
Next, my husband and I shared our answers with one another. On the plus side, we immediately began to see some common themes emerge. For instance, we each defined similar strengths for ourselves and for each other. We also had similar answers to questions about how we want people to describe our home environment and the top four priorities we want our family to value.
Unfortunately, there was a downside, too. As we started talking more in-depth about our answers, our emotions flared up. The questions themselves were deeply personal, and we both felt fiercely attached to our responses, even a little vulnerable. We agreed that we wanted to let our emotions mellow a bit for now; we’ll return to the process of writing our family mission statement in January.
When we’re ready to begin again, our next step will be to take what we learned about each other and ourselves to shape a comprehensive statement about how we want to spend our time and our money. We’ll revisit the common themes that emerged, and we’ll start to write a mission statement that reflects who we are and who we want to be as a family.
At any stage of life, a mission statement can help you focus on what you really want. If, as you start a new year, you’re feeling like life isn’t what you want it to be, consider creating a mission statement for yourself or your family. It requires an investment of time and emotion, but the result could help you positively reshape your life and your family for years to come.