What’s your family “like?” Once or twice a day for the next week, look at your clan objectively and notice its complexity and contours. Try to view your life together as you would a group of strangers, and describe what you see. Write down at least ten adjectives or phrases that capture what your family “is like” by zeroing in on your values (what you believe in), venues (favorite activities and places), and (your challenges as a family)
For each category, we’ve given you some open ended sentences in bold and suggestions [in brackets] just to get you started. Don’t limit yourself; use words and phrases that fit your gang:
☐ Values. What’s your family ethic? What do you stand for?
“In our family it’s important to …” [have a spiritual life? be a leader? compete? do good deeds? make money? look good? eat well? follow rules? live off the land?]
☐ Venues. What activities do you like to do as a family? What kind of places that make you happy and hold the best memories? Where do you go to recharge?
“Our family loves to…” [be outdoors? play sports? go to movies? travel? go to the beach? play instruments? participate in community service? build things? read? travel? hang out at home with each other? volunteer? cook meals together?]
☐ Vulnerabilities. What is your family’s Achilles Heel?
“A weakness of our family is that…” [one person controls what everyone else does? it’s every man for himself? we don’t see enough of each other? we never talk about how we feel? we smother each other? we fight? we tolerate abusive behavior? we have few friends or relatives nearby? we have trouble making decisions? we are rigid? we over-schedule ourselves?]
Admittedly, it gets a bit tricky to answer in terms of your whole family. For example, let’s say everyone in your family plays a sport, and the family engages in a lot of sports talk. You go to each other’s games, watch sports on TV, and go on sports outings as a family. Maybe Mom or Dad coaches. It would make sense, then, to list sports–as “venue.” Perhaps sportsmanship would also be included among your family’s “values.” On the other hand, you could be a family that shows up at a Little League game week after week to support the one child who loves baseball and made the team. In that case, one of your family’s value is to support each other’s interests, but you might not think of the ball field as a family venue. There’s no “wrong” way to do this exercise. Whatever you write, you’ll come out with a clearer idea of how you “are” as a family.
If possible, have fun with this exercise by involving your partner (if you have one) and your children. Get the ball rolling by sharing your own observations out loud to other members of the family, in a lighthearted way. “Ever notice how we never get out of the house on time?” or “I realize that we start preparing for Halloween way before anyone else?” Then ask, “What do you think that says about us as a family?” Jot down what everyone says–and don’t be surprised if each of you comes to a different conclusion!