The politically charged phrase “family values” begs the question, “what are these universal family values?” The more important question, however, is, “what are your family’s values?”
If you can’t immediately list the values you share with your spouse and find important to teach your children, try writing the list as you consider the following:
Start your search for values with an honest conversation with your spouse. Brainstorm the values that you hold today. Chances are you’ve already harmonized your thinking in the years you’ve spent together.
For millennia, religion has been the primary source of identifying values to govern their lives. Connecting with the religion of your youth or a new faith may help you identify the values you will choose to guide you and your family.
Ever since Plato, Socrates and Aristotle began writing, many people have found important values in the writings and thoughts of great philosophers whose ideas have withstood centuries of critiques.
Many people are able to identify values in good books, and not merely in the classics and literary works; many people commented on the values espoused on modern fiction like the "Twilight" saga and the "Hunger Games" series.
If you still don’t feel like you’ve really identified your family’s values, consider the following thought questions intended to help you think about the values you will teach your children:
Is there a God? What will you teach your children about the existence of God? What about religion?
When is it OK for your children to have sex? After high school? After marriage? After they fall in love?
Who is primarily responsible for your financial well-being? Is affluence important?
How will you teach your children to respect people of other races?
What are the respective roles of men and women? What traditional gender roles do you keep and which do you reject?
When is war supportable? When is killing acceptable?
Do you have guns in your home? What will you teach your children about guns?
What does it mean to be honest? Is it more important to be honest or successful?
How would you explain your responsibility to the community?
How would you teach your children to treat people who are different, disabled or gay? How would you treat your child if she came home from school one day and said she was attracted to girls?
How important is education? What if your child doesn’t want to finish high school? What about college? Graduate school?
What is the virtue of hard work? What about persistence? In what contexts would you say, “Never give up”?
As a parent, you may wish to produce a statement of your family’s values and post it where you can all see it and be reminded of them. Seeing your values should help you live them. For instance, if your family will value honesty above success, there will be plenty of opportunities to test that value. Being reminded of that choice will help you to act in concert with that value.
By living your life in strict accord with your stated values, you will both earn your kids’ respect and provide them with a clear example of what it means to live a values-directed life.
Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.