Great families don’t just happen. They require thought and effort. The same is true of any grouping of people. You can have great athletes and not have a great team. Companies can hire the best and the brightest and still go bankrupt. Families can be composed of great fathers, mothers, and children and still not function well together as a family. While you can’t run your family like a company or football team, there are similarities that need to be noted. Greg McKeown in his insightful book, essentialism, explains one of the things that families have in common with all teams and companies:
“With no clear direction, people pursue the things that advance their own short-term interests, with little awareness of how their activities contribute (or in some cases, derail) the long-term mission of the team as a whole.”1
It’s the natural instinct of all people to do what they think is best. It may not always be the best decision, but it seems best at the time. Our kids will do what they think is fun, or will make them more popular, or will gain them praise from a coach or teacher. Parents might put in the extra hours that will get them a promotion or raise at work. They might also join clubs or activities for their children that they think will best prepare them for later life. None of these decisions are bad per se. The problem for most families is that while their decisions may be good for individual parts of the family, they do nothing to make the family better as a whole.
We are quick to rail against basketball players that are selfish and never pass to teammates. They may score 60 points a game, but their team suffers. We get angry at CEO’s who give themselves lavish raises while their company struggles. We ignore, however, all of the hours and dollars that are spent on individual persons in our family, while the family grows weaker and less effective.
Is your family doing a lot of good things that may be damaging the family as a whole? Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:
What is our purpose as a family?
Some companies exist to make money, others exist to raise awareness for issues they feel are important. Many companies don’t know their true purpose (don’t worry about figuring out which companies those may be, they won’t be around long anyway). The purpose of a company drives the behavior of a company. In the same way, the purpose of a family will drive the actions and decisions of that family. If you don’t have a clear purpose, you have no way of knowing if you are winning or losing.
Will the activities we have on our calendar help us fulfill our purpose?
Once you know your purpose, you can use it to gain greater clarity about what to do with your time. There are a thousand good options to engage in every week, but only a few that are best for your family. Having a clear purpose allows you to find those things and commit to them. Understanding your purpose also allows you to say “no” to things that seem good without feeling guilty or unsure of yourself.
Does my family know our purpose?
Having purpose is useless if your family doesn't know it. Your family can’t support their purpose if it isn’t talked about and explained from time to time. Clear purpose makes discipline and sacrifice possible. For example, it’s hard for your teenager to not obsess over new game system he’s been wanting. It’s easier to put off getting it if he knows that the family is saving up for a great vacation in a couple of months.
These questions aren’t easy and will require a good deal of thought and communication in your family, but they are critical to your success as a team. A clear sense of direction also makes the journey a lot more enjoyable. So, set aside a couple of hours on your calendar this week and begin asking the hard questions. You’ll be glad you did!
Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo
1- Greg McKeown, essentialism (New York, NY: Crown Publishing, 2014)