If the term “family values” sounds too traditional or outdated for you, you’re in for a big surprise: Every family has values, whether they’re articulated or not. Without even using words, these values are made evident through the way families behave at home, how they interact with their community around them and how parents raise their children.
By reflecting upon and clearly defining your family values, you’ll have a stronger, healthier relationship with your relatives and set your children up for success. Below, we’ll discuss what family values are, why they’re important and how to discover yours. We’ll even give you 16 examples of family values to get your self-reflection started. Let’s dive in!
Family values are guiding principles that inform how you and your family make decisions and live your lives. They outline what is important to your family and what you are all striving toward. If you have children, family values reflect how you want to raise them and what kind of adults you’d like to see them become. Typically, family values refer to the nuclear family (parents and children), but they can certainly apply to extended family as well.
Family values, and how they are displayed, are greatly informed by one's own upbringing, beliefs, political philosophy, religious beliefs, morals, geography, culture and socioeconomic circumstances. For instance, let’s look at two different families: One lives in the Philippines and another lives in the U.S. Both families value respecting elders. But for the family in the Philippines, living out that value means they live with three generations under one roof (children, parents, and grandparents), and it is expected that children are to take care of their parents in their old age. And for the family in the U.S., living out that value means listening to the opinions of those older than you and heeding their advice, when it makes sense to do so. Though these two families share the same value, their behaviors are different based on their local culture and upbringing.
One of the biggest advantages of establishing and knowing your values is that it makes decisions so much easier. When you know what your family prioritizes, most of the time, you know which decision is best.
For example, if it’s 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and you’re still at your desk at work, but you know you have a rule that you always eat dinner together, which is part of your family value of family time, then you know what to do: Pack up and head home for a meal with your spouse and kids.
Family values will also shape how you raise your children. For instance, if equity is a family value, then spending more time reading books with your child who struggles with reading makes more sense to your other children who do not struggle with reading.
Instead of looking unfair because you’re spending more time with one child over another, by articulating the definition of equity and discussing it as a family value, your other children will understand that behavior. It will also make it easier for you to know what to do as a parent.
Family values also create a shared identity, something you and your relatives can rally around. This fosters a sense of family unity that makes the home more harmonious and less stressful.
Growing up, young children interact with all sorts of people with varying backgrounds, such as in a public school setting. If a child doesn’t know their family values, this can be a confusing time for them. Values are part of how they’ll make sense of the world.
As they get older, children will have to make their own decisions, and their family values will give them a strong moral compass to follow as they navigate a world outside their home.
Some families verbalize their values, either through talking about them explicitly or even writing them down or hanging them on a wall.
An example of verbally communicating a family value is if a daughter gets upset that her dad lets her brother use the trampoline. That might be a prime opportunity to verbalize the family value of sharing.
The dad might sit her down and explain, “I know you really want to use the trampoline. But you’ve gotten to use it every day for the past week, and today is the only time your brother has asked to use it. The trampoline belongs to everyone in this household, and as a family, we value sharing. This is a chance to share with your brother. You’ll get to use it again once he’s done because he will share it with you too.”
By far, though, the most common way of instilling strong family values is through nonverbal means, such as everyday life behaviors or an annual tradition. This is especially important for young kids, who have not yet mastered verbal communication. Think about it: Babies learn by watching what their parents do. In the same way, your family members will infer family values from what they see you do.
Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and that saying holds true for family values. You may tell your relatives that fairness is important to your family, but if you insist on hosting Christmas dinner at your house every year, even though other relatives have expressed a desire to host, your actions are not aligned with your stated values. This can lead adult family members to think you’re disingenuous, and for children, it can be confusing.
Most people don’t think about or articulate their family values. Normally, these values are simply passed on from generation to generation. But if you want to strengthen your family culture or change your parenting style, this is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the family values you currently have, put them into words and decide if they are values you want to keep or modify.
Pull out a pen and paper or open up a document on your computer. Ask yourself, “What is important to my family and me?” If you don’t know where to start, begin by looking at where your family spends its time. Where we spend our time and energy typically reflects what we value. From there, you can distill those activities down into family values.
You might also ask yourself, “What kind of adults do I want my children to grow up to be?” and “What do I want my family to be remembered for?” These are good questions to spark fruitful introspection.
There’s only so much you can uncover on your own. We all have blind spots. An excellent way to shine a light on the aspects of your family values that you’re missing is through coaching.
Coaching brings a neutral outside perspective, as the coach will ask you probing questions and serve as a sounding board for your thoughts. Don’t worry, a coach will not tell you what to do; your family and its values are a very personal thing after all. A coach will simply help you uncover what’s important to you. Ultimately, you make all the decisions about what to do.
If you’re struggling with where to start, F4S has free, evidence-based coaching programs you can complete online at your own pace.
Consider signing up and inviting your family members to join you. This can be a fun family bonding moment as well as a way to solidify what your family values are.
We recommend starting with our Reflection & Patience program; it will help you master the art of journaling and increase your self-awareness so you can better identify your values and brainstorm how you might apply them to your family.
Of course, family values aren’t just about you-they affect every member of your family! So invite them to be a part of defining those values. You can start with a summary of the notes you gathered from journaling and from participating in coaching. Then, open up the floor to your entire family and ask them for their thoughts and what they would add or take away from your list.
At the end of your family discussion, you might celebrate by getting the official family values printed and framed.
Need some help to understand? Here are 16 examples of family values.
Respecting one’s elders is a traditional value that many families hold, particularly in cultures where family is more important than, say, a career. But what it means to respect your elders varies depending on the family. Some people might show that value by listening to their grandparents’ stories and paying them regular visits. Others might show that value by letting their aging parents live with them or even letting them make some of the important decisions in the household.
This is yet another traditional family value, and often it means the family identifies as members of a particular religion. Faith informs moral values as well, and is often shown through religious practices such as praying or attending church.
Kindness means treating others with respect and care and offering help as needed. Many parents strive to instill the value of kindness in their children by encouraging them to be nice to their siblings and share toys with friends.
When we talk about moral values, we can’t leave out honesty. Many parents raise their kids to be honest, encouraging them to tell the truth and not to lie.
Yes, family itself can be a family value! And it’s a popular one at that. Many people choose to put family first, above work and school, by spending time with their children, spouses or parents. They may choose to plan a family reunion or vacation every year so that relatives get to bond in person. Family as a value is also demonstrated via family time, where members of the household (parents, children, grandparents, etc.) eat dinner together or host a movie or game night.
Hard work is a common value in the American family, where the common narrative is that if you work hard, you’ll succeed. This is often shown through putting a lot of effort into their jobs, advancing in their careers through promotions and raises and always doing their best (instead of merely getting by). This can also be applied to school, where children are told to study hard and get good grades. One example of how hard work as a value might show up is in a family tradition where each generation takes over the family business.
Speaking of studying hard and getting good grades, education is another common family value. Often, parents will encourage their children to pursue higher education, and this family value can hold particularly strong in families where the children will be first-generation college graduates. The goal behind this value is to set their children up for better career opportunities and wealth than their parents and previous generations had.
Related to education, career can be a family value. Working parents set the example for their children by pursuing well-paying or meaningful jobs, expressing the satisfaction they glean from their work and teaching their children to get good jobs as well.
Giving, such as donating money to a nonprofit or volunteering time to your community, is a family value that can encourage selflessness and kindness.
Integrity is a foundational value because it sets a person up for having strong moral values in general. A person who has integrity is honest, knows right from wrong and chooses to do the right thing.
While it may seem antithetical to the idea of family (a unit and togetherness), independence is actually a useful family value. It instills in children a sense of autonomy, especially as they mature, that sets them up for success as adults. Obviously, given developmental differences, children should be given different levels of independence depending on their capacity and maturity level.
A mother, for example, may decide to let her son start walking to school alone when he reaches 10 years of age. This can help instill confidence and independence in the child, letting him know she trusts him to take care of himself and make good decisions.
Communication is vital for any relationship-including family relationships. Families who value communication cultivate open conversations and the sharing of different viewpoints. For this to happen, members of the family need to feel safe to be vulnerable and say what they really think. Being able to speak one’s mind about family issues, without retribution, is the clearest way to be able to work through issues. Being able to express oneself openly can help with feeling a sense of belonging and help the person sort out complicated feelings.
Families have various ways of showing that they care about health. A parent who regularly reminds their child to play outside and cooks nutritious meals with lots of vegetables probably values physical health. A dad who asks his daughter how her day went and tells her it’s okay to cry when she starts tearing up probably values emotional health. Families, together, may choose to do things to promote health by participating in family therapy or exercising together.
Civic participation as a family value can enhance a sense of agency, especially in children, allowing them to find their voice and feel that they can make a difference. Families that value civic participation might attend a protest together, encourage voters to get to the polls or organize a community cleanup.
Like independence, responsibility tends to increase according to a person’s age and maturity. Parents instill responsibility into their children by assigning chores, and parents model responsible behavior by owning up to their actions and taking care of the things placed in their possession.
Fulfilling, meaningful friendships enrich our lives. That’s why friendship as a family value is not only a mood-booster, it can be good for your health too! Parents can model this value of friendship in the way they care for their own friends, inviting them over for social events, sending them birthday gifts or giving them a call just to chat. By encouraging children to nurture their friendships, too, parents set their kids up for a more robust life and social safety net once they leave home.
Family values aren’t set in stone. As time passes and people mature, your priorities and beliefs may change. The important thing is to maintain self-awareness, reflection and open communication with your relatives so that your family values are always clear and in alignment.
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