Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Have you ever heard the term “family culture” or “family narrative”? These are newer concepts that have to do with who your family is, and how other people may perceive you. In my opinion, having a solid family culture that creates a positive family narrative is essential to developing and nurturing a family that is united and grounded in joy and love. But you might be wondering what are these concepts exactly? Are they the same thing? And how do I develop these for my own family? In today’s post, I am going to explain the difference between a family culture and a family narrative, as well as help you with some beginning steps to creating your own.
What is culture? The Oxford American Dictionary defines culture as:
"the customs, civilizations, and achievements of a particular time or people"
More simply stated, it is a collection of rituals, habits, language, dress, and so on, that a group of people share. So when we talk about family culture, we are discussing what you and your family members adhere to, how they behave, and what they do together as a unit. Some individuals may feel that they do not have a family culture, but the reality is, everyone has one. The question is, do you like your family culture? Are you satisfied with the relationships your children have with one another or with you? Are you happy with the relationship you have with your partner? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then the good news is, you can always change your family culture. It may not be easy, but it is doable.
Something to consider about your family culture is, what are your values? When I talk about values, I want you to think about what is important to you and your family? Values are defined as:
"one's principles or standards; one's judgement of what is valuable or important in life"
For example, in my family we value quality time spent together. This means that, although we may be tired as parents, we still try to engage in something with our kids each and every day, even if it’s only watching a movie of their choice. Another example might be that we value unity, and understanding of one another. What this might look like is, we encourage our children to do things together, encourage them to be on a team together, and we reference each other as a team. If my daughter asks me a question, I will answer it but always indicating that we need to check with Daddy too. Sometimes my husband may make a choice that I don’t agree with, but I always remain united with him in front of our kids, and keep these discussions and disagreements private. There are times when my daughter may tell me she doesn’t want her dad to know something, but I always tell her, “Mommy and Daddy are a team. Mommy and Daddy don’t keep secrets from one another.” This models to my daughter that her parents are a united front. We are a team.
What is a narrative? At its most simple, a narrative is a story. So when we talk about family narratives, we are talking about family stories. What’s your family’s story all about? Is it about marital conflict? Sibling jealousy? Fear? Disappointment? What about survival? Or is your family’s story about love, unity, compassion, compromise, understanding, thriving, and teaming?
In many ways, family narratives and family culture work hand-in-hand and are difficult to tease apart. Much like a family culture, you can change and modify your family’s narrative if you are unhappy with the story that’s currently being written. Everyday, your family writes a new page in the story, and so each day you have an opportunity to write a new part to the story that you can be proud of. Each day, as you add to your family’s story, you develop and craft your family culture. So, what can you do to create a positive one?
Creating Day by Day
Your family's story is written each day, and each day, your family's culture slowly develops. Here are 4 steps you can take to help create the narrative you want for your family.
1. Determine your families values: What do you want your family to find important? Knowing this helps you to make decisions each day that will either guide you closer your values or steer you away from them.
2. Foster these same values in your children: Model these values to them, and raise the bar, expecting your children to reach for it. Praise behaviors and choices that adhere to the story you are wanting to create. Discourage choices that steer you away from the narrative you are trying to formulate.
3. Engage in activities that promote the values you have chosen: Try to engage in activities as a family that support the story you are creating. For example, if I value unity, then I'm going to engage in activities that will help create that sense of unity. As such, instead of spending the last hour of my day reading a book to myself (which encourages solitude), I might choose to read to my kids (which is encouraging spending time together). (***Side Note: Solitude is not a bad value. Being able to enjoy time to yourself is an important part of self-care. This is just an example.)
4. Choose friends wisely: There’s an old Japanese proverb that states, “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” In many ways, the people we surround ourselves with will define us. Much research has shown that we frequently begin to mirror the habits and behaviors of those we spend most our time with. This is particularly true in school-aged children and teens. This is extremely important to keep in mind when it comes to formulating your family's culture and narrative. The people in your life will either support your family's story or seek to tear it down. If possible, try to foster relationships for you and your children with people who lift you up, support your goals, and are actively seeking to build similar values in their own lives. Life’s too short to mess around with toxic relationships.