A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the chance to take a little getaway while my parents watched Scribble. We decided that the best use of our limited time would be to get out into the woods, where we would be able to focus more on each other, rather than tourist destinations, where we could rest and reset our mind, away from all the noise that pollutes everyday life.
Travel always helps me to expand my perspective, to open my mind up to possibilities. I know I am not the only one who spends a significant portion of my vacation daydreaming and planning future adventures! But while we loved having time alone, we couldn’t avoid thinking about how much Scribble would have enjoyed being with us. Naturally we found ourselves asking, how can we make our everyday life more like this? How can we make sure our child (and hopefully children, in due time), appreciate the things we value? Eventually what I realized I was asking was, how can we create a family culture that helps us to spend our precious resources– money, time, energy– on the things we love the most?
I know all young parents find that their resources are pulled in many directions. We are stuck between wanting to advance professionally and spend more time with family. We want to keep up our connections with friends, even as our family obligations threaten to overwhelm all of our free time. We are introduced to a million parenting and educational philosophies, all of which require a money and time investment. Our old hobbies are long forgotten, our wardrobes are bare bones and frayed, the house needs a refurb, the furniture is hand-me-downs. All of these competing needs, desires, and interests create a million decisions for us to make. Developing a family culture helps to put those decisions in context, so that every individual decision doesn’t feel like an uphill battle.
Here are some of the values that I really want to focus on as a family:
Courage is such an important value for us to cultivate as a family. I come from a long line of parental risk takers. My parents moved us overseas when I was five years old. My grandparents took their young children on roadtrips all across America, using a coin flip to determine their next destination (this was in the golden age of road travel before Tripadvisor and Yelp zapped all the adventure and romance out of it). We take weekends trips all the time with Scribble and have taken a few vacations; each trip we take helps us to see that it really is possible to travel with children and enjoy it. Our recent experience camping taught us that we don’t have to go far to offer a child a taste of adventure. All it takes is a willingness to explore, and to embrace the happy chaos.
Valuing community is so hard! It means being available to family and friends on holidays even when we are running low on fumes. It means taking the time to be present at our little town’s activities when we’d much rather just sit on the couch on a Saturday afternoon. It means carving out extra time to drive to the farmer’s market, instead of running into Wal-Mart on the way home from the doctor’s office.
Valuing community will always be a tough balance for our family. It is hard to be available to others when you are also trying to preserve your own health and pursue your own adventures. But community is essential to me as a stay-at-home mother, because it helps me to feel less adrift and isolated. And it is invaluable to Scribble, whose memories of childhood will hopefully be filled to the brim with happy recollections of time spent with cousins and great-grandparents, and taking part in community activities. In our increasingly dispersed world, those memories are rare and precious indeed!
Thrift is so central to our family culture; without thrift, it wouldn’t be possible for us to adhere to most of the other values we hold. I’ve written a lot about our budget challenges on Hellobee. Slowly our financial picture is improving. But budgeting has become more than a need for us; it is now something we pursue because we enjoy the freedom that comes from having control over our expenses. We have eliminated a lot of unnecessary costs, and as a result we are able to put that money toward goals that further our family culture.
Thrift is about more than just budgeting, though. It is also about being conscious of how we act as consumers. While researching strategies for lowering our budget, I ran into a lot of information about the zero waste movement, and now I am hooked (post forthcoming!). Being thrifty in my budgeting has made me more conscious of what I bring into my home; I now take responsibility for the things I consume, and I want to model responsible consumption to my children.
As a parent, I of course always want what is best for my child. But thrift requires me to really define what “best” means for our family. For example, is a higher-rated preschool better if it requires us to forego the family vacation, work longer hours, or decrease the number of children we desire to have?Including thrift as a guiding value in our family culture means conceding that yes, some things are unquestionably better, but are not necessarily better for us.
Our dishwasher basically has to be reassembled every time we turn it on, and last week the handle fell off our microwave. My first instinct is to start saving for replacements, but in keeping with my new mantra, I’m going to suffer through it for a few more years, and instead save that money for something more valuable to us.
Hopefully it goes without saying that charity will be a part of our family culture, as it should be for all able families! Again, all of the values come into play together with charity. Without thrift, we won’t be able to divert any of our income to charity. And of course being a part of the community here means giving back. If we can’t give money, we can always give time. We just need to take more time to find opportunities to serve.
I try not to talk about faith too much on Hellobee because this community is so wonderfully inclusive. Still, our Christian faith is the underpinning of all our family values. I frequently get caught up in comparing my life and decisions to those of my friends and family. So one essential part of developing our family culture for me will be accepting that our decisions may look different from those made by others who don’t share our faith, and also having faith that we are placed exactly where we need to be to fulfill our purpose in life.
I don’t mean to imply with this post that we are already living out these values; the truth is we are far from it! Every day we struggle to balance all of the competing interests on our limited resources. We do the best we can, and frequently fall short. But articulating these values will hopefully help us make decisions in a way that produces less anxiety, confusion, and remorse.
So, what are some other values that are a part of your family culture? I’d love to hear about them!