A family identity is more than just a motto or mission statement.
Be prepared to “walk the talk” if you want to help shape your family’s
Author, Maria Covey Cole, has tips to help foster a family identity.
A person’s identity is a fundamental part of who he or she is. A child’s
feelings of self-worth most often come from the way he or she is treated
within their family. Growing up, I remember my parents had us repeat out
loud every week: “I am important because I belong to a family who loves
Children need to have a foundation of unconditional love and acceptance
upon which they can build their identity. Having a strong family identity
allows a child to draw upon this stable source of security, wisdom, power,
and love. This sense of identity will significantly impact his or her attitudes,
decisions, and behaviors.
“In all of us there is a void, bone-marrow deep, to know who we are and
where we came from. … Without this knowledge there is a most disquieting
loneliness” (Alex Haley).
“There is an interconnectedness among members that bonds the family,
much like mountain climbers who rope themselves together when climbing
a mountain, so that if someone should slip or need support, he’s held up
by the others until he regains his footing” (Phil McGraw, Family First).
HOW TO FOSTER FAMLY IDENTITY THROUGH ATTITUDES AND
1) Ask the big questions: Who are we as a family? What are we
about? What do we value? This includes creating a family motto, mantra, or
mission statement that involves each member of the family.
I remember as a family developing our mission statement when I was in
college. My parents got us all together, and over a series of weeks, we each
gave input into what we thought our family was about. I remember my
teenaged, football-playing brother, Sean, offering his two cents. He wanted
our mission statement to say, “We are one heck of a family and we kick
A family mission statement can be as simple as a phrase: “No empty
chairs;” or a longer paragraph, detailing a family’s focus. Now that my
nuclear family has turned into a big, extended, intergenerational one, my
dad had some silicone bracelets made with our new motto emblazoned
upon them. We all wear them proudly and they remind us that we are part
of something bigger than we are.
2) Establish traditions: Children thrive on traditions. They love
having events to look forward to and traditions they can count on. They like
things being done the same way time after time. As my children have
gotten older, it’s been instructive for my husband and I to hear what they
remember most about their childhood. They’ll say, “Do you remember
when we lived in Hawaii and we went to the beach every day?” Well, we
went to the beach often enough, but definitely not every day. Or they’ll say,
“Remember when Dad would always make pancakes on Sunday mornings?”
We’ll look at each other, recollecting that Dad had cooked pancakes a few
times through the years, and wonder if they had been living the same
history we had.
Even the small things seem to matter. Something as simple as having
dinner together every night at 6:00 p.m., for example, is an important
tradition that can boost literacy and counteract negative peer influence.
Being supportive of and showing interest in one another is a tradition you
can establish in your family. Attending each other’s games or recitals
shows support for your family members and helps them feel valued and
Just recently, I’ve had a niece and a nephew return home after living abroad
for a few years. We literally had forty family members turn out to the
airport for each home coming complete with signs, balloons, and welcome
home banners. My daughter, Hannah, was just in Africa this summer
volunteering with Mothers without Borders. After she returned home, we
held a family fireside with all of her cousins, aunts and uncles, and
grandparents where she showed a slide show and told about her
experiences. The interest they showed and the support she received meant
the world to her.
Sharing knowledge and learning from one another can be another
important family tradition. My sister, Colleen, is an avid journal writer. She
has written in her journal faithfully since she was 14-years-old, and she
has already filled more than 80 journals. Next week, we are going to have
her teach all of us, including the grandchildren, about journal writing, and
each child will receive a journal with their name on it, and a challenge to
begin writing in their journals at the beginning of this new school year.
Traditions like these reinforce a family member’s identity and help create a
loving and supportive family culture.
3) Live your values. My sister, Jenny, is always saying that the
way you spend your time will eventually manifest itself. What she means by
this is that what you truly value is apparent in how you spend your time
and resources, and the consequences of your efforts will eventually come
to fruition. In other words, you reap what you sow.
If you say that you value education, yet you spend your time watching TV
rather than reading to your kids, there is a discrepancy there. If you say
that you value community service, yet you spend your best efforts in
keeping up with the Joneses rather than helping out at the Food Bank, how
will your children ever learn to serve? Ultimately, your children will learn
what is truly important to you by observing the way you live. The familiar
expression rings true, “I cannot hear what you say because what you are
rings so loudly in my ears.” As parents, we need to walk the talk.
Dr. Ben Carson is an example of a transition person who overcame his
background of poverty and deprivation and became a renowned
neurosurgeon. Ben attributes his success to his mother, Sonya Carson.
Although she was a poor, uneducated, single-mother, she created a culture
of learning and faith in her home. She showed through her attitudes and
behaviors that she valued education and religion, and this family identity
helped Ben become the brilliant, yet humble, surgeon that he has become.
Ben grew up in inner-city Detroit and was abandoned by his father when he
was only eight-years-of-age. His mother, who was only educated through
the third grade, raised Ben and his older brother, Curtis, on her own. By the
time he was in the sixth grade, Ben was widely considered to be the worst
student in his grade school. He had poor self-esteem and saw himself as a
Though uneducated, his mother was determined that Ben and his brother
would have a better life than she had had. Sonya Carson felt that the only
way out of poverty and ignorance was through education and religion. She
was a devout Seventh-day Adventist and took Ben and his brother to
church each week and taught them to rely on a higher power. She limited
their TV viewing to two programs a week, and instead insisted that they
spend their time reading. Each week, Ben and his brother were required to
read two books from the library, and then to write a report on each one.
Although she was semi-literate, their mother showed how much she valued
education as she listened to them read their reports each week and
followed up with questions about their books.
Ben turned his life around, graduating number three in his high school
class and went to Yale University on scholarship. From the time he was
young, Ben dreamed of becoming a doctor. He graduated from the
University of Michigan Medical School with honors. His dreams were
fulfilled when he was accepted for an internship at Johns Hopkins
University. Not only did he excel there, but he eventually became the
director of pediatric neurosurgery, and he became the first neurosurgeon
ever to separate Siamese twins joined at the head.
It’s inspiring to see what can happen to a person, like Ben Carson, who is
infused with a strong family identity. Whether you are part of a large,
extended, intergenerational family or you are a single mother with a couple
of kids, you can create a family culture that values each member and
instills within them a strong sense of identity. This family identity will
ultimately influence their attitudes and behaviors.
Maria Covey Cole is author of “Contentment: Inspiring Insights for LDS
Available at Seagull Book