As a new school year begins, how about considering a Family Mission Statement? We had no idea when we started talking about a family mission statement about fifteen years ago, what it would be one of the most important things we would ever do with our family. Inspired by our friends Stephen and Sandra Covey, we decided to make a concentrated effort to get our family together and hammer out a mission statement that everyone agreed on and helped to create. Our older children were teenagers by then and we had not yet figured out how important it was to let children know that they were part of something that was bigger than themselves…an ongoing family organization that helped them know what we were about and where we were going as a family!
We smile when we think about our first effort, which included renting a facility for two days and a night where we could have our whole family together to talk about creating a family mission statement. In our first formal meeting we asked the kids for their favorite words and ideas that we could use to create the things we wanted to accomplish as a family. Then we sent them off for an hour or two to swim, play ping pong or just relax and think about it. When we converged we exchanged ideas and started to craft what we thought we wanted for our family. At the end of the weekend, we had crafted about a one page mission statement that included everyone’s ideas.
One problem…six months later when we met again at home to revisit the mission statement, nobody could remember just exactly what it said other than the words they had thought of themselves. So…we met again. This time just at home in a family meeting and narrowed it down to just one paragraph. Six months later…still no one could remember many details of our paragraph.
Before I finish this story, let me say that one thing we had done during that first family get-away was to send each child off to his or her own “corners” to figure out their own personal mission statement for their lives. We asked them to limit it to no more than two or three sentences. Those personal mission statements were terrific and those were the ones they could remember! Interestingly, about three years later we went to Richard’s class reunion at Harvard and one of the fathers at our luncheon table, whom we had never met, started talking about what an enormous difference a personal mission statement had made in each of his four childrens’ lives. Then with a huge grin he asked, “Do you want to read my eleven year old’s mission statement?” What would we say but, “SURE!” From his inside pocket he pulled a laminated mission statement from each of his children. He claimed to carry them with him everywhere. He was beaming with pride as he showed us his eleven-year-old’s mission statement. I have to say, it was astounding! What a difference it must have made in that little girl’s life to know who she was and where she was going!
Back to our family mission statement, we finally realized that brevity was the key. In fact we decided that we needed a mission statement that was almost a mantra…an iron clad few words that even a two year old could remember. What we came up with was three words: Broaden and Contribute. Of course the preliminaries helped to make those three word work. They were a combination of what we had all decided that we wanted for our family.
Those three words have gone farther than we could ever have imagined! It meant that our children were dedicated to getting the best education that they could, learn as much about other people and the world as possible, discover different ways of thinking and ides that were stimulating to broaden themselves. Next they knew that because we had been given so many blessings as a family in being able to broaden that it was then our responsibility to give back…to go forward to contribute to the world in small and large ways. I won’t innumerate all the details but these words have paved the way for numberless ways to broaden and contribute. Everything from watching for kids who needed friends at high school and sitting by them at lunch, to going to India to transform an old garage to create a room for an orphanage and then getting old women off the street to come and help with the children. That and so many other fun little joys in life we attribute to that family mission statement being part of our kids’ fiber.
We later added two more sets of two words but they will be rather than expand on that let me just say that we have challenged many parents to form a short, concise family mission statement that fits the ages of their children. A family in Canada saw us six months after our challenge and told us how much fun they were having with theirs. This is it…straight from the hearts of a six year old and a four year old: Be thinkful, be thankful and Be Bananas!” Perfect!