So how do you become the kind of proactive, contributing family member who makes a difference?
One high leverage way to begin is by creating and maintaining a clear vision of the kind of family member you want to be. In the midst of the daily challenges of family life, it’s far easier to be giving—or honest or courageous or kind—when you’ve clearly determined and have before you the important values you want to live by.
One way to capture and retain that vision is by incorporating it as part of a personal mission statement.
Many years ago as part of my personal mission statement, I wrote that my goal as a mother was “to welcome into the world and to love, honor, nurture, and empower the special spirits who will be my children and eternal friends.” I had no idea when I wrote those words how enormously powerful they would be in shaping my relationship with my children over the years.
Even though my parents set a good example for me—an only child—I had no way of knowing the difficult challenges I would face in trying to parent seven very different children . . . especially in the midst of dealing with my own personal challenges, includeing chronic fatigue syndrome, severe PMS, and other significant health problems. My personal mission statement often served as an anchor in the midst of the storm.
There were many times when I felt tempted to be authoritative—to insist on my way simply because I thought I was bigger and smarter and I was the MOM! There were times when I wanted to simply solve the problem and get on to other things instead of taking time to teach and explain and build the relationship along with the skill or knowledge base. There were times when it would have been easy to criticize or put down . . . times when I wanted to do my own thing instead of doing for or with them. And there were certainly times when I gave in to those things.
But I kept seeing this vision of mature friendships with wonderful, highly responsible, contributing members of society. And the combination of that vision plus Roger’s continuing faith in the future of each child—even when there were problems and challenges—empowered me most of the time to see beyond simply “raising these children so I can get on with other things in my life.” It enabled me to focus on the growth and on my longer-term relationships with some of the most “awesome” people in the world.
We strongly suggest that you capture your vision of the spouse/ parent/family member you want to be—either as part of your personal mission statement or in some other way that’s helpful for you.
We also suggest that you then be brutally honest with yourself concerning what kind of family member you are. Remember the Stockdale Paradox. Remember the need to be both real and realistic. The only way to get to where you want to be is to start where you are. So capture the vision. Recognize the reality. Only then can you effectively chart a course that will get you from one place to the other.
As you move along the path, be sure to review your vision regularly. Keep that vision in sight. It will empower you to stay on a more direct path and to course-correct quickly when you get off.
When our children were very young, we moved to a minifarm where we hoped to raise fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy children. I bought an old Case tractor that didn’t work, and spent a lot of time that first winter out in an old chicken shed rebuilding it. After investing so much effort, I could hardly wait for the first spring day when the weather would be good enough for me to haul it out and start plowing the rows in which we planned to plant.
I had never plowed with a tractor before, but as I started down the first row and looked behind me, I couldn’t believe the great feeling I had watching the earth curl up under that plow. I was absolutely intrigued with the way the rich, black soil kept appearing . . . almost—it seemed—coming to life. In fact, I was so intrigued that I forgot to watch where I was going.
Fortunately, I did look up as I reached the end of the row, but as I turned around and surveyed the entire field, I was suddenly dismayed. What I had thought was going to be a beautiful, straight row had turned out to be a horrendously uneven, zigzag mess.
Much to my chagrin, a longtime farmer and neighbor who had (unknown to me) been watching with amusement walked over to where I sat, somewhat dejected. With a twinkle in his eye, he put his hand on my knee and said, “You know, son, if you want to keep your rows straight, you’ve got to keep your eye on the mark!” He then proceeded to explain how I needed to pick out a point in the distance, keep my eye on it, keep moving toward it—and not look back.
That obvious piece of advice has made an enormous difference in the direction and quality of every other “row” I’ve plowed in every area of my life.
Much of success in life comes as a result of that simple strategy. You raise your sights to a mark and keep moving toward it. Even if you never fully reach it, simply moving toward it as effectively as you can will diminish the distance and make a tremendous difference in the quality of everything you do along the way.