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The one question you should ask yourself to create a positive family culture

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Starting with the end goal in mind makes clear all the steps to take along the way.

As families are spending so much time at home in recent months, parents are wondering how they can be more intentional about fostering a positive family culture. It turns out there’s a simple question that makes clear what to pay attention to and what to set aside.

What does it mean to have a “family culture”? It means the habits, values, rules, and priorities that define your family. Although Tolstoy wrote that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” the truth is that each family has its own distinct culture, which emerges either through deliberate design or through the default path of least resistance.

Most parents want to raise their child in a warm, loving, thoughtful environment, but they don’t know where to start. It feels overwhelming to choose which habits and traditions are most important; decide how to order the daily and weekly rhythms; and consider whether to imitate the culture of another family that seems to have it all together, or build new norms from scratch.

If you’re new to creating a family culture, this simple question will put everything into perspective:

Decades from now, when your kids are grown up and out of the house, what do you want them to remember from their childhoods? What things are so important to you that you want them to be defining features of your child’s life at home?

Answer that question, and you’ll know what are the values of your family culture. The rules, traditions, and habits of your family culture will naturally flow from those values. Make a list of the most important things you want to focus on as a parent, and then structure your days and weeks to reflect those priorities. Here are some examples of what this might look like in real life.

If you want your children to remember that you prioritized faith …

You might start and end each day in prayer, pray the Rosary together regularly, and read and discuss Scripture and the lives of the saints.

If you want your children to remember that you prioritized learning … 

You might read aloud books together, talk about what they are learning in school at the dinner table, organize a family book club, and explore science or history interests outside of school.

If you want your children to remember that you prioritized time spent in nature … 

You might go hiking together regularly, plant a backyard garden, plan an annual camping trip, and play outside every day (rain or shine!).

If you want your children to remember that you prioritized creativity … 

You might plan regular sessions of process art, learn a new skill like knitting or embroidery together, designate a space for creating, and allow for plenty of unstructured down time (with creative materials readily on hand!).

If you want your children to remember that you prioritized fitness …

You might play soccer or basketball as a family regularly, sign up your kids for organized sports, encourage your kids to join you on the rock climbing wall at the gym, and run a family 5K each year.

If you want your children to remember that you prioritized life skills … 

You might teach your children to cook from a young age, have them pitch in with household chores like mopping and dusting, and teach them smart strategies to manage money, all with the goal that they will be fully prepared when it’s time to move out and live on their own.

There isn’t really a right or wrong answer in what you choose to prioritize. What matters is that you are ordering your day-to-day life in such a way that your child can clearly see what is most important to you.

The elements of a positive culture will look a little different for every family. But as long as your daily and weekly habits line up with what you want for your home, you’re on the right track, and the culture you’re creating is a good fit for you. Whenever you’re trying to decide whether to add to or alter any elements of your family culture, this simple question serves as a kind of litmus test that will help you stay on track.

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