The word "family" can mean different things to different people. But no matter how our families are made up, most share some common values. It's worth thinking about what these are.
We don't often talk about the values that hold our families together. Yet they are always there, shaping the way we behave towards one another. Our values are what we draw on to cope with the ups and downs of family life.
Some values have been around forever while others may have been adopted quite recently by our parents' or grandparents' generations. It's worth thinking about our beliefs about birth, raising our children and the points where we pass from one stage of life to another.
What values do we hold around adolescence, for instance, or death? Are there things our family believed in in the past that we would like to go back to? Or are there values previous generations held that no longer fit our lives?
When we start thinking along these lines it's likely that most families will come up with a fairly common set of principles. For instance, most would say they support one another, trust one another, care for each other when things get tough, share their resources and make sure everyone in the family is safe.
It's important to talk about what binds us together because this is how children learn about how to treat others. What they learn at home about respecting and caring for others, and taking responsibility, feeds into their relationships at school, on the sports field, at work and, eventually, into their own families as adults.
Sometimes parents haven't had the opportunity to think about these sorts of things. Or they have been raised in families that were not safe, where they were abused, hurt or not respected. However, it's possible to break this cycle. We can choose to build families that are different from the ones we grew up in.
For instance, there are lots of things we can do to make our families work well. We can learn how to communicate so that our messages and feelings are understood and we understand how other people are feeling and what they are trying to tell us.
We can also learn how to resolve conflict in safe ways that strengthen our relationships and reinforce our values. Conflict is an inevitable, natural and healthy part of family life. No matter how close we are to someone we will find differences, and some of these will be irritating to us. But once we understand the other person's point of view our relationship with them will improve.
And we can learn how to make decisions and plan ahead as a family. Regardless of our own background, it is possible for us to decide what we want as a family and take steps towards making it happen.
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