The term “family values” has become a popular phrase in recent years. These values define what is meaningful to your family—the beliefs and ideas that bind your family together. Different families around the world value different ideals and beliefs, but most families can boil down their primary values to fitting within the following categories.
What Are Family Values?
Humans within societal relationships are constantly evolving, and the ideals and standards we care about continue to change over time. The traditional family values of the 1950s are very different from the traditional family values of a post-9-11 American society. Family values are always reflective of their times and environments, yet most cultures surprisingly share several common threads when it comes to basic values and morals.
No child is born with a set of values. Children must be taught these values by our families, friends, and larger communities. We continually pass down our values to the next generations, so it’s important to be clear about the things we care about and what we teach our children and grandchildren to care about as well. Your family members will be exposed to many types of values through their friends, co-workers, teachers, and society in general. The more children know about their own family’s values, the better able they are to discuss them with others. Knowledgeable and conscientious children will also be more likely to be respectful of others’ values and family norms.
The Foundation of a Strong Family Ultimately, your family values will be specific to you and your family unit. They represent the ways you want to live your family life, and they may have been passed down through multiple generations throughout the decades. Knowing what a family–both the nuclear family and extended family–values can help solidify bonds among family members. Family values help kids and young men and women make good choices because they have a set of beliefs to help guide them.
Moral values often define a core personal ethic that drives how a family–and each parent and child within that family – make their way in society, knowing the difference between “right” and “wrong.” General concepts like kindness, integrity, honesty, generosity, courage, patience, and justice can often be categorized as moral examples that a family may share. In a child’s early years, moral values are shaped primarily by the parents, siblings, and relatives. These morals continue to be refined through exposure to other moral compasses through spiritual training, school, popular culture, and social interaction with others. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is also typically considered a moral value
Personal Conduct and Social Behavior
Many times, these values guide the way we treat others and how we stand up for those who need help within society. As part of child rearing and parenthood, we often teach our children that we want them to be “good.” Defining good behaviors and leading by example can go a long way toward making sure those values eventually become intrinsic in our children. Some examples of social behaviors many families care about include being a good listener, sharing, and showing empathy to others, along with a concern for their welfare. When it comes to our closest relationships, our values can help shape what it means to be a good husband, a good wife, a good parent, and a good sibling. Values give us a roadmap to developing healthy relationships.
Social behavior values shape the manner in which we conduct ourselves in personal interactions and as productive members of a greater society. Showing respect for women, elders, and authority figures, treating people with kindness, and standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves are often key behavioral values for families. These values help teach children to keep their composure when things don’t always go their way, which can foster patience and resilience.
Spiritual and Religious Values
Some of the strongest families share a belief in something greater than themselves. They find spirituality to be a significant source of family strength. Spiritual and religious values can vary widely, depending on the family, but many faith traditions tend to share common moral values. Compassion is often associated with spiritual and religious values, as is the desire to grow in faith and knowledge. Spiritual and religious values can also influence other values–like moral values and social behavior. For example, many young men and women of Christian faith may follow specific guidelines for Christian dating in order to foster a relationship that’s consistent with their faith.
Most faith traditions also emphasize service, prayer, and community fellowship, so these may all be qualities a family holds dear if spiritual and religious values are at the center of its values. At the heart of most spiritual and religious value systems is the importance of worship and fellowship, so spending time with others in your faith community can help solidify your family’s spiritual and religious values. And whatever your faith tradition, belief in a higher power and the promotion of spirituality can provide your family with a sense of direction and unity. Our spiritual values can guide everything from our approach to marriage and parenting to how we value friendship and how we care for others within our communities.
Family Work Ethic
Many families consider a strong work ethic to be an important family value. A family’s work ethic can shape everything from the way a child views schoolwork to the way everyone in the family approaches their careers, their finances and working together as part of a team. Achievement is a key element of a strong work ethic, and many families focus on achieving success–as they define it–through their professional work.
Contributing to the family’s success through everything from chores to weighing in on family decisions can help a household learn how to function effectively as part of a family unit–with the welfare and success of the group outweighing individual success.
Volunteerism is a work ethic that is more than simply working hard. The concept of volunteering one’s time and talents is a key work ethic value for some families. Families strengthen their relationships, learn new skills, and teach each other the value of hard work by setting time aside to volunteer together. When family members spend quality time together finding creative solutions to challenging tasks, to the benefit others, they create life-long family memories that form the foundation of the family values they pass on to their descendants. These families value work that matters most and supports the greater good–not work that simply provides a paycheck. They’re moved to serve a higher goal through their work, and this value remains central to how they decide fields of study, careers, and professions.
Most research indicates that a good education can help ensure a more stable and enjoyable life. For many families, the chance at a good education is a priority that drives many family decisions. And with education comes the idea of lifelong learning–it isn’t only about the importance of school. Typically, families who value the idea of education also value intrinsic qualities like curiosity and ambition. They appreciate the desire to constantly learn more about the world and to acquire the level of knowledge needed to achieve the goals they set for themselves.
Families who hold education as a key value may read together, and in general, invest heavily in books. They may visit museums, libraries, and lectures together or even take classes together within their communities when possible.
It may seem like a given that all families prioritize family time, but this isn’t always the case. Especially as children get older, reaching their teenage and young adult years, it can be important to prioritize family time as a key value for your family. Family time looks like many different things for different families–maybe it’s planning at least one family vacation together every year, or scheduling a family game night or movie night each week. Many families insist on at least one meal together as a family every day. And for some families, the practice of a regular family meeting is a way to ensure quality family time together, discussing major issues and decisions that affect the whole family. Spending time together encourages companionship, strengthens a marriage, and helps form stronger bonds between siblings and the entire family.
There are so many different, creative ways to carve out family time. Let your family know that spending time together is a priority–everyone should be willing to adjust schedules and make time to simply be together, preferably engaging in an activity everyone finds fun and/or relaxing. Doing activities together creates both powerful bonds and powerful memories–two important components of a strong family life.
One way to improve family time and family relationships is to identify each family member’s love language–you can easily find this out by taking the love language quiz. And don’t forget, it’s important for married couples to spend time together alone on a regular basis in order to nourish their marriage.
For many families, traditions are an important value. Some families have traditions that have been passed down for decades. Participating in the same formal or informal rituals and observances is a powerful way to link your family together. Whether it’s attending the Christmas Eve candlelight service each year, cooking hotdogs for the neighborhood every Halloween, or staging a pajama dance party to celebrate good report cards, the traditions you observe with your family can create powerful memories. They elevate even everyday experiences to something extraordinary and help hold the family together over time.
Many families place a high priority on using their financial resources in ways that help them live out their economic values. This includes setting careful guidelines for how much money to spend, how much should be regularly saved, and how much should be used for tithing and philanthropic purposes. In addition, families sometimes set guidelines for exactly how they want to spend their money. For example, some families may consciously decide to spend their money on experiences, rather than things–choosing to use their economic resources on adventure and travel rather than expensive gadgets, fancy houses, and new cars.
Other families may decide that the best use of their resources is to champion social justice causes and to invest in philanthropic organizations–both in their communities and around the world. Many families give significant financial resources to their church, being disciplined about how they allocate their economic resources within the faith community. All these approaches express a certain type of family values–and it’s easy to see when people live out their values through their financial choices.
Family Health and Fitness
Families differ in their approach to health and fitness. For some families, diet and exercise are of utmost importance, while other families don’t necessarily share this value. Many families approach health and fitness as a family affair–cooking healthy dinners together, for example, or going on family hikes or bike rides. This allows a family to enjoy quality family time while engaging in a healthy recreational activity. These kinds of values help teach children and young people how to take care of themselves and their health later in life while allowing for a family to make powerful and valuable memories together.
Participating in recreational activities allows families to connect with each other–and often with nature as well. Spending time outdoors together in a healthy activity gives families time to talk to each other without the distractions that their day-to-day life typically affords–like jobs, school, political issues, and the internet. Exercise is important for both physical and mental well-being, so making this a priority for your family can help instill those values for years to come.
Family Entertainment (TV, Movies, Internet, Music, etc.)
How does your family have fun together?
Entertainment values are an important part of the fabric that constitutes your family life–and the memories you make for your family, especially while your children live at home. Do you play board games together on weekends and holidays? Watch the latest superhero movie when it hits the theater? Listen to a particular type of music during dinner or on long road trips? Establishing that your children can have fun and enjoy appropriate entertainment with you and your entire family goes a long way toward helping them define and live their own entertainment values well into the future.
What’s the Difference Between Family Values and Family Culture?
Family values and family culture are closely related, but there are some significant differences. Values are intrinsic and deeply held, while family culture is more of the outward display of your family’s personality and, yes, beliefs as well. Values are expressed in your family culture, and vice versa. For example, your family culture may be welcoming and fun-loving, while the values associated with that include community and hospitality. If your family holds dear the idea of welcoming others into the fold and making them feel appreciated, then it’s likely that your family culture will reflect that through feeling warm, friendly and inviting to others.
Think about it like this: Your values indicate the core beliefs that you hold dear, while your family culture is an outward manifestation of those values–it’s how you live them.
In other words, people should be able to infer your values by the way they experience your family culture. Want to identify your family culture? Take a unique family culture assessment by Kinmundo.com, the family culture specialists,
To find out which one of the 16 different family cultures your family belongs to. Each family member independently takes the quiz. The combined quiz results provide insights on how to improve family relationships that strengthen family values.
Which Family Values Are a Priority For Your Family?
Many families have not formally defined their core family values. If you haven’t yet gone through the exercise of setting priority family values, it’s a worthwhile exercise, and it’s never too late to start. Doing so might seem intimidating or overwhelming, but you’ll be glad you did it, and overall, it really isn’t that difficult. To start, you can call a family meeting and gather input (and even some debate) from everyone in your family about what’s important to him/her and what they think your family should prioritize as values overall.
You could start off with a family mission statement–many families find success going this route. What kind of statement best defines what your family stands for and wants to achieve in the world? How would you like your family to be known and regarded within your community?
For some families, a strong work ethic is most important. For others, it’s kindness or a life of service, and for others, it may be exploration and adventure. Take the time to get input from all family members about what you share in terms of core family values and then put those into your mission statement.
Talk about your strengths and weaknesses as a family–what do you do well, and where is there room for improvement? These are great places to start in defining how your family both fits into and stands out from your specific culture and within your society. What words and phrases can describe your family as a group? If you need inspiration, you might want to explore Bible verses about family or consult other books about faith and values.
If you really get stuck, you can also find several values-based kits and activities on the market that provide exercises, questions, and tips about parenthood. They can help guide your family toward defining the values that are most meaningful to you as individuals and as a group. Above all, your list of family values should reflect your family–it should be like no one else’s. If your faith and spirituality are key to your family goals, then your list should reflect that. If you want to travel with your family and see as much of the world as possible, then it’s one of your family values. And if you’re a family driven by social justice and service to the community, your list of values should reflect that, too.
There’s no one right way to develop a list of values, and each family has a different set of values and political opinions. Happy families can be liberal or conservative, Republicans or Democrats, each with a unique set of values. In fact, a diversity of family values helps build stronger communities that work and live together in peace and happiness.
Importance of Family Values
Our family values help us shape our own personal values and morals–which in turn helps define who we are and how we make our way in society. When parents demonstrate that family values are important, a child gets the structure and boundaries needed to find his or her own place within those values and morals. Or, as the child gets older, to modify those values in order to make them unique as the child matures and develops into a values-driven adult. Through values-based family life, our children learn to express themselves, to grow from their mistakes, to problem-solve and to develop all the abilities and skills that help them become productive members of the community.
It’s helpful to openly discuss family values that are important to you and your children in order to clearly define those family values you believe to be important.
And once you’ve identified your family values, you’re far from finished–next comes the more complicated task of living and exemplifying each value. Because our beliefs and our identities are closely intertwined, you may also want to re-evaluate your family values over time, to allow everyone’s input into whether something you hold dear as a family remains a positive influence over everyone and shapes their behavior in a meaningful way.
Don’t let your daily routine and the status quo get in the way of intentionally building strong and meaningful family values. Start with a family mission statement and weekly family gatherings to discuss important family topics. Write down and document what is important to your family. If you don’t already have a defined set of family values, remember, there’s no right or wrong way to go about forming and documenting family systems that help guide your family values. If you don’t have well established value systems in your family, then it’s time to get started. Go forth, act intentionally and have conversations that will help your family define and live your family values.