Whose Family Values?

My wife and I spent time with family over the holidays, and it got me to thinking about family values. This is a very popular topic for politicians and preachers, for they champion family values for their respective audiences. Rarely do they, or any of the rest of us, define what is meant by family values.

“Value” is a word with many meanings, depending upon the context. It can refer to the importance, worth, or benefit, especially the importance or worth of something or someone one. Value can be related to the amount of money that can be received for something. Value can be applied to how useful or important something or someone is.

In general, I think of values as the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong, what is most important in their lives, and what controls behavior. A search for family values in Google produced 24,100,000 results in 0.47 seconds. Traditional family values usually include such topics such as religion, marriage, communication, traditions, morals, holidays, interactions with relatives, and how time is spent together.  One source defined family values as

“. . . ideas passed down from generation to generation.  It boils down to the philosophy of how you want to live your family life.  Three traditional basic tasks in life have been described as work, play and love.”

I can go with this definition, but I would add a fourth task: faith. I would also add social responsibility. So, my basic tasks for family life are “to have socially responsible work, play, love, and faith.” Unless our values are lived out in socially responsible ways, family life in particular and community life in general will suffer and eventually deteriorate.

No two families will have identical values. Some writers have referred to life as living by a script. We are given a script in our family as children that tell us how we are to live our live in the family. As we get older, we begin to question the script we are given and eventually must decide whether to live with the script we are given, to rewrite portions of the childhood script, or to reject the family script altogether.

I have noticed that my children have some of the same values as those they were taught in our home, but I recognize they have values that reflect their own personalities and needs. Sometimes I am tempted to comment that they were not given that script in our home, but recognize that children must develop their own personal script. When we marry, we either incorporate items from our personal scripts into a new marriage script, or we scrap everything we were given and start afresh. Many family disputes arise from which script a person is following: a personal script v.s. a family script.

We need to encourage and help families to have values that guide them in living socially responsible lives.

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