Creating successful families does seem to be a strange concept to many. The predominant belief that we do not choose our families (our parents and siblings) leads us into the experience that either we are lucky to have good family relationships or unlucky. If you no longer like a certain friend of yours, you can sever ties. But with family, things are different. The emotional ties are stronger and there is a sense of connection which creates a stronger tolerance and resilience to the conflicts that arise. Over the past decade I have seen people transform, seen families re-connect and relationships deepen. Sometimes it has been as a result of the natural process of life (a loved one dying, people getting older, maturity etc) but in most cases it has been through these people consciously doing something different that has showed they can make a difference and not leave their happiness to chance and luck.
This is not a debate about whether we have full control over our lives or of the people in our families, this is about looking at the areas we do have a large influence in and how we can leverage our growth in this space.
Families have had vision “statements” for centuries. The family coat of arms or family crest is just such a form of branding that gives identity and a sense of belonging. Many families have a code of ethics/values/ideals that they live by (most often it is unconscious and un-articulated). There is the “hidden” guideline of families which act as influences on our decisions and our actions (my parents would not approve or I can’t do that because it would upset my family etc).
What I have written about is a conscious way of creating a family environment that supports us in getting more of what we all want (whatever that may be for each of us). The vision statement is therefore an articulated guideline which enables us to change what doesn’t work and to work with what does work. It may sound strange as society doesn’t really bring family dynamics in to the realm of “choice”. We can choose our friends but not our family. That statement doesn’t mean that we are powerless to transform our family relationships. It requires some work, energy, compassion and a willingness to engage. When I built my house I got a professional architect who expressed it as a design. I am going to engage with my family consciously and empathically so that we can create what we all aspire to.
This is our Booth Family Vision Statement; an articulation of our intent and hope for our future. We had gone through a process that enabled us to share what we valued and to describe what we wished for.
This is who we are (or how we came to be who we are): (Step 1) Through friendship, support and sharing adventures and experiences we strengthen our connectedness.
By doing these things (Step 3) Through conversation, reflection and sharing we inspire each other to grow and learn.
We will experience this result (Step 2) Through understanding, acceptance, commitment and love we create stability and belonging.
The next step for us was to look at the actions we need to take that would move us closer to the kind of family experience we wished for. We all had agreed that our connectedness was accelerated through sharing adventures, conversation and time spent together. These three things then became the guidelines for what we would need to do.
The first step we took was acknowledging that we needed “sibling” time, different to the gatherings of our extended families or the odd visit to JHB on business. We wanted specific time that was set aside for the purpose of sharing, reflecting and connecting. We decided on an annual “Booth Sibling Holiday”. It would be a weekend (or three days) and we would take turns in organising it. We set a budget for this holiday, ensuring that this commitment of ours was not dependent on that month’s cash flow. We also set it up so that we would all pay the same amount, regardless of who had to fly or drive to get together (taking the sum of all costs and dividing by three).
In 2008, our holiday was to Swaziland. We went white water rafting and spent time in the game parks. This year we are planning to go kloofing in the Magaliesberg.
We also discussed other ways that we could keep in touch, especially keeping up to date with each other’s children. We looked at setting up a blog that we could post photos and information to so that everyone in our families could access this. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, only a process that keeps us going in the direction we value.
Things to think about after having created your vision statement:
BE INSPIRED: You should feel inspired and look forward to making this happen. If you don’t feel this way, it is most likely that this is a chore and something you feel “has” to be done. This probably highlights that people do not believe it is going to be worthwhile or that they haven’t really put their honest needs on the table. The statements guide how you view your future family actions. Is what you are going to do in line with these statements?
ACTIVITIES: Our family loves adventure and sharing. Yours may be totally different (ie cooking together or reading books around a fire). This is about what you value and want and will always be different to other families.
COST: Some families may have lavish expensive holidays overseas while others will just spend a day doing things. Again, this is about you!
TIME: How much time is best for you? Take into account the frequency as well (once a year, every six months etc). Also take into account the time that may be needed to do research and make bookings.
WHO IS DRIVING THIS? You may find that you are the one driving and motivating the other family members. You may be the organised one and your other sibling the forgetful or unstructured one. Therefore take this into account when you plan. Many great family plans and visions fall apart because the one sibling felt that everyone should now be doing an equal amount. In my case it took me a few years to support my siblings in seeing the possibility of making this work for all of us.
CURVE BALLS: If this was easy, you would probably be already doing it. If getting together as often as you like was easy, you would also have prioritised this already. Therefore bear in mind that you are taking on patterns and attitudes which are deeply embedded.
IDEAS FOR ACTIVITIES: On our list of possibilities:
- Scuba diving and swimming with dolphins in Ponto do Ouro.
- Visit the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site in Limpopo.
- Pony trekking in Lesotho.
- Trip to Magaliesberg — visit the Cradle of Humankind, hot-air ballooning, horse riding, canopy tour, full day kloofing.
- Cooking retreat at a retreat centre in KwaZulu-Natal.
- Kite-making weekend at the retreat centre.
Once we had experienced that we could make a difference to our sibling relationship in this way, we realised we needed to bring in the rest of the Booth Clan.
Research keeps pointing to the powerful and beneficial impact that good family relationships have on children. They debate that you can not really “prepare” your child for the future because the future will most likely be something totally different to what we think it will be. Research seems to point that the best support parents can give their children is a strong sense of belonging; a space where they learn to discover who they are and who they are in relationships to others. A strong sense of belonging is the foundation children develop their attitudes on, their beliefs, their experiences. So out of this, we looked at developing our family vision into something bigger that included all of our extended families.
Next … developing the extended family process.