Beyond a Life of Subsistence: Beginning with the End in Mind

The thing I remember most about reading Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is this: begin with the end in mind, even at home. Write a family mission statement. This has rattled around in me for quite sometime, since before I had children, as I've frequently thought through what a mission statement might look like.

Subsistence parenting, that's what I call the early years. When getting sleep and food into each person's body is the only mission you can handle. Those tiring toddler years are not much different; my mission back then was wake up, feed them, wear them out, bathe them and put them to bed, repeat.

In the past 2 years I've been working intensely with our staff at Habitat around our culture, core values, and vision. In business, if you don't have a mission statement you sink--fast. You have to know where you are going and what you are about before you can decide what to do, and more importantly what you won't do. We can't be good at everything, and we're not an organization which is about being all things to all people. We can be good at our core competencies though, and especially as a result of this process, we have become just that. When there is a hard decision to be made at work, our Leadership Team discusses in detail our core values in relation to the issue at hand, and typically the answer bubbles up rather nicely after that.

After seeing the effect on Habitat, naturally I wrote my personal statement which reflects where I want to be, and indeed who I am.

Blending families means blending what "family" means within our experiences.

Blending families means blending what "family" means within our experiences.

Recently, as my partner Babak and I have been in a year-long discernment process around blending our families, the need for a mission statement has been bubbling up through my quiet spaces with increasing frequency. Blending a family has many challenges, though we would love to tell you it is easy. One of them is that every family has a culture in tact. We may not even know it, but this culture has been created not just by those living under your roof, but by your ancestors before you. As B and I started talking about cohabitation, we spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted for our family together, and also what each individual needed and our cultures got thrown into a blender-- we hope the result is downright awesome.

It's taken 2 years of togetherness to find our way to what our vision for our clan might be. We started with a block of big dreams-- visionary stuff of who we are raising and what we wanted everyone to feel in our family. Grandiose stuff all the way down to the minutia. Then we began to sift through all of the dreams of what we might like and reduce that pile of fresh ingredients down to the stock which would flavor our lives as we grow. We eliminated a lot of things which didn't matter in the end, or just weren't about the core of who we are and what we want to be about. Here is what we have come to: We are a family defined by love, not blood. We love one another exactly as we are and provide tools and support to grow to our fullest potential in a safe and accepting home where we are accountable to our selves and to one another.  We understand that problems will arise, and will work together to find a solutions that works for everyone.  

These four don't always get along like besties.  Having our vision in front of us helps us all feel safe knowing that solutions will always seek to be win-win.

These four don't always get along like besties.  Having our vision in front of us helps us all feel safe knowing that solutions will always seek to be win-win.

The move in has happened, and the blender still hums. We are acutely aware in some moments that all 6 of us are still adjusting in some profound ways, but there is evidence that we are on our way to a new family culture. We will use this mission statement to help us with the big stuff-- a yardstick to ask: how important is it? A road map to help us see where we should be in the end if we stay on our path.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Here's the thing: once you get beyond subsistence parenting, you are already making values based decisions for your family. Articulating those values is the magic wand for clarity when the clouds of life move in. What's your vision for your family-- even if you are a family of one? What are you about? Where would you like to be headed? The how doesn't matter as much as the who and the what. Maybe your form of a mission statement is just a word. Or two. Let us know-- you may inspire someone who is still stuck in subsistence to focus on a word which gets them through the cloud of simple existence and into the peace of intention.