Motherhood

How Would You Describe Your Family in Three Words?

Joanna Goddard, Toby and Anton

A couple years ago, we were staying at a friend’s house, and I spotted The Secrets of Happy Families on a bookshelf. Flipping through it, I saw a chapter about figuring out your family’s core values. At first, I thought it might be cheesy or over the top. But it was surprisingly enlightening…

After reading the list of potential phrases to choose from, I realized that (of course) families may have different priorities or goals — being brave or athletic may be huge in one family, being spiritual and hardworking could be very important in another, or being creative and innovative might be key.

What Are Your Five Basic Family Values?

Parenting is not easy — but one thing I’ve always felt good about is encouraging our boys to be friendly and kind to others. Before we go to friends’ houses, we’ll talk about how everyone needs to be included, even the littlest kids. It’s a HUGE rule in our family — no one should feel left out or made fun of. (I liked this article about teaching kids to be “includers.”) Funnily enough, now that I’m thinking about it, we even chose Toby’s name simply because it sounded friendly.

Another trait we’re working on is “service.” I’m learning a lot from my friend Linsey, for whom service is clearly an important one. She is always helping others in big ways (like setting up apartments for refugee families) and small ways (like supporting a friend during a hard time). When my brother-in-law died two years ago, I immediately booked a flight to San Francisco for the next morning. As I opened our front door to head out at 6 a.m., I spotted a brown lunch bag on the doorstep. Inside were homemade brownies and fresh clementines for me to enjoy on the flight. I was so moved by the gesture, I started weeping in the hallway. What thoughtfulness! And what an inspiring way to move through the world. (I’d love to do more of these things with Toby and Anton.)

What about you? What would you say are a few of your — or your family’s — core values? Are they different from the values your family had growing up? I’d also love to add curiosity, optimism and not-waking-up-so-early to our list. (I think we have gallantry covered;)

P.S. Raising race-conscious children, and how would you describe yourself in five words?

  1. What a wonderful and thought provoking article. I think my family’s core values would be,
    Hard working
    Perseverence
    Be true to yourself
    Inclusive
    Loyalty
    We always help each other out. Over the years, we have each fell onto hard times, the rest of us step up and help out however we can. I am very lucky to be married into such a wonderful loving family.
    Thank you for writing this. We often take the little things for granted, reading this article (and comments) reminded me of the goodness in the world.

  2. Courtney says...

    I asked my husband and he said “we have to pick three?! A table stands on four legs, can we pick four? There are five columns in this photo of words to choose from, can we pick five?!” We eventually settled on:
    Kindness
    Love to Learn (I am a teacher!)
    Gratitude
    Bonus word (fourth leg argument): GRIT
    (As a teacher, I have found a lot of my students can lack grit, and though I want them to know kindness and love and be aware that the world is a beautiful place, they need grit. They need to know it’s not all about them and they have to push forward and they must work hard and be determined, NO MATTER WHAT. YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOU!)

  3. ankemarie says...

    oh wow, what a friend your Linsey is! i am really moved and would love to raise my children to be that kind of persons.

    greetings from Germany
    a “silent” reader

  4. Becca says...

    I really like “Be kind and work hard” but sometimes I think I worked too hard, mostly at school in my early 20s, and missed out on some other opportunities. Like I was too busy getting good grades and finishing on time to entertain the thought of a semester abroad, and now I feel I missed out. Now that I’m a mom, I think balance might be better (for me) than working hard. So maybe “Be kind, be balanced, be yourself.”

  5. Rebecca says...

    enthusiasm, imagination, kindness – with kindness being number one.

  6. Sherri says...

    Question authority, integrity, cooperative!

  7. K Rez says...

    I just asked my husband his thoughts and he immediately responded with:
    Tired
    Moody
    Angry
    We have a 2.5 year old and a 10 mos old. Neither one sleeps through the night. We both work full time. The struggle is real!
    (Though if we had a good night’s sleep I’d say our words are: fun, loving, and inclusive).

  8. Emma says...

    I know one of our families’ core values would be curiosity. My husband loves to collect books and when I argues with him about the antiquated tradition he said he wanted our now 6 month old to explore the books he enjoyed someday. Heartwarming.

  9. Amy says...

    A topic my husband and I revisit often as we raise two little citizens of the world.
    *Kind and generous- whether that’s reaching out to the new kid, greeting neighbors in a friendly way, cheering on your sibling or comforting a friend who is really sad.
    *Resilience and persistence – trying to instill a “pick yourself up and brush yourself off” approach for the rough patches that they might encounter. I want them to dig deep and to be brave and strong, even when that feels hard.
    *Sense of humor – I want them to be able to not always take themselves so seriously and to have an optimistic approach to new things and to life in general.
    All of this starts at home with what we discuss at the dinner table and what we model in our daily lives. Here’s to hoping we get most of this right!

  10. Elizabeth says...

    The older I get the more I appreciate my family so much! Gosh, a good family so hard to narrow down!
    – Optimistic
    – Thoughtful
    – Wisdom
    This wasn’t on the list, but I love that my family is consistent. I always know what to expect – in a good way. Now that I live away from family, it’s comforting to be able to come home and know it’ll still feel like home after all these years.

  11. Sarah D. says...

    gentle. honest. kind.

  12. Sophenne says...

    Service and kindness. My Mum would always drag my sister and I to those less fortunate so as to hand out food, presents, clothes etc. My niece got caught up in that too; despite being a famous model, she opted to study hard and as such is starting med. school this year to become a child oncologist to less fortunate children in the world. I’m expecting my first child in 3 weeks’ time, who will be named after my Mum seeing she passed away a few years ago…I hope she also inherits my Mum’s empathy and kindness too.

  13. Koseli says...

    That Linsey. She’s a good one.

  14. Emily S. says...

    I’m still a little too young to have my own family haha. But out of these adjectives, my family growing up emphasized creativity, knowledge, and caring, and I find that these are three attributes I highly value in my partner, friends, and role models. Another is probably communicative– we all share our feelings a little TOO freely sometimes. ;)

  15. Truly love this post! Saving for in my “articles for family” folder.

  16. That is thought provoking -in a gentle way! For us… Inclusion, integrity, and possibility (dream big!).

  17. Erica H. says...

    HARD to narrow it down to three words!

    1. Courage

    2. Community

    3. Humor

  18. Gosh, Linsey just made me cry too. Good friends are the absolute best!

    • Ellen says...

      Me, too! I’m tearing up at work now. D:

  19. Jennifer says...

    It’s only my partner and I, but I would say:

    appreciation – of each other and other people, and our opportunities
    knowledge – know more to be more aware
    affection – words and hugs

    • Jennifer says...

      Ugh, I hit post and immediately thought of the real #1 big one for us:

      INTEGRITY.

  20. Ivy says...

    It’s not three words, in fact it’s only two, but my new life mantra is to Love Loudly. It started as a New Year’s resolution for 2017, though I’ve found I am now incorporating it into my daily life. There are so many people I appreciate in my life, whether they are family, friends or simply a passerby that does a kind act. Because of these inspiring people surrounding me, I want to be sure I am loving them as loudly as I can in return for the love they give me. This means I do favors I’m not necessarily excited about, but also try to send more handwritten notes, buy flowers, and celebrate everyone’s big (or small) accomplishments. I have realized that reminding myself to Love Loudly allows me to brush off minor annoyances and truly look at the bright spots in life.

    • Ellen says...

      Oh my gosh I love this!

  21. Olivia says...

    Work hard, be curious and remember kindness is everything.

  22. R says...

    Growing up, in our family of four, our values were Honesty, Kindness and Compassion. I am 33 and married now, but to this day, my dad makes it a point to beautifully remind my sister and me of this, every chance he gets. It helped that my parents had lots of stories to share about their growing up days (and those of my grandparents, who had rather humble beginnings). My folks always insisted that all meals be at the dining table and my favorite childhood memories involve the 4 of us, around the table, sharing stories. I never quite realized the strength of these stories, until I read your post today! Most importantly though, it helped to have parents who modeled these values for us – I don’t know a more compassionate man than my father and I have never seen him tell a lie – it’s hard to not listen to someone like that. Thank you for this post.
    Personally for me, I heard the term ‘reckless giving’ at church, at the start of this year and I am trying to find ways to adopt that into my life.

  23. Faza Mahirah says...

    From my dad:

    Always be generous. When you give more you receive much more in return. That’s actually the way the world works. You’ll see, when you start giving.

    From my mum:

    Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you are a girl. Work hard and believe that you can do it.

  24. Janita says...

    When I used to rock my baby to sleep, I used to whisper “Be kind, be good, be happy, be healthy”. It’s really everything I want for her.
    Now she’s 2+ and I still whisper it to her before I put her to bed. I love it when she finishes the mantra for me.

    • Sophenne says...

      That is lovely! I’m expecting a baby girl in 3 weeks’ time and will love to have such moments!

  25. M Embry says...

    These comments make me feel like the world is going to be ok.

    • Sasha says...

      Yes! It’s a nice reminder that good people are everywhere. One thing I always tried to teach and affirm for my girls.

  26. I just teared up reading about the brown paper bag. So thoughtful and inspiring. Being kind and empathetic are really important to us. Our daughter is just two and a half but shows signs of being a really sweet kid. I want her to be kind and be the kid that sticks up for others. That’s super important to me. My husband wants her to be brave and that’s really important to him.

  27. Cara says...

    Every day I have my kids say our “family pledge” on our drive to school:
    I am kind to others.
    I am respectful.
    I am loving.
    I am strong.
    I am smart.
    I am creative.
    I can make the world a better place.
    Today and every day, I will do my BEST!

    • Sasha says...

      That’s awesome!

  28. This is such a moving post. I love Cup Of Jo for these posts.

    After reading some other readers comments I feel inspired to write a mission statement for our family, too.

    Something that my husband and I often discussed, is why we believe we have such a strong relationship after 15 years together. The conclusion we always come to is that our relationship is built on mutual respect and shared values. I think it’s a big advantage if you and your partner are on the same page with core values before you have kids – if possible. Then you can work together to demonstrate these values to your kids right from the start, and continue to build on them as they grow up.

    That being said, it’s probably a really good idea to reflect on our core values and adapt them to changing times. I don’t think we do this enough! After reading this post I think my family needs to focus more on service. We have tried to focus on cultivating kindness, open-mindedness and adventurousness, but I feel inspired to focus more on service. If we all just did a little bit more good… It’s an exciting thought!

    Thanks for being such an inspirational role model Jo. Your posts prompt me to think and reflect all the time, more than any other blog.

    http://www.thislifeisbelle.com

  29. This was such an interesting exercise! My husband and I did it separately, and we ended up with the same three words, including waffling between the same two for our final choice.

    We chose integrity, kindness (though I said I might prefer compassion since that implies a degree of empathy, though kindness implies action, so that’s a hard call), and thoughtfulness (which we both meant in the sense of thinking things through, and we both debated between that and curiosity). I was pretty proud of us for independently coming up with the same three!

    • R says...

      Hi Katharine, if I was you, I’d be very proud too :).

    • Aw thanks R!

  30. Lisa says...

    I love this. I don’t have a family of my own yet, but I can’t wait to have one! I grew up in a very strong family, and want to keep a lot of the core values (be kind, be inclusive, stand up for anyone who can’t stand up for themselves, call out bullshit instead of accepting it, work hard), but there is also SO MUCH I want to change – the tone of voice used when speaking to each other, more kindness, less telling of what’s right and wrong and instead teach my kids to find their own way.. one of my favourite things my mom used to tell me as an anxiety ridden teenager was “do your best”. It didn’t have to be THE best, just MY best. I was what we joke a “straight B student ” as I got ill in my last year of school and dropped my grades. But that was my best at the time, and I have to accept that. (Parents were still proud)

  31. clare says...

    Every day growing up, when we left for school, my mom would tell us, “Be good, be nice, be smart!”.

    • Gen says...

      My dad gave us, “Play nice, study hard, behave!” I forgot about that till I ready your very similar one. ;)

  32. This is a good one. My husband and I talk about this all the time, the words we use to describe how to act and what to do every day. Words can be so powerful, especially to those little ears. We often talk about patience, persistence, and working hard. Those are the things our family is constantly working on, all of us, every day.

  33. Alexandra Graves says...

    I loved reading that book, and have learned a lot from it. We have a family mission statement. One we’ve carefully written out so our kids (who are quite young) will grow up knowing and hopefully believing in. It is:

    We are Caring:
    Our family shares what we have, respects others, and takes care of the earth.

    We are Curious:
    We never stop learning, we are always exploring, and we ask lots of questions.

    We are Brave:
    We are proud of who we are, we take action in our community, and we speak up for others.

    We Work Together:
    We do hard things, we lift each other up, and we solve problems.

    • I love that you wrote out a family mission statement. What a great idea! I’m so inspired by yours. Thank you for sharing.

  34. Theresa says...

    I love this post. It’s really making me think. Our only daughter will be three in May and I tell her everyday, before I drop her off to pre school “Be kind, be strong and stand up (use your voice) for what you need.” She now completes the phrase before I do. I don’t know why I started saying it. We always tell her to be kind , but then I also wanted her to be strong and use her voice. I guess I am still figuring this out and am definitely going to ask my husband what his three words would be and think of mine. Maybe they will be the same. :)

    • Gen says...

      Love this, Theresa!

  35. lindsay says...

    this is really interesting! i don’t have kids yet, but my husband and i are very intentional about creating the type of family we want even before kids are part of it, so that once we have one, those norms are already set. we are big on intentionality, kindness, and curiosity. curiosity is a big one that i did not grow up with. my parents weren’t big readers, aside from romance novels for my mom, and i don’t think i ever watched a documentary with my family. my parents just weren’t avid learners/explorers. my husband and i both are, and love going down internet rabbitholes on certain topics or listening to NPR about anything. we support each other’s curiosities a lot.

  36. Paige Posladek says...

    My husband and I created a mission statement and core values on our honeymoon, and we revisit it every year since our family is growing and changing quickly. It has added incredible value to our marriage. It feels like we have a head start on a lot of hard discussions simply by asking ourselves, “does this align with our mission statement and core values?” If it does, great! Let’s talk about it. If it doesn’t, it’s easy to move on from.

  37. Lee says...

    The first I thought of were kindness, curiosity and imagination. My kids are 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 so those are the values dominating my hopes for them right now/ the values they motivate in us as parents.

    I read this post after a bad trip to the playground today in which my 3 1/2 year old son had his first bad experience with bullying. Playing superheroes is his favorite thing and a group of kids maybe a year older than him were running around playing. He was so excited to join them, running and laughing like his joyful self, but they mostly weren’t interested in him. Eventually one kid screamed at him “I don’t like you GET AWAY FROM US” and as my son walked to me crying the boy yelled at him “you’re stupid” and then turned to the other kids and said, “he’s stupid.” Honestly, I almost cried myself. My son is still home with me so this is all new to him. I thought right away of your post about creating a safe, loving, supportive space at home as the best way to respond to this inevitable treatment from peers. Then reading this post about your talks to teach your kids how to be inclusive, well that was very moving and we will certainly be following your lead <3

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      those three words are beautiful. and i’m so sorry to hear about the incident at the playground. it’s so, so hard to hear about difficult/hurtful social dynamics with other kids. i’ve found that to be one of the hardest (maybe THE hardest?) part of parenting so far. i’d love to write more about this in the future, although i’m still figuring it out myself! sending a big hug to you and your sweet son — you sound like such a loving mother!

    • Jules says...

      Oh man. This made me sad. I have 3 boys: almost 4, 2, & 3 months. Having a child is like having an open nerve walking around the world. I hope you guys had a great rest of the day! Tomorrow is a new day.

    • Katie says...

      Oh no, that sounds terrible Lee! I’m sorry you and your little one had to go through that. I had a first bad playground experience recently and it really upset me too. My son is a little younger and was just shy of two at the time. He tried to go into the sandbox where some bigger boys were playing (probably all about 4 or 5 years old). One of them yelled to him, “go away! You have a booty-face and you can’t play here!” My son just sort of stopped and stared while the other kids started to repeat what the first one said. Then the first boy yelled, “I hate you booty-face!” and I took my son away from them and over to the other side of the park.

      Typing it back, it actually sounds sort of funny (what sort of insult is booty-face?!), but at the time it was so sad to watch because it was as if my little guy could understand that he wasn’t wanted there. He had a heartbreaking look on his little face… Mostly I look back and wonder as a parent in the situation (the other kids’ parents weren’t nearby), should I have done or said something?! I don’t want to be the type of person or parent that admonishes other children at the park…but….at the same time maybe a reminder that they weren’t using nice words would have been appropriate? I honestly don’t know, and I would love Cup of Jo’s take on this tricky part of parenting!!

    • Paula says...

      it is super hard to watch things like this unfold on the playgrounds involving your own kids. My gut reaction is always to say something mean to the bully (I never do, but it’s fun to have a short dialogue in my head, like, you little shit head :). But I think the worst reaction is to respond. Unless there’s physical harm, my daughters fend for themselves, it’s only the right thing to do. Wait till they get to school age and come home with stories like from school that and there’s nothing you can do! Distance yourself, it’s not the end of the world… I always say it will make them tough. You just work on instilling all the awesome qualities in your kids at home to make sure they are prepared for bullies in real life, they are unfortunately everywhere. Also, think back to how you were raised. Our parents were never around (they way we are now at playgrounds I mean, obviously, if you were lucky to have parents, they were always around) to step in and immediately fix something. I’m most dreading the social media bullying that I keep hearing about. That is a totally different bird. It’s one thing to call someone a name during recess, and then it’s another to have it on social media forever. I would like some tips on that from some seasoned parents.

  38. MiMi says...

    When I was a child, I remember my father hanging up a framed quote on the wall in our living room, which had three sentences.

    ” Losing money is losing a little bit,
    Losing fame is losing a lot,
    Losing health is losing all.”

    I hope I translated it well from Korean to English.

  39. Morgan says...

    My mom’s (half-joking) motto was “excellence through flexibility”. It went along with her insistence on being “yes” people rather than “no” people and her belief in Murphy’s Law. Although I think much of that was related to her dislike of bureaucracy it’s always reflected our family’s values — working hard for what you believe in, but being open to life’s inevitable curveballs… and having a sense of humour through it all! I think our words would be “integrity, openness, humour”

  40. My almost 3-year-old is an only child and I fear he will grow up to be entitled since we make him the center of our world, but I’ve noticed that when we do play dates with friends, it’s my son who is more inclusive and kind than other children who have siblings.

    Recently, he ran up to my friend who was pushing her daughter in a stroller and said, “I help push Mia.” In addition, he would say to the other kids, “Watch out! Stay on the sidewalk. Cars are coming.”

    Since he’s still young, I haven’t pushed him to share or be kind, so I’m quite impressed with how thoughtful he is.

    • Elizabeth says...

      I was an only child until my brother was born when I was 6.5. I don’t think only children are necessarily “entitled;” if anything, I was the opposite. I think the disadvantage (other than I was sort of lonely with no sibs), was that so much attention was focused on me. The detriment, from my experience, about being an only child, was that this attention made me anxious rather than entitled. Sometimes I think we could all benefit from some “benign neglect!”

  41. Sabrina says...

    Ours would be Kindness, Bravery, and Quirky!

    Speaking of your friend Linsey, I loved her home tour when you first posted it. I remember reading it and loving that all her kids shared a room. My three boys share a room and we make it work. But I’m curious as to how it’s working for her now and if she’s made any changes now that the little one is probably out of a crib?

    • Lindsay says...

      Yes!! I was wondering the same thing! The kids all fit so perfectly with the crib but was wondering how she solved the crib/bed/space issue! Thanks for voicing my question!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thanks for the question! Says Linsey: “We converted the crib into a toddler bed by removing the rails — its tight, but she still fits ok… for now at least!”

      Here’s her apartment tour, if anyone’s curious! http://cupofjo.com/2015/01/brooklyn-apartment-tour/

  42. Sasha says...

    I love posts like this, your story about Linsey and the brownies…tearing up over here!! Sounds exactly like my friend Stacie, ALWAYS thoughtful.

    I’m going to ask my family what they think our words should be, kids 18 & 20 yos, they will have an opinion, and it’ll be a good one!

    We had a few mottos over the years, “better to be happy than right” and “everyone works here.” And our most infamous, “you win.” In any argument, big or small, the first person to concede defeat by saying “You win” IS ACTUALLY THE WINNER, because of course you are the bigger person. It’s turned quite a few heated arguments into laughter.

    • Sophie says...

      I love this!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love those mottos!!!

  43. Marje Kelly says...

    Funny, creative, compassionate

  44. This is so thought-provoking! My husband and I have been married 5 years and have a one-year-old daughter, so in some ways we are still figuring out who we are as a family. As one commenter notes, there’s a difference between choosing 3 words to describe your family NOW versus how you want your family to be/3 words to aspire to. It’s sobering to think of how we might describe ourselves now (maybe I’m being too hard on myself?) The other sobering thing is thinking about the words I would choose versus the words I think my husband would choose. “Trust” or “loyalty” would be top for me, because I want our family to be safe and dependable for those in it and for friends of our family. But I wouldn’t be surprised if “adventure” were at the top of my husband’s list, and I feel a bit bad because that has not defined us since having our little one! Thanks for the food for thought!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, yes, joy, i definitely think of them as goal words versus necessarily words you have to embody now/all the time. and also you have lots of time for big adventures once you daughter grows a bit! your family sounds really lovely:)

    • t says...

      Having a one year old is the ULTIMATE ADVENTURE!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha good point!

  45. rach says...

    Hardworking, lite-hearted, & fun.

  46. cooper says...

    Growing up, my dad would always drop us off at school with the parting words: “Study hard. Get smart.” Academics and hard work were definitely important (maybe a little toooo important :)

    For my own family (just my husband and I so far), I like the word “Grace,” which I once heard defined as “the feeling that you can do no wrong,” meaning that no matter what, you know that you’re unconditionally loved and accepted. My husband and I also love “Adventure,” and I can see that becoming a value we strive to share with kids.

  47. When my daughter finally succeeds at “showing her work” on a math equation, executes a perfect cartwheel after weeks of practice, performs a kind deed without being asked, I say “Penny?” and I wait until she looks up at me. Then I look into her eyes and I say, “Color me impressed.” I want her to always work hard at impressing me, and ultimately, herself.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww i love that.

  48. What a great conversation. I admire your family values so much. It feels similar to ours. We really hope to raise our daughter to be in touch with her own emotions and aware of others, in an inclusive and compassionate way. We are also wanting to grow in our service to others and acts of kindness, even if it’s as small as thinking of holding the door open for someone or looking into someone’s eyes to ask them how they are. We’ve felt as though we’ve parented differently, but we’re feeling more confident in our (family) skin these days, knowing that living in light of your own values is really all that matters. In this political climate too, we’ve come to understand the importance of taking on the perspective of someone else. I believe we can raise children who think about other people and what it might be like to have a challenge that is unfamiliar to us. Additionally, we’re wanting our daughter to be protected against eating disorders and some image/perfectionist issues we’ve struggled with as adults. We’re hoping to raise her with a fiery sense of self and a steadiness that defies some of the external pressures of our culture.

    I’m appreciating this conversation and hopeful that others will also feel empowered by identifying their strengths and values as a family. Cheers!

    http://www.thewefiles.com

  49. Claire says...

    My husband and I have three kids; our oldest is 3.5 and then we have twin girls that are just 7 months. Initially I just thought “SLEEP” but with more thought, I have found myself saying that “we can do hard things”. That might mean we go to the doctor even though we don’t want to, do the yard work ourselves instead of hiring a team or just cleaning up the playroom at night before bedtime.

  50. Samantha says...

    Three(ish) words: Go a little further

    My grammy always used to ask us, “Why Get a ‘B’ when you could get an ‘A’?” Usually she was referring to pulling the chairs away from the kitchen table while vacuuming instead of working around them or sweeping under the rocking chair, but that lesson has seeped deeply into me. When I am tempted to go less, do less, be less, give less, I remind myself that getting an ‘A’ is within my grasp and that’s who I was raised to be.

    • Alexandra says...

      Haha love this! ( The vacuuming part is hilarious) :D

    • CR says...

      haha – my mom always says that lazy people twice as hard and its so true!

  51. Lo says...

    I would describe us as:

    -Hardworking. Whether in paid, home, or volunteer work, we always try our best.
    -Genuine. We strive to be realistic and dependable in all situations.
    -Fun. We are ALWAYS game for a good time!

    Lo xo
    http://www.themixturesat30.blogspot.co.uk

  52. Our family is forgiveness, service, kindness/cheerful.

    My husband and I have always loved serving others. I love using food/hospitality and childcare to love others well and he uses his hands (moving help, building something, etc.) to love others well. It’s a pretty common thing to do around our home. And there’s something about forgiveness that’s so big and yet so forgotten. We sometimes get caught up in our pride as humans and forgive in a shallow way or we forget to truly forgive, which can cause bitterness. Which leads to kindness. Be kind and forgive. And be cheerful in serving others well.

  53. Capucine says...

    This is how my family collectively defined us when we did this exercise a while back:
    * We’re water people.
    * We’re messy.
    * We go to college.
    * We’re French.
    * We’re healthy eaters.
    * We use our intuition.

    My midwife, she of a thousand babies welcomed in women’s own homes, suggested defining who your family currently IS with your children. She shared a story how one family did this exercise, first defining families they knew – “They are the family that rides horses’ ‘They are the family that travels’ ‘They are the family that helps out’ and then their own family. After some thought their eight-year-old volunteered: “We’re the family that watches TV!”

    (In that particular case, the parents saw the truth of it, happened to feel appalled, and made life changes to create a different family culture.)

    Just another angle. For me, seeing who we ARE was helpful, but in the day-to-day I work with ideals I WANT us to be more. (Like polite. Ahem.)

    • Lo says...

      I LOVE that you included ‘messy’! So true to life, and so real for the majority of people!

  54. Kerry says...

    Funny. Colorful. Active.

    Always find the humor.
    Always notice the colors of life, of moods, of things…
    Always take an active role — for your health, for problem-solving, for relationships.

  55. Emily says...

    Compassion and kindness is a huge one for my family. For example, just before Christmas a family in my parents village had a beloved pet run over. They put a big angry sign up by their gate wishing the person who had done it a terrible Christmas (in not quite so nice language). My Dad and I immediately hatched a plan and anonymously bought the family flowers and wrote a note letting them know that they weren’t alone and that not all people are heartless bast***s as their sign said. The next day the sign was replaced with a huge board simply saying ‘Thank You to all of the strangers who have offered us kindness, you have made the loss of something very dear easier to bear’. I know its an odd example, but I was raised by people who taught me this was how you should react to anyone’s suffering – with unfailing compassion and kindness. Growing up our house was always full of people staying in the spare room during hard times or people sitting round the kitchen table asking for advice. Even now my parents have had their own financial struggles and issues with mental health they are still the kind of people who would never turn away a friend in need. You can’t control what happens to people, but if you can make them smile (or to quote Maya Angelou ‘be the rainbow in their cloud’) then you have done your best. This 100% comes from both of my parents who always encouraged us to always go that extra mile – and now its something I hold so dear and hope to encourage within my own children when I have them.

    The other thing I would say that really describes us (which I know is two words) is Not Perfect. Growing up I felt such pressure and shame that my family wasn’t like other peoples seemingly “perfect” families, but now I know that nothing is perfect, there is no such thing as normal, every family is messy and chaotic in their own way. And thats kind of wonderful.

    Thank you for such a great post Joanna! It’s been a really rough week for my family and this was such a lovely excuse to really think about who we are, and how grateful I am for our values :)

    • Emily, I love the story about you and your father buying flowers for the family who had lost their pet. Thank you for sharing it.

  56. Lizz says...

    We just took our kids (2 and 4) to Disney World and the bickering from the back seat got to me and I impulsively yelled out “happy voices and kind words!” Everyone laughed at me and it dispelled the tension. I kept using it as my new mantra when we needed it. This list is definitely a better version of what I was going for. I can’t wait to discuss with my family.

  57. Emily says...

    Compassion and kindness is a huge one for my family. For example, just before Christmas a family in my parents village had a beloved pet run over. They put a big angry sign up by their gate wishing the person who had done it a terrible Christmas (in not quite so nice language). Between myself and my father we immediately hatched a plan and anonymously bought the family flowers and wrote a note letting them know that they weren’t alone in this situation and that not all people are heartless bast***s as their sign said. The next day the sign was replaced with a huge board simply saying ‘Thank You to all of the strangers who have offered us kindness, you have made the loss of something very dear easier to bear’. I know its an odd example, but I was raised by people who taught me this was how you should react to anyone’s suffering – with unfailing compassion and kindness. Growing up our house was always full of people staying in the spare room during hard times or people sitting round the kitchen table asking for advice. Even now my parents have had their own financial struggles and issues with mental health they are still the kind of people who would never turn away a friend in need. You can’t control what happens to people, but if you can make them smile (or to quote Maya Angelou ‘be the rainbow in their cloud’) then you have done your best. This 100% comes from both of my parents who always encouraged us to always go that extra mile – and now its something I hold so dear and hope to encourage within my own children when I have them.

    The other thing I would say that really describes us (which I know is two words) is Not Perfect. Growing up I felt such pressure and shame that my family wasn’t like other peoples seemingly “perfect” families, but now I know that nothing is perfect, there is no such thing as normal, every family is messy and chaotic in their own way. And thats kind of wonderful.

    Thank you for such a great post Joanna!

    • Laura says...

      This was wonderful. Almost makes me wish that I could have that learning experience for my children but also a sign that I’m not looking hard enough :)

    • Gen says...

      “Not perfect” – what a pressure-reliever. I think I’ll adopt this at age 42; thank you. ;)

  58. (I’m actually reading Happiness At Home right now!)
    Gosh, now this is something I want to explore… I’ve recently started telling my kids to “Be Kind and Brave!” so that’s a start…

  59. kayla says...

    this is so fun to think about. i jotted down 10 from that list and i don’t know how to narrow it down from there, ha. these for sure: service, positivity , gratitude, kindness, travel & adventure.

  60. Alyssa says...

    I love this! I don’t have a family of my own yet, but hope to someday. This seems on par with having a family motto or goal- both of which I intend to have for our family someday!

  61. My immediate thought is that my family really values the idea of “everything can be meaningful.” My mom really instilled this in us when we were growing up in a very small, very simple house. Even though a bigger house would’ve been nice, she always emphasized how cozy it was when we were all on the couch together.

    Looking back, it was probably hard for my parents to raise five kids in such small quarters, but they were so good at making things feel special. Recently I moved into a new apartment and my sister came over to visit. She looked around and said, “You know, if something bad happened and the entire family had to move in here, we could do it. And mom would make it feel like a home.” Truer words have never been spoken.

    • amanda says...

      That is so lovely, Evan.

  62. Sharon says...

    Love this post! Kindness/respect is at the top… kindness/respect to each other and to everyone else, I also grew up in a house where if you committed to do something, you gave 100%… my mom would always say that if something was worth doing, it was worth giving it our all.
    Adventure.. we love trying new things, going to new places etc.

  63. Emily says...

    Two years ago, my husband and I spent a couple weeks developing a mission statement for our marriage (and now family, since having our twin boys). We wanted to have a clear and simple framework that would reflect our values and guide our decision-making: “We are Light Shiners, Mountain Movers, and Adventure Creators – Committed to Living a Story Greater Than Ourselves.” Now, whenever we approach a decision or struggle finding a solution to something we are dealing with, we can reflect on this framework. For example, when trying to decide or agree on where to spend resources, it helps to ask questions like “How can we invest in experiences for our family that open opportunities for adventure and service, rather than just accumulate more ‘things’?” We even had a graphic designer friend design a poster of our mission statement that we have framed and hanging in our house so we are always reminded!

    • Emily, I love the idea of a mission statement (and also having it designed and framed). We are certainly getting to work on our mission statement tomorrow.

      Joanna, thank you for this wonderful post. After nine years of marriage, I have recently become very aware again of the different values. Although both families are focused on people and service, there are many interesting differences too. My in-laws will always err on the side of positivity (often leaving out or avoiding the hard bits or negative conversations), whereas my own family want ALL the details, share all the good AND bad bits and discuss it at length. I love both our sides of the family to bits, but I think it’s time that my hubby, me & our little Oliver define how we want to be described.

      For now, I will go with hospitable, caring, creative.

  64. Funny, I was just trying to think of our “family mantra” as I was decorating the play room for my one-year-old twins. It was part of me trying to be more big picture about how I’m raising them instead of stressing about all of the baby milestones they may or may not be meeting. I thought, “At the end of the day, what do I want these kids to be?” I wanted it to be simple, so I chose “Work hard and be kind.” We are huge on work ethic in my family, especially because we were all athletes playing at a high level. It applies to sports, but it also applies to everything you do after sports as a parent, an employee, a volunteer. If you work hard, you can feel good about your effort at the end of the day regardless of the outcome. And I chose “be kind” over “be nice” because I feel like there is more depth to kindness than niceness. I want them to be kind-hearted, not well trained to be nice on the surface.

    Anyway, coming up with a family philosophy that I can continue to teach them as they grow up really calmed down my first-time mom anxiety. It sort of sets a mission statement for my parenting by which I can check my own actions. (“Dear self, you spent a lot of time stressing about your daughter’s vocabulary today, but did you address the fact that she’s not very kind to her brother when they play together?”)

  65. Marina says...

    What a wonderful post!

    For my family I would say love to learn/knowledge, first and foremost. My father is always telling my children one thing that I think they will remember forever: knowledge sets you free. You can only choose what you know, so your life path depends on it.

    Then, I would add good citizenship/engagement and hard-working.

    I also really want my kids to be open-minded, tolerant and generous (we live in a very conservativ and individualistic part of our country and I feel rowing against the tide very, very often).

  66. Lauren E. says...

    It took me a minute (and reading others’ comments) to come up with mine. Above all, honesty. I grew up with a father who would drive back to the grocery store if he got home and realized the cashier gave him incorrect change. We jokingly call him “honest Abe” but I definitely carried that with me into adulthood. It’s funny that I couldn’t think of the qualities that defined my family until I considered what my own greatest attributes are.

  67. Uma's Mom says...

    Thanks for reminding me about this post. I’ve done work with Lisa McCrohan and she is brilliant!

  68. Katie says...

    A few of my core values now are empathy, curiosity, authenticity and fun.

    Growing up our family was probably: passion, perseverance, athletics, and integrity. There was too much tension/fighting to my liking, and I think that’s why I place a premium on fun now. I think you can be serious and laid-back, too. Also, everyone but me was a morning person – both my parents still get up at 5 every day. NOPE! I’ve trained my dogs to sleep in and get up when I get up on weekends. They know how to chill & crack people up. It’s one of my favorite accomplishments :)

  69. Cynthia says...

    My family’s core values are the ones I grew up with which are faith, loving, sharing, hard-working.

  70. Ana says...

    The good traits for my family would be: loyalty, grittiness, independence (my parents were insistent on us learning how to take care of ourselves and not just focus on school for example)

    The tough traits: stubborn, dramatic, tendency to overcomplicate plans (we seem to be able to build successful careers but totally cannot coordinate smooth pick-ups/drop-offs, waiting for the sears guys, etc. etc.)

  71. Scarlett says...

    For my fiance and I, I’d say: growth, trust or loyalty, and teamwork. But growing up under my parents’ roof it was probably: cleverness, loyalty… and maybe exclusivity. My parents are not very accepting of other people into our friend or family group. It took them a long time to warm up to my fiance!

  72. Catherine says...

    My parents are people of their word. One story I remember is that they went to go buy a TV at an electronic store and my father told the salesperson that they would be back the next day to make the decision and finalize everything. The salesperson probably thought it was some line my father was feeding him because when he came back the next day to purchase the TV, the salesperson turned to me and said “your father is a man of his word.” This is a silly instance, but I’d like to think it resonates broader for our family and hopefully for me.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, catherine.

  73. Marta says...

    What a great post! I’d love to read more about incorporating more act of kindness into everyday life.
    I am a little bit awkward around people, and as much as I would love to be more of help, I never know what is ok and what may be taken as being intrusive.

  74. Jaclyn says...

    this post made me sad because my family is broken, currently in the throes of a terrible divorce. i’m only commenting in case there are other women like me reading this with tears in their eyes wondering if they are the only ones out there who can’t define their family this way.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, jaclyn, i’m so so sorry to hear that. it sounds really hard, and there must be so much weight on your shoulders. sending you a big hug. my parents went through a tough divorce went i was 11 years old, and i remember them being loving, supportive and communicative with us during that time. that’s what stands out in my memory, versus the divorce itself. i bet your children (if you have them) feel the same. i’m so sorry that you’re going through this hard time. xoxo

    • Jaclyn says...

      thank you, joanna.

    • Katie says...

      Hi Jaclyn,
      Oh! I’m so glad you commented – you are not alone, even though it might feel like it sometimes. I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now. My parents got divorced when I was 17 and it was very hard. We go through it, though, and I am happy to say 20 years later that my parents are happier apart and I am so close to each of them individually. That’s why I defined my family growing up as ‘passionate and perseverance’. Surviving a divorce is no small feat, and hugely rewarding, sooner or later. Keep reaching out & staying kind to yourself. It’s okay to feel raw & tender. Sending you a big hug and lots of love from Oregon.

    • Jaclyn says...

      thank you, katie. i’m so overwhelmed by your kind comment. it means more than i can say.

    • Emily says...

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this. My first husband and I separated when we had two small boys (2y, 9mo). I felt broken and like my family was broken for a long while. It does get better and there is hope. We are both remarried, with additional kids (one each), and work hard to do what’s best for the kids. They have so many parents/grandparents/cousins who love them. We always pitch it as value added to them.

      The best advice I can give about this excruciating transition- take time in whatever increments you can handle. A week, a day, an hour. There were times that I told myself I just have to get through the next minute. Anyone can get through a minute! And don’t ignore your mental health. Seek a therapist if you need it, don’t be afraid to use medication if it will help. This is temporary and maybe what comes next will be even better than you can imagine!

      Hugs.

    • Jaclyn says...

      thank you, emily. sometimes a minute seems impossible! i so appreciate you taking the time to comment, and saying that this is temporary – many people have said that but they haven’t experienced this pain – so to hear it from you, a total stranger with no agenda, makes it easier to believe.

    • Twyla says...

      Jaclyn – you may not be able to define your family’s values right now, but you can make a list of your own personal core values. It may ground you somewhat and help navigate this tough time. I did this not long ago at the urging of my therapist and I found it very enlightening and it made me feel somewhat proud of myself.

    • Jill Palumbo says...

      You aren’t the only one. My family is going through a great drama where family members are divided and not speaking to each other, due to mainly one person. So right now my three words are dysfunction, sadness and confusion. The one bright light is that the few of us left are clinging tightly to each other and loving each other fiercely.

    • Laura C. says...

      Jaclyn, I’m so sorry. Sending you the strength you’ll need to go through this.
      And Jill- I feel the same. We are not divorcing, we are struggling with life, I have two little girls (3.5 and 6yo) and I can’t find a motto. I’ll try, ok. I remember my father telling me that “perseverance has a final prize” if I can translate it this way. I would like my girls to acknowledge that.
      Love to you all sisters.
      Xoxo

    • Jaclyn says...

      thank you twyla and jill. your comments are so helpful and i am definitely uplifted by everyone taking the time to respond and reach out in a positive way. can’t say enough how much i appreciate it.

    • Jaclyn says...

      thank you, laura c.

    • Jaclyn says...

      From one Jaclyn going through a divorce to another, you will get through it! I divorced my husband of five years in December after being separated for a year. After doing so, I have felt a very full range of emotions. Some days I feel independent, strong and brave. Other days I feel vulnerable, lonely and tired. One very incredible gift that has come through this turmoil is an amazing community of women I have cultivated in the process. Hang in there, it will get better :)

    • Anna says...

      Me too, Jaclyn, a year and a half out. My family is broken because my ex and I didn’t ultimately share the same values–and it makes me wonder how my kids are going to make sense of that. It’s incredibly painful. It would be nice to see more posts on this blog about divorce and death of a spouse and single parenting or not parenting at all and dating and blended families and making sense of shifting family structures (i.e., things not working out like you imagined).

    • t says...

      Dear Jaclyn, I didn’t even want to read this article because I’m going through the same thing. When I read your comment, I decided to read the article and comments. YOU have shown strength and love and I so appreciate the push forward. Thank you for helping me get through this minute.
      T

  75. I love the last phrase on the list– “tell stories.” My dad always told the same stories over and over again when we were growing up, and my partner sometimes laughs because I do the same thing, knowing that he’s heard them all before. But after reading this, I realized that I do it because it’s a family priority that is important to me! I never saw it that way until now.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! there’s something so great about actually naming them.

  76. EM says...

    This is such a timely post for me. I just attended the wedding of one grandmother on Saturday (at 80 years old, she found love–it was an incredibly sweet wedding), and on the way home found out that my other grandmother passed away (after a long illness, so it was not very unexpected). At the one grandma’s wedding, my aunt gave a speech welcoming my new step-grandfather into the family by describing our family traits, to let him know what he’s getting himself into. She used words like creative, hard-working, and strong. There were also words like controlling, poor listeners, and opinionated, which were not without truth. In talking about the very different family reunion we will be attending next weekend, my sister and I discussed the traits that we share with that side of the family–loyalty, and faith; but also our own set of weaknesses, which have caused pain in many instances. In my nuclear family, I hope to retain some of the strengths, but also to grow past some of the weaknesses, to be more compassionate, listening, seeking more opportunities to serve others, and valuing the inherent worth of others while seeking to understand their perspective. I’m glad to go to another family landmark event prepared to look for and appreciate good family values–and I also hope to spend time as a family finding our way toward our truest, best identity. Thank you.

    • Cazmina says...

      That is such a good point and so beautifully expressed. I think examining the negatives is also important to remind yourself of what you want to avoid.
      In the family I grew up in, I think the 3 main positives would have been responsible, hard-working and a good sense of humour. But also judgmental, short-tempered and stubborn.
      When the day comes to think about my own little family, I hope I’ll remember to come back to this exercise.
      P.S Congratulations to your grandma!

  77. Laura says...

    Helpfulness, generosity, inclusion, education.

  78. This was a really interesting exercise! Looking back, I’d say that the words to describe my family growing up were independence, travel, creativity, politeness, entrepreneurial, pay-it-forward, and fun. I think I’d like my future family to have the same values and maybe add adventure and thoughtful just for good measure.

  79. Our family word is noble. It came quite easily, because it is actually my mom’s maiden name! We all strive to be noble people: honorable, virtuous, and true. I think about that word every single day.

    Most of us have different last names now because of marriage, etc., but we all say that while we have a [blank] name, we have a Noble soul. Two of us actually have a “noble soul” tattoo! And we aren’t even tattoo people ;)

  80. Jess says...

    Every night, my mother had us come to the dinner table prepared with the best joke we’d heard that day. She wanted to cultivate a sense of humor in us, and not just because she wanted us to be “funny” but because she wanted us to be able to laugh at ourselves and not take life too seriously. To this day, my friends marvel at my brother’s and my ability to find the humor in small, often “unfunny,” things. Thanks, mom!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet, jess!!! your mom sounds awesome.

  81. I think it would be: welcoming, generous, colourful. When my son was younger, we discussed family mottoes and decided that ours would be based on a line from Gladiator. Whatever comes out of that gate, we face it better together. I still stand by that.
    Also, when the children were younger and visitors were due, we reminded them of a very British phrase: Family Hold Back or FHB. In other words, serve guests first. Still stand by that too.

  82. Jan says...

    Our family has grown up and over the past 31 years through all the milestones,celebrations,losses and in betweens are 3 values that I think have stuck with our kids and us. The first is honesty, they say it’s the best policy. The second is minimalism. I think we were minimalists long before it became a thing…ours was purely circumstantial. The third value is love. I think its versatility gives it a timeless value. Like water, light and air we cannot survive without love and for no other reason than this should we pass along love.

  83. Elisabeth says...

    Good question! I think for us maybe: adventure, generosity, and faith? But it’s hard to pick just a few.

    Of those, I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity a lot recently. Perhaps because of the current political climate… I digress. Anyway, for me this includes “generosity of stuff” – that we don’t hold what we own so closely that we cannot share with others. I am constantly thinking about what we can get rid of, what others can use, how we might help someone afford something they couldn’t otherwise pay for. And it includes “generosity of spirit” – that we don’t assume the worst intentions and are able to extend grace to others. Whether it is someone who cuts us off when we’re driving, or someone who responds negatively, or…

    • Hillary F. says...

      This is lovely

  84. Alyssa Leister says...

    For me personally I would say: thoughtful, loyal, and gratitude.

  85. This is great! Ours is persistent, appreciative and teamwork! This is 100% different from my upbringing, so there’s a lot of hard work put into this. I love my lil fam.

    http://objectsicantafford.com

  86. Rebecca says...

    Love this article! Ours would be supportive to each other, love to read and love to cook!

  87. Lisa says...

    I love this article, it really made me think and I can’t wait to discuss it with my other half this evening! We have two small boys and the traits that really jumped out at me are: Curiosity, Happiness and Caring . But in saying that, I’d love to add in Adventurous, Imagination and Passion!

  88. Hillary F. says...

    My husband and I both have things about each other’s family that we love and try to incorporate. My husband’s family is very physically demonstrative and they love music and film. My family was really about educational excellence and a boldness in pursuit of our dreams. My husband and I both love to be physical outdoors and love good food and wine. I think our family is now a combination of those two families of origin and our relationship: energetic, creative, a love of learning, demonstrative, bold and grateful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      physically demonstrative is so, so sweet. i love that one, hillary.

    • june teu says...

      This reminds me of the book, The Five Languages of Love. It shows you how to develop an affinity for determining what the people around you need to feel loved so that you can then offer love to them in the way that is most recognizable to them. It’s changed my life!

  89. Lara says...

    My eyes filled up with tears reading about Linsey, what a great friend you have! And I love how you put it, too, as being a way to move through the world :)

  90. The first word that popped into my mind (absent from the starter list!) was cosmopolitan. Then, generous and thoughtful. But it’s hard to choose just three.

  91. Kassie says...

    Oh my god. Linsey. I’m crying at the bus stop.

  92. Sarah King says...

    Great question! I’d say that my family’s traits are: adventure, love to learn and emotional (for better or worse!).

  93. Justine says...

    Aw that little act of kindness from your friend made me tear up. How lovely. Thanks for sharing this – what a great post.

  94. Ariana says...

    WOW! This sounds so much like the Strengths Based Leadership test, which is a personality test that spits out 5 of your greatest strengths, much like the ones you’ve listed here. I’ve always known I was a great idea creator, but would never have told someone that my greatest strength was ideation. It gives you a new and empowering way to view yourself and empowers you to continue to cultivate your own strengths!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’ve heard such great things about that test! curious to try it. thanks, ariana!

    • Totally agree with you, Ariana! I found the strengths finder test really illuminating and affirming. My top strength is strategy, which I had always considered a given and never realized was a feather in my cap before the test. ;) I wrote all about it here if anyone would like to see how to take it: http://www.swisslark.com/2017/01/the-gallup-strengths-personality-test.html
      Highly enlightening! Definitely a game changer.

  95. Awads says...

    We are constantly trying to instill empathy and integrity into our son. We don’t always lead by example, but we are a work in progress.

  96. Growing up, I would say hustle and cleverness were highly prized in our home. Working hard, being deliberate with choices. And if you could be funny, you’re in.
    Now, as I’m older, I’m more aware of expressing appreciation. Everyone wants to feel acknowledged for their efforts. It’s easy to feel a bit invisible in this world, but stopping to let someone know how their efforts made your life better is huge.

  97. Hannah says...

    Creativity, open-mindedness, & joy.

  98. Amy says...

    We’re really just starting our family. So far, in our marriage I would say: gratitude, hardworking and curiosity. But we’ve never really discussed it. As we are pregnant with our first, this is a great conversation starter about what’s most important to us and to our family. I love this!

    When I was growing up, our family motto was the musketeers: all for one, and one for all-we always stood up for each other and had each other’s back.

  99. My family would be: love to learn, mindful and leadership!