Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twenty-one: Create Identity, Security, and Motivation for Children
by Richard and Linda Eyre

Note: In this twenty-six part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part I); B. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).

This week, in part 21, we’re going to go with a much longer installment than usual. In order to attempt to cover several important elements that can create true and long lasting identity, security and motivation in our children and thus protect them from the negative directions of the world.

All institutions, large or small, require five things to survive and to thrive (and to give their members the identity, security, and motivation that holds them). 1. Purpose (a clear reason for existing — a goal, a mission). 2. Rules/Boundaries/Order (laws and patterns of behavior that protect other members and preserve the whole). 3. An economy (a way of dividing work and having all members contribute to the bottom line). 4. Traditions (which provide enjoyment as well as identity, unity, and permanence). And 5. A history (to be proud of and to identify with).

The large institutions that are both the culprits and the benefactors with regard to families all have all five of these. Parents must be sure that their own little family institutions also have all five so they can be as permanent and as strong as the big institutions which they must both use and fight.

Together, these five (purpose, rules, economy, traditions, and history) create an “infrastructure” that makes a family work efficiently and that provides individual family members with the support and help (identity, security, and motivation) that they need to be happy, successful people. Like the infrastructure of a city (roads, bridges, water systems, etc.), a family infrastructure takes time and effort to build, but once it is in place it saves time and makes everything more efficient.

A. A family mission statement or statement of purpose.
Every business seems to have one — on a plaque, on the wall — an attractively worded statement of vision and purpose and goals. Employees are proud of it and hopefully do their part to bring it to pass.

Many years ago we met a man who carried two mission statements — in the two inside breast pockets of his suit jacket. In the right pocket was his corporate mission statement — he was president and C.E.O. of a highly profitable mid-size company. In the left (“over my heart,” he said) was his family mission statement. He told us that he and his wife had taken their three teen and elementary-age children to a resort hotel for a long weekend, rented a conference room there (I was thinking it would have worked just as well on a camping trip) and held several two-hour sessions (interspersed by swimming and activities) where they hammered out a family mission statement. He said they’d started just talking about their family, their love for each other, their desire to stay together and support each other, and how they could use what they had to help others. The dad had read them some corporate mission statements and asked if they thought one was needed in the family. At a second session they had each written down what was most important to them and, interestingly, a list of their favorite words. At a third session they’d each written up a simple personal mission statement — hopes and dreams for their individual lives. At a final session they pulled everything together and created a family mission statement. They had a big framed copy at their home and each carried a laminated personal copy.

We were so impressed that we tried it. Here is a sampling of what we came up with:

Fifteen-year-old Noah’s personal mission statement:

To be looked upon by others and by God with a smile always. To be filled with a joy which others can feel. To find this joy through service. To watch, to absorb, to learn, to find, to discover. To always look forward to the next day. -Noah Eyre

A portion of our collectively-written family mission statement:

Create together an identity-building, support-giving family institution which fosters and facilitates a maximum of broadening and contributing by its members, each of which become strong, independent individuals, committed spouses, and parents beyond their parents. First receiving and then giving the gifts of joy, responsibility and sensitivity and approaching the world with attitudes of serendipity, stewardship and synergy.

Help children to grow up and spin off into independent orbits, still feeling the gravity and light of parents with whom there is a consulting relationship in which advice is freely asked for, freely given and used or unused without offense to parent or pressure to child.

B. A family legal system (rules or laws)
With hindsight, our first effort to set up family laws was rather comical. As young parents with our three young children, we tried to create a list of family rules by nomination (I think, back then, we still thought a family was a democracy!). The kids chimed in with everything from “don’t hit anyone” to “never plug in plugs — you could get shocked.” We dutifully listed every one on a big chart and we soon had 37 “family laws.” No one really remembered them or paid much attention to them, and one day our seven-year-old complained, “Dad, even in the Bible there’s only 10 rules!”

Over the years we figured it out. We needed a small number of very simple rules, each with a clear consequence for breaking but with a provision for repentance by which they could avoid the consequence or penalty. It finally came down to five one-worders:

PEACE: (Or you sit on the “repenting bench” with the other “fighter” until you can say what you did wrong “it takes two to tangle” and give the other kid a hug and ask him to forgive you.)

RESPECT: (Or we’ll “start over” until you get it right — give a respectful answer, etc.)

ORDER: (Get your room straight or there will be times when you can’t go anywhere until you clean it up.)

ASKING: (We want to always know where you are, so if you forget to ask, the next time you want to go somewhere the answer will be no. The same penalty applies to curfew.)

OBEDIENCE: (You can ask why and I’ll try to tell you, and possibly even reconsider, but kids must obey their parents. Someday you’ll be the parent.)

Looking back now, over twenty or thirty years of trying to establish and live these five family laws, we find that some of our most cherished memories are wrapped up in them (from heated curfew discussions to pitching in to help a child get his room cleaned up so he could go out without breaking a law).

Some of the most interesting memories center around the law of PEACE and the “repenting bench.” Somehow we ended up with incredibly strong-willed children and “sibling rivalries” is a pretty mild term for describing the competing, arguing, and outright fighting that crops up so predictably. We came to the “repenting bench” idea because there was no way that we, as parents, could resolve everything. Trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong — being the judge and jury — trying to decide who to punish and how — it was exhausting. And we wanted (needed) the kids to learn how to resolve things for themselves.

Our “repenting bench” is a short, uncomfortable pew that we got out of an old church. The rule is simple: Any two family members that are fighting (arguing, yelling, disagreeing, etc.) have to sit together on that bench until each can tell what he did wrong (not what the other person did) and can, with a hug, say to the other, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” We stressed that both partners are always partly to blame.

Oh, the “repenting” we’ve seen! From kids who had to sit there for half-an-hour trying to figure out what they did to kids who repent on their way to the bench so they won’t have to sit there at all. The hugs and the “sorrys,” even if their main motivation is to escape the bench, have blunted bad feelings a thousand times and contributed to our children’s love for each other and to their capacity to work out their own conflicts.

Family laws need regular discussion and recommitment. Setting them up in the first place needs to be a highly communicative process. Kids need to understand that the purposes of laws are safety and happiness and that they show an increase, not a decrease of trust and of love.

Laws and rules, lovingly set, explained, and implemented, provide children with security and with a clear manifestation of a parent’s love and concern. Emphasize repeatedly that laws are about safety and happiness in living together. Compare them to traffic laws, to civic laws, to school rules. Tell them that laws show our love and concern for each other and show our desire to have a good, orderly family that cares for each other and gets us ready for life on our own.

C. A Family Economy
Just as they are made more secure by rules and limits, kids are made more confident and competent by responsibility. A strong family institution needs a way to divide and share the work of the household and a way of letting kids earn a small “share” in the family’s income. Here is one way to do so. (Each family should tailor-make its own. This approach works best for kids between seven and twelve. If you can start it during those years it can “work” into the teens.”)

Caution: Don’t try to set this up overnight. It will take a lot of discussion and some trial and error. Remember that infrastructures take time to build but then they save time.

1. Do a big chart of all the household work that exists. List everything from doing the breakfast dishes to sweeping the patio. Explain that those who do a share of the work should get a share of the money that comes into a family. While everyone should take care of their own room without pay, there are plenty of “common areas” in the house and yard that need to be taken care of — and daily tasks that someone needs to do, and those who do them should shave in the family income.

2. Tell kids that this approach will allow them to earn more than they could get as an allowance and that with their earnings they can buy their own clothes. Kids in this age range — seven to eleven — are flattered by responsibility. (Note that this system doesn’t require any additional money. Parents are simply taking the funds they spend on children’s clothes and channeling that money through the kids who “earn it” and make their own purchase decisions — learning economic and motivational lessons through the whole process.)

3. Explain that there are four things each person can get “credit” for each day: (a) Getting up and being ready for school on time; (b) One “zone” or area of the house or yard (not their own room) that they make sure is clean and in order; (c) Homework (and music practice if applicable) for the night. And (d) Ready and in bed by bedtime. Each day they can fill in a “slip” (on their own initiative — without a lot of reminding from you) with a “1,” “2,” “3,” or “4,” depending on how many of the four they did. You “initial” the completed slip to make it official.

4. The slips go in a box or “family bank” and Saturday becomes “pay day” where a child receives an amount proportionate to the total of his slips. He can take his money in cash or leave it in the family bank. He is given a check book (an old or extra book of your checks) with which he can deposit money to the family bank (with a deposit slip) or draw it out (with a check). When he goes shopping with you, he brings his checkbook and writes a check out to you so you, in turn, can pay for what he buys. He keeps track of his balance in his check register.

5. This “family economy” can be enhanced in a number of ways. A child can have an interest-paying savings account as well as a checking account in the family bank. Parents may want to pay a high interest rate on the condition that the savings be used only for college. When a child turns sixteen, real checking and savings accounts are opened for him at a local bank or a discount brokerage and all the money in his family bank account is transferred in. Children might also be encouraged to donate a certain percentage of what they earn to church or charity.

This type of “family economy” has been a huge blessing in our family. Kids have learned principles that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

. . . About self-reliance, (I recall nine-year-old Jonah calculating how much he’d have by age sixteen at the 10 percent per quarter interest we paid on his “education only” family bank savings account. I also recall the look of pride on his face as he wrote out a real check for his full freshman year tuition.)

. . . About the dangers of instant gratification (eight-year-old Saydi spending $80.00 of “her own” money on a pair of designer jeans and wanting to “turn them back in” or sell them to someone the next day because she realized she had no money left in her checking account).

. . . About depreciation (Josh wanting to “sell-me-down” rather than hand-me-down the outgrown clothes he’d bought to his little brother who wanted “a good deal”.)

. . . About restraint (ten-year-old Talmadge saying he’d decided to ask himself three questions before he bought anything: “Do I want it,” “Do I need it?,” “Can I afford it?”)

. . . About saving (twelve-year-old Shawni observing that “If I put some in savings right when I get it, it’s like I never had it so I don’t miss it.”)

Good as the “money lessons” are, it’s the life lessons that really count . . . lessons about responsibility, about self-reliance, and about doing your share.

D. Family Traditions
Everyone, particularly every child, needs an identity larger than himself — something he belongs to, feels part of, gains security and protection from. It is kids who do not get this identity from families who are drawn to the rituals, “colors,” and traditions of gangs or other substitutes for families.

Strong traditions exist in every lasting institution. Nowhere is this more true than in the family. Traditions are the glue that holds families together. Kids love and cling to family traditions because they are predictable and stable in an unpredictable world.

Almost all families have traditions — often centering on holidays or other special occasions — but parents who come to realize the importance of traditions and their ability to teach values to improve communication, to give security to kids, and to hold families together . . . such parents can refine and redefine their family traditions and give them true and lasting bonding power.

Start by assessing and analyzing your family traditions. What do you do on each holiday? Each family birthday? Are there some things you do on each special day each year? Do you have some weekly traditions — such as a special Sunday dinner? Are there some monthly traditions such as going over the calendar and the family’s schedule for the month ahead? Make a list of your yearly, monthly, and weekly traditions.

Then, as a family, ask yourself three questions: How much joy, how much fun comes from each tradition? What values are taught by each? Are there some gaps — some months without a holiday or birthday tradition? With these questions in mind, revise and re-design your family traditions. Formalize them a little by “writing them up” on a chart or in a special book.

Here’s a sampling of what happened to us as we went through this reassessing process.

1. We revised some traditions (i.e., our Thanksgiving tradition had essentially been to eat way too much and watch football all day on T.V.). We decided to shift the emphasis to thanks by making a collective list [on a long roll of cash register tape] of all the little things we are thankful for. Each year we try to “break the record” for the number of things listed.

2. We decided we needed at least one major family tradition each month — to look forward to and anticipate. Most of these centered on a birthday or holiday, but there was nothing in May or September so we started a “welcome spring day” (a hike) and a “welcome fall day” (a picnic).

3. We listed all the traditions, by month, in a big, leather-bound book. A little description of each tradition appears on the left and a child’s illustration of that activity appears on the right.

4. We worked some of our ancestors (the kids’ great grandparents) into our traditions because we wanted our children to have that extra identity of knowing where (and who) they came from. We wrote up some simple bedtime stories based on real experiences of these ancestors (especially experiences that illustrated honesty or courage or other values), and we now have a little birthday party for them which includes “their story.”

One incident will illustrate the “staying power” and bonding influence of family traditions. On my birthday in October, we had always raked huge piles of leaves with the kids and then jumped in them, stuffed them in our shirts, thrown them in the air and just generally had a wild time. We thought as the kids got older, their interest in such a frivolous activity would fade. On the contrary, as teens, the leaf piles just got bigger. Finally, one year, four of our children were away at school or living abroad. On my birthday, four birthday cards arrived. As I opened the first, a leaf fell out and a note, “Dad, I honored your birthday tradition. Here’s a leaf from my jumping pile. I love you.” Through my tears I opened the other three — and a leaf fell from each.

E. Family Genealogy and Family History
Words like “history” and “genealogy” don’t strike most of us as particularly exciting. yet this is perhaps the most powerful and effective approach of all for building strong and confident identity within our children.

Anyone with a sense of where he came from (and who he came from) has a kind of security and a kind of motivation that can’t exist otherwise. Children are quick to grasp and understand that they descended from their parents, their grandparents and their great grandparents and that they inherited a big part of their physical, mental, and emotional selves from these ancestors. By teaching our children a little genetics and a little genealogy we can help them understand who they are and why they have certain gifts, characteristics, interests, and abilities. A child that grows up feeling linkages, ties, security, and identity from and within an ongoing family will feel no need to seek these same things from a gang or an Internet chat room or some valueless persons portrayed on TV.

It’s truly beautiful to see a child or adolescent who is proud of his nose or her hair color or his stature because it’s a lot like a grandparent’s . . . or who feels she can do well in math because her great grandfather was good with numbers . . . or who makes a decision to be honest because of a story about an ancestor who made a difficult honest choice.

Kids possess an inherent sense that “blood is thicker than water” and that who they are really does come from their family. The trick for parents is to make genealogy and family history so interesting that kids gravitate to it joyfully and naturally.

Family Tree and Ancestor Stories
One of the best things we ever did in our family was to make up a big “family tree” with pictures of our children’s parents (2), grandparents (4), great grandparents (8), and great, great grandparents (16). We actually painted a big, old oak tree on a 4 x 6 framed canvas. The tree has nine branches, each with a picture of one the children. Branches go out from each of these nine, suggesting the children they will someday have. Our own two pictures (mom and dad) are on the trunk. Four roots go down from the trunk, each with a photo of a grandparent, each of these splits into two so there is a total of eight smaller roots, each with a picture of a great grandparent. In our case we were lucky enough to find photos of the next generation back — sixteen great, great grandparents which are glued onto the next and lowest set of sixteen sub-roots.

Something about this tree painting with its quaint, old-fashioned pictures is remarkably reassuring to our children. They look at it more than you would imagine. I’ll never forget our seven-year-old one day, idly tracing with his finger a path from his limb down through the trunk and into the roots. “I’m one-fourth like you,” he said, pointing at one of his grandpas. “And I’m one-eighth like you” as his finger went down to one of his great grandmothers.

It was the popularity of the ancestor tree that led us to take the next step — the writing of our personal family “Ancestor Stories Book.” It consists of a big bound book of blank pages on which we’ve written some simple bedtime stories based on actual experiences of people on the ancestor tree. There is “The Honesty of Grandpa Dean” (a story of how he hit a parked car one night on the way home from a date. The dent was small and no one saw, so he drove on home. But he thought about it, went back, found the owner and offered to pay). Or “Great Grandma Margret’s Trip to America” (how she immigrated from Sweden on a rat-infested sailing ship).

As our children were growing up, these “ancestor stories” became their favorites. Each connected in some way to a value — courage, responsibility, respect, sensitivity . . . and they were always told with the ancestor tree in clear view. (I’m one-eighth that person . . . I must have some courage in me, too.”)

You don’t need a complete gallery of four generations to do this in your family. Just grandparents will do — and any great grandparents that you may have a picture of. And the stories can be simple — just any experience you’ve heard — any incident that shows some positive things about an ancestor.

Create your own variations of “ancestor identity.” We know one family that makes video tapes of living grandparents telling about their childhoods. Another takes short vacations to the places where their ancestors came from. Still another celebrates birthdays of dead ancestors, complete with a birthday cake and candles, remembering and passing on all they know about them. The main thing is to create positive connections and to help your children feel a security and a heritage that they are proud of, that they are motivated by, that they can identify with.

If you’d like some help in tracing your family tree back a few generations, assistance is readily available through various genealogy or family history associations. A quick way to get started is to call go to on the Internet where you can access the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ worldwide archives, the largest and most extensive in the world. With a minimum of name and date and location information you can quickly access what data is available on each root of your family tree.

Simple Genetics Lesson
Something that may help your children feel more connected and more appreciative of their extended family is a short discussion of basic genetics. Explain that when a baby is born he has certain genes from each parent (and in turn from the parent’s parent). These genes determine everything from height to eye color. Go as far as your child’s interest on this. Some kids are fascinated by dominant genes and by heterozygous and homozygous combinations. (Everyone has two genes for eye color, one from their mom and one from their dad. Your mom has blue eyes and your dad has brown. The brown gene is dominant so why do you have blue eyes? Because your dad must be herozygous [one brown and one blue gene — giving him brown eyes and your mom must have two blue]. You must have gotten your dad’s blue gene along with one of your mom’s blues. A blue and a blue equals blue. What if your dad was homozygous [two brown genes]? Then no matter how many kids we had, all would have brown eyes.)

Use the genetic discussion to lead into a broader discussion. “If you can get eye color from an ancestor, do you think you could get courage, or musical ability, or a quick temper? What do you think you got from each of your grandparents?”

Spirit and Character
If you wish, carry the idea (and the discussion) one step further: “Son, if we can inherit all kinds of things from our parents and grandparents, is it possible we could also inherit something from our Heavenly Father — from God?”

Explain that all people have something called a conscience — something in their spirit that helps them know when something is right and when something wrong. People who follow these feelings are happier — people who have the courage not to do something they sense is wrong, no matter how much pressure there is, and who dare to do what they feel is right even when it goes against the crowd.

Next week we will go on to phase 7 of the “cure” … something we call “values therapy.”


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