Last winter a speaker at my homeschool co-op encouraged us to think about what our particular family values are. She defined this somewhat loosely; the idea being that these are the things that are important to you as a family and that set you apart. When doing this exercise it’s most helpful to be specific and to think of things that might be unique to your particular family. So for example, “kindness” is a nice value but not necessarily one that gives you much insight into who you are as a family. On the other hand, a family that values “physical fitness” might be very different than one that values “comfort”.
The process of brainstorming these values is illuminating in itself. You might find that the things that you say you value are not really reflected in your lifestyle. For example, maybe you say that you value hospitality as a family but are so busy you can’t remember the last time you had anyone over. Either you might realize that this isn’t really something you value or you might re-think your current lifestyle to better reflect this value.
For our family, I came up with three core values that are somewhat unique to us. Number one: Education. We homeschool primarily for educational reasons. By choosing to homeschool we have made major lifestyle decisions based on that value. We also attempt to create a lifestyle of learning in the home that is not confined to “school”. Number two: A love of adventure. People who know me in real life might laugh at that one if they imagine that it means white-water rafting or scaling tall mountains. By adventure I mean that we appreciate trying new things, whether that is new foods or new experiences. We love to travel and we want to instill in our kids an interest in the world around them and a willingness to step outside their comfort zones. Number three: Family Unity. When possible, we try to do things together as a family. It’s important to us to spend a significant amount of our time together, which is another reason why we homeschool. Both H. and I choose to stay home with the kids part-time and work part-time. This isn’t the most lucrative option available to us but it fits with our values.
Ok, that’s nice. So now what? Or, you could say, so what? It’s a nice little intellectual exercise but how is this really practically helpful? I would suggest that knowing what you value can be extremely helpful when making decisions about how to spend your time and money.
John is a swimmer. He likes it and is reasonably good at it. If he is interested in continuing (he is) and improving (he is) than by most recommendations he should swim more next winter than he did last year. We live in an area with a lot of swimmers and a lot of winter swim programs. I looked into several and came up with two options. Option A meets at a facility very close to our house two evenings a week from 6:45-7:45 pm. Option B meets about 15 minutes (20 maybe with traffic) away two afternoons from 4-5 pm. At first glance, we thought Option A was the obvious choice. It’s very close, meaning that we could drop him off, come home and then pick him up later. Because it’s in the evening David and Ruth wouldn’t have to go and sit through the practice. It seemed like the decision was made.
However, something in my gut bugged me and I started thinking about the decision. I started to think about what it would be like to have him gone twice a week, every week for nine months. I started to think about how that time of day is one of the few times that all five of us are together as a family. I started to think about rushing to get dinner eaten and then rushing to get him to practice and then coming home and rushing to shower and maybe not having time to read-aloud before bed. I realized I wanted to protect that family time.
So we went with Option B. It’s a little farther away, and David and Ruth will have to sit through the practice and watch. But it keeps us all together.
I realize that as the kids get older, this will be harder to do. They will all have their own activities and their own friends and we will often get pulled in different directions. There will be seasons and choices which are different than what we choose now. Perhaps we will choose for one or more kids to be in a different school environment because we realize it is a better educational choice for them. Perhaps we will choose to allow one child to pursue a particular individual passion that requires a great deal of commitment and time away from home. Regardless, I think it’s helpful to look at all these decisions through the lens of our particular family values so that we know why we are making the choices we make and so we can evaluate if those are the wisest choices for us.