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The Family Blueprint

Creating a blueprint for your family to follow means engaging in a series of family discussions where your values, morals and beliefs are put into words. These words become the substance of the blueprint, which then serves as a guideline for each family member's behavior, choices, and treatment of one another. Because each member of the family subscribes to the plan, they stop operating as individuals with a "me first" mentality and instead operate as a whole. In addition, they internalize a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. Stephen R. Covey, in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Families" suggests that you might want to think of this blueprint as being similar to the flight plan pilots use to navigate. In order to get from one state to another, a pilot must have guidelines to follow. Once in flight, it's possible that because of weather or unforeseen circumstances the captain might have to deviate slightly from the plan. However, the plan is clear, open to change if necessary and spells out both the destination of the airplane as well as providing guidelines for getting to that destination. In our families, knowing what our destination is, why our family exists, and what its purpose is, are essential to the family's very existence.

In order for your family blueprint to succeed, each member of the family must participate in your discussions. This means setting aside a time when you can all gather that's relatively free from stress. Pick a day or evening when the children don't have homework, and when no one has to rush off for an appointment or social engagement. Even very young children should be included in this discussion time. The very act of listening to other members of the family discuss what guidelines the family will follow will convey the idea that the family is important and that you take it seriously enough to have these kinds of discussions. As your child approaches age four or five, you will find that he can participate in a meaningful way. On the other hand, if you have teens who might be apprehensive about this process, or may refuse to participate outright, hold the meeting with the other members of your family in a place and during a time when the teen can listen in. You'll be surprised at how they'll get drawn into the discussion in spite of themselves!

Be sure to have pencil and paper handy (or your laptop!) so that once your family has gathered, you can take down the various answers to the questions that you'll be asking them to answer. Writing down each person's answers is crucial in many respects. First, it helps the members of your family feel as though they're being taken seriously. Second, it encourages each member to "buy in to" the final plan because their answers have been a part of it. Third, the answers you write down will be your points of reference in writing up a more concise statement to which the family later agrees.

While there are many questions you might ask during your family discussions, Steven R. Covey suggests asking the following:

What is the purpose of this family?

What is this family about?

What is its essential reason for being?

What are its highest priority goals?

What kind of family do we want to be?

What do we (as a family) want to be remembered by?

What kind of feeling do we want to have in our home?

How do we want to treat one another and speak to one another?

What things are truly important to us as a family?

What are each individual's unique talents, gifts and abilities?

What are our responsibilities (as a family, and as individuals)?

What principles and guidelines do we want to follow?

Who are our heroes? What do we like about them?

How can we contribute to society as a family?

As you listen to your family's answers to these questions, it's important to do so without judgement. When you judge or criticize someone's answer, they'll be less likely to contribute later on, and probably won't buy in to the final plan. On the other hand, lack of criticism leads to some very interesting results. For example, in one family when they were discussing their heroes, the five-year-old piped up that Mickey Mouse should be one of the family heroes. The father didn't contradict, but wrote it down and then asked why Mickey deserved that honor. The five year old replied "Because he makes us laugh, and laughing is important in a family."

As you ask these questions, you'll begin to get a sense of what the final blueprint for your individual family will be. And once you've had enough meetings to fully explore the answers to all of these questions, as well as any other questions you come up with, it will be time to consolidate all of the answers into that blueprint. Each family I've talked to has their own style for the consolidation. For example, one family first went back through their answers to get rid of redundancies, then chose two or three answers from each question that they felt were representative of the answers as a whole. Finally, Dad typed up their "blueprint" which amounted to about three-quarters of a type written page, and read it to the family for final agreement. Each member of the family then signed it. Dad keeps his copy in his briefcase, his daughter keeps hers taped to the head of her bed, and his son keeps his taped to the inside of a spiral notebook he uses at school.

Whatever style you decide to use when you create your final blueprint, Covey suggests that you re-discuss the blueprint with your family once a year. After all, heroes - even the enduring Mickey Mouse - might change, and so might your family's other answers to the different questions. Rereading it once a year and either recommitting to it or changing it will keep it alive and fresh, and renew your family's health as well.