We’re on day three of a series examining how parents can overcome the pull of society’s default and be intentional in the cultivation of their own Family Culture. Psychology Today defines Family Culture as “the unique way that a family forms itself in terms of rules, roles, habits, activities, beliefs, and other areas.” Earlier, we looked at how identifying your family’s core values starts you on the path of reclaiming control of the message you send to your children.
Once you’ve established your core values, it’s time to ask the second question:
In what activities or items do we invest our time and money?
This is where you curate your Family Culture.
Curate is a funny word, isn’t it? It’s not one that we use too often, especially if our day to day finds us surrounded by people whose average age is under three years. When I think of “curate,” I picture the art museum on the campus of the university I attended. It was a beautiful building, and, thanks to many generous benefactors and a large operating budget, it had an extensive collection of works ranging from art on paper, to sculpture, to installation pieces.
The individual galleries within the museum were always bursting with rotating pieces, and my husband and I spent a good deal of time there, browsing and enjoying the exhibits.
Through our positions at the school paper, we were eventually offered the opportunity to view the climate-controlled holding area underneath the museum. It was a massive basement, and it was absolutely full of art that had been cataloged and carefully stored. There were enough paintings alone to fill half a dozen other museums, at least.
So why were all these wonderful works in storage? Were they not as good as the ones on display? No. Did they just come along later, after the cut off? No. The walls upstairs had been curated. A specific theme had been picked for those galleries, and only those pieces of art that fit the bill for the theme that was being explored made the cut. Even then, only the best examples, only the ones that furthered the vision of the one doing the curating, ended up on display.
Anything else would have been jarring, wouldn’t it? I mean, imagine you’re viewing an exhibit of pencil drawings from the 1800s. You walk past a sketch of a barn surrounded by sheaves of wheat, a drawing of a woman working a spindle, one of a simple vase of flowers. And right there, in the middle of these drawings, is one of Mary Cassat’s paintings of a mother with her child.
The Cassat is beautiful. It’s absolutely stunning in its shades of blues and greens and the way it catches the light in the moment. But does it belong there, in the midst of these black and white line drawings and shadings? Does it help you learn anything new about the topic at hand? Does it further the rest of the discussion around it?
When you define your family’s values, you state what matters. When you start to look at where you invest your time and money, you put skin on those values.
Just like a museum exhibit can’t claim to be about WWII photographs and have a bunch of modern sculpture cluttering the space, you can’t say that your family values learning and never read to your kids. Either you don’t actually value learning, or you’re not selectively curating your Family Culture. Too much other stuff is creeping in, clouding your vision, and robbing you of the opportunity to invest in the things that you want to make a priority. You need to get picky. You need to be aggressive, and you need to weed out the good to get to the best.
Remember the verse that says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be”? It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Yeah, well … it’s not. Stuff is going to vie for the collective treasure of your time and money at every turn. Some of it will be easy to walk away from. That ultra-violent video game? Who wants that in their house? Ugh. But the really cool debate camp scheduled for the exact week as your church’s family retreat? A tougher call.
Sometimes it’s not going to be a choice made privately in your own home. Sometimes your values are going to come into conflict with those of other families, or even members of your own extended family. And this is going to get awkward. Because if you are really, truly committed to your own Family Culture, you have to stick to your guns and fight against the things that threaten to creep in and dilute the message you’re trying to instill in your children.
My husband and I have faced this multiple times. One sticking point for us has been baby toys. I know it sounds crazy, but baby toys have been a real battlefield for us at times. We choose not to have lots of bright colors, flashing lights, and loud sounds around our babies. As you can imagine, that pretty much rules out 99% of the toy selection at Target. But we have family members who love our kids, and want to buy them cool gadgets to express that love. And honestly, they just can’t understand why we have this nutty take on parenting with such a focus on natural materials and purposeful exploration and gradual development. So there’s this friction that exists there, this tension between us standing the line on the values we have decided for our family, and them feeling that they are being denied their right to buy the Magical Talking Bubble Guppies Noisemaking Light Show.
That’s going to happen. Especially if the things that matter to you are things that set you apart from “the norm.” But things that don’t line up with your values have no place in your home. They shouldn’t be put there by you, or by anyone else.
Come back Friday for our third and final consideration in the quest for a well-defined Family Culture!