As a parent, your values guide your decisions every day. Chances are, though, you're probably not thinking about them very much. Most of us don't. But understanding our parenting values are actually key to our success as parents.
Our parenting values reflect who we are at our core. They’re what we stand for, what gives our life meaning. They offer a lens, a framework for looking at ourselves and the choices we make in our lives. And they are so essential to who we are that we are usually unaware of how they are guiding us.
What are Values?
If you were on a deserted island, your values are those things that would still be important to you. For example, I have a value around community and connection. It’s critically important to me. If I were deserted on an island, I would find a way to organize the fish, or the shells, or something – so that I would feel like I am a part of something larger than myself. Connection gives my life meaning. It is a deeply held value of mine. That's why I started ImpactParents, because I don't want ANY parents to feel that they are alone on this journey of raising complex kids. It's a core aspect of my parenting values.
Our values are different from beliefs, which change over time. As a young adult you might be a raging liberal, and as an older adult you might become a more fiscal conservative (or visa versa). Our beliefs shift and change as our understanding of the world changes.
Our values, on the other hand, are more of a constant in our lives. Their importance to us will shift over time – how we prioritize them would change after a near-death encounter, or with the birth of a new child – but their fundamental nature does not change.
Why is Understanding Values Important?
What’s so important about parenting values? They provide a critical foundation for decision-making. When you become clear on your key values as a parent, you can use them as your guide. They help you set priorities, and accept the natural give and take that comes with maneuvering life as an adult. Once you get a handle on your true values, it is a powerful tool for growth and change.
All values are a bit complicated, though. Left to our own devices, we tend to “vote” on what we might “want” our values to be, instead of clarifying values and defining what they really are. Or we judge ourselves when we are disconnected from something we value highly. For example, we might decide that if we are overweight we must not really value health, when in fact recognizing a value around health that might actually help us lose weight.
We each have thousands of values, and so it helps to categorize them so that we can use them as an effective guide in decision-making. I do an exercise with my private coaching clients to help them clarify values and hone in on their top dozen or so – I call them "Lead Values."
Here are some important truths about all values, especially parenting values, that can help us understand how to use them in our daily lives:
- Values are always in conflict with each other.
If you think about it, we are always making choices between our values. For example, if you have a strong value around health, you may honor that regularly by getting to bed at a reasonable time every night. Great. But sometimes, if you also have a value around playful celebration, you may find yourself excited to go out for a party, or to a concert, knowing that you may not make the “healthiest” choices that night. Instead, you’re choosing to honor a different value.
- You have the choice to honor your values.
When you are out of touch with making a value a priority, it can leave you feeling dissatisfied. Awareness improves your likelihood to take action on your values.
- Bully Values.
Sometimes, we have a value that would have us believe that it is more important than any of our other values. That value is a bully. Occasionally, I find that bullies may come from obligations or expectations, but the results are the same. For example, if you have a strong value around order and structure, and you also have a strong value around love and connection, can you see how those values might come in conflict with each other when you’re raising a teenager? If you allow the “order” value to become a bully, you will spend excessive time structuring your teenager’s life and reminding him to pick up his clothes, potentially at the expense of the caring, connected relationship that is also important to you. You don’t have to choose one over the other. But sometimes, you do have to choose to honor them at different times!
- Hidden Values.
Occasionally, you’ll discover a value that is so deeply ingrained that you didn’t even recognize it as a value in the first place. We see this in private coaching when the coach and client all of a sudden recognize a value that they’ve never named, but has been there all the time. Awareness allows you to make choices with your values. When it’s hidden, sometimes it doesn’t get honored, or it becomes a bully – either way, it's healthier when your values are uncovered and clear, so that you can be at choice.
- The same values may not look the same for different people.
Quite often, others may reflect a value quite similar to ours, but it looks completely different. For example, my parents have a strong value around beauty and creativity. So do I. They like to go to art galleries, and appreciate what artists have created. I love that creative process, too, but I find natural beauty to be the greatest expression of my value for beauty and creativity. We both have deeply held values around beauty and creativity. They just show up differently in our lives and our choices.
- Your kids don’t necessarily share your values.
As a parent, we want to instill our values in our children. When we do that, we naturally foster those values that our children share with us. But our kids come into this world with their own innate values, their own core sense of what’s important in the world. While we can influence their prioritization, we can’t change their values. When we help them identify “what’s important” to them, and get clear on their values, we’ll give them a framework for decision-making that will be powerful tools in their toolboxes as adults. Whether you’re talking about how they do at school or getting along with their sibling, when we help them identify THEIR values around something, instead of expecting them to assume ours, we’re setting them up for success.
The better understanding you have of your Lead Values, and your parenting values, the better your ability to use them as a guide in parenting – and to foster your children's understanding of their values, as well. Values are an extraordinary tool for guiding parents to help their kids see what's important to them, which is at the core to their finding the motivation to do just about anything in life.
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