When I wrote this post about family culture, I offered a few simple thoughts and personal examples on the topic. Curious to learn more, I interviewed leadership and diversity scholar Dr. Helen Fagan, to understand the topic better and offer readers a solid resource. After you read this brief post (which includes questions to identify your own or other people’s family culture), please visit “What Is Family Culture – Interview with Dr. Fagan” for expert input.
When I ask “What’s your family culture?” you might think I’m asking if you use cloth napkins and dress up for dinner; but I don’t necessarily mean “culture” in the “cultured” sense of the word (though that could be part of your answer).
And by “culture,” I’m not asking if your husband is Ecuadorian or Italian; though that, too, could be part of your family culture.
When a friend of mine once said that every family has a “family culture,” I assumed he was referring to his family’s background (he grew up in New Zealand and his wife grew up in Australia; we met them in America) and ours (my Belgian-born husband adding a dash of European culture to our family unit).
But he explained that he meant it in a broader sense to include values, interests, hobbies, and personalities.
Every family has a unique family culture.
He got me to thinking about our own little family:
- What are my family’s values?
- What’s the “feel” of our household?
- In what activities or items do we invest our time and money?
As I thought about it, I used this same friend’s family as an example to try describing a family culture.
For one thing, they all greatly value music. They’ve invested in instruments and lessons and even make music together as a family.
They love creative problem-solving. One time they pulled out a mind map that they’d drawn to solve some organizational problems that had stumped his wife. Using the mind map (what? You don’t know what a mind map is? Here’s an example—not my friend’s, but a colorful example), they explored several details in their lives and resolved the issues. I admired the artwork and out-of-the-box solutions they’d landed on using this approach.
They also love to cook, and every time we visited, we learned so much about putting together a simple, fun and delicious meal.
All of that was part of their family culture.
We know other families that love movies and entertainment so much that they’ve invested a lot in their equipment and viewing area; we know others who minimize technology in their home and don’t even own a television. Each of these choices reveals something of that family’s culture.
We know strict families and relaxed families; formal and informal families. Some eat together at a specified time in the family room, while others lounge on chairs in the family room with the television turned on. Still others don’t like to cook or take time to eat when they could be doing something fun, so they just grab food and eat on the run.
Some love the outdoors or sports and get out hiking at a park or playing touch football in the back yard. Others prefer to be inside playing cards, Risk, and Wii.
It’s kind of fun to think about families we know and appreciate the things that make them unique. Over the years, I’ve often thought about this idea of “Family Culture.” In fact, I started to wonder if this was my friend’s original idea, or if he heard it someplace else.
So I did a search and came up with this result apparently presented by people in the field of family counseling. Consider the questions they put together to try identifying your own or other people’s family culture:
What are the Primary Areas of Family Culture?
If we are to be family culture competent, we need to find out how a family operates. Among others, we look at the following areas of focus:
- What parents like most about their children (looking for parent preferences and differences).
- We ask what their goals are – what life would look like if things were better.
- We ask parents what their goals for their children are.
- We find out about what they see as their biggest accomplishments.
- We find out what makes them happy.
- We ask what their favorite memories of their families are.
- We find out how the parent is a parent – what they see their best qualities as.
- We find out if the family has special rules.
- We discover who their friends are, who they call when they need help or want to talk, and who they consider to be supportive.
- We find out how the family has fun, what they prefer to do.
- We ask about traditions or cultural events that they participate in, and how they do this.
- We find out about special values or beliefs that they learned from their parents or others.
- We ask about their connections to the faith community or if and how they worship.
Using these types of questions, can you step back and look at your own family as an anthropologist or family counselor might, trying to understand and appreciate your family culture?
By understanding our own family culture:
- I have felt more confident with who we are and what we do or don’t do.
- I find it easier to explain our choices to others.
- When we have a pretty good idea of our own family culture, we can understand why we struggle with certain things, make certain decisions, and where we may need to stretch ourselves to try something new.
- I’ve also found that trying to discern other families’ “cultures” helps us to get an idea of where they’re coming from. I can begin to appreciate and respect their choices—or at least understand their choices—even when they’re far different from my own.
I find the concept of Family Culture a helpful tool for greater compassion toward others, and when I’m traveling and staying with people, taking time to consider that family’s culture can help me gently merge with them for the time that we’re overlapping under one roof.
What’s your family culture?
Learn more about family culture from Dr. Helen Fagan: “What Is Family Culture – Interview with Dr. Fagan”