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Monday, June 25, 2012

So, What’s in a Value? (By Anshu Basnyat, LCPC)

    Everyone knows about “family values.”  Some values people may have include education, religion, intelligence, attractiveness, money, responsibility, honesty, prestige, etc.  Intellectually, we also know that values are neither right nor wrong.  I cannot judge someone's values no more than they can judge mine.  So, the real question becomes whether we think about our values regularly to help guide us in our parenting. 

    Values provide a framework in parenting. This framework helps us to prioritize and make decisions effectively in our day to day parenting.  As parents, we have to constantly make decisions that pertain to our family and children’s welfare.  Some of these decisions are easy and others are very difficult.  Add to the mix, competing demands or other people trying to influence our decisions for whatever reason.  Now, it is a great recipe to make a parent's head spin. If you do not like making decisions, then your head is spinning even faster! So, I propose you use this approach so we can all avoid dizzy spells. 
The Approach

1.    You have to identify what your family values are. 
2.    Discuss these values with your partner and come to a mutual understanding.
3.    Regularly reflect on these values so they are fresh in your mind and heart.
4.    Rank order your values with the most important being at the top and the least one at the bottom.
5.    When decision time rolls around, use the most important values to help you make the decision!

The Examples

    In practical terms, what does this look like right?  People have told me that they like it when I use my personal examples so here goes another.  Couple of months ago, our 7 year old son’s school had a STEM Night Fair.  For those who may not be familiar with STEM, it stands for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics.  This is a nationwide initiative in the US to stimulate interest and foster a long-term commitment to these areas of study in our school systems.  Of course our son wanted to participate since the students would be "earning" medals. I cringed a little when I learned this latter piece, but succumbed to the notion that if this were going to spark an interest for my child, then so be it.  Well, that same night our son also had a soccer game.  The dilemma we faced was deciding between the competing values.

    YES, soccer is a value in our family, which I learned the hard way.  The other obvious value is education.  Our son wanted to do "half and half."  When he suggested this solution, the other value that crept in was that we believe in doing things all the way rather than “half way.”  So, we decided that attending the STEM would be more important than the soccer game.  Explained this to our son and went happily to school that night. We all had a great time, learned a lot from the other projects, and he earned a medal! 

    Let us contrast this with another example.  A few days after the STEM Night Fair, our son woke up looking sick with a pink eye, which could very well have been allergy symptoms.  Ding, ding decision time again.  Should he or shouldn’t he miss school?  Did I mention that he has never missed a day since he started school?  Our son is very aware of this fact and quite proud of himself, as he should be.  Well, you already know how important education is to us. This time, the competing value was not soccer, but health.

   How can health not trump education? I mean without health, what good is an education right?  Needless to say, he missed school and visited his pediatrician instead.  It turned out to be allergies and he was back to school the next day.  Interestingly, his report card does not reflect this one absent day.  I wonder if the secretary thought the recorded absence was a mistake. Shhh, we’ll just keep that between us (wink). 

    These two examples illustrate how a parent can use their values to guide them in their parenting.  Furthermore, the importance of values shifts depending on the circumstances and/or competing values.  Therefore, prioritizing our values is critical in the decision-making process.  Without strong family values, decision-making can be much harder than it needs to be! 

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