As I have grown up, becoming an adult, and now a father, I have reflected much on the families that I have known, especially the one I was raised in. I did this to recall all the things that made these families work: the rules that were necessary and practical, the style of parenting vs. the nature of the children, the things that didn’t work… One aspect of these families that I realized was the most important of all, the single thing that made them find joy in living with each other was family culture.

What I mean by family culture is the communal sharing of goals, achievements, values, norms, and rituals that bind the family unit together.

The idea of culture has not always been connected with individual families. We used to think of culture as something an entire community or geographical region shares. More recently, sociologists and phycologists have determined that culture can occur in smaller units of people, like businesses, groups of friends, and families.

MIT Professor Edgar Schein defines culture as “a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.

To cultivate a culture for your own family a few aspects should be developed.

Common values are the basis for family culture. These values guide the way each family member reacts and behaves in various situations. Respect, support, and kindness are all positive family values.

Family norms and rules are both verbalized and unspoken, but they represent those family values in execution. Norms are what can be expected within a family in different situations like when a conflict arises (how is it handled?) and chores (how are they assigned and when are they done?).

Family rituals and traditions help families (both nuclear and extended) to stay connected and provide the entire unit with a sense of purpose and identity. These traditions can range from reunions and holiday gatherings to weekly dinners and movie nights.