We stumbled onto a piece of our family culture completely by accident when we realized our oldest daughter was talking incessantly about debate. She was telling all of us how much she dreaded debate, was terrified about debate, did not know what to wear to debate, and asking how long she had to do debate. Even as she seemingly didn’t want to participate in debate, she thought it inevitable, like death and taxes.

My husband and I were a little puzzled. We had told our son he would have to go to debate (speech and debate through Christian Communicators of America), so he had stood up the first night, introduced himself to the class, and told them he was there because “my mom is making me do this.” But we had never specified our daughter would have to go.

However, when she started recruiting her friends to join debate with her, we realized that she had heard us stressing the importance of good debate skills and absorbed it into her being, accepting that we wanted her to debate as well.

young lady practicing her critical thinking and debate skills

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Our youngest daughter started the same line of questioning this year: she pleaded that she not have to take debate, continued into questions about how long she would have to participate, and finally asked how many years until she had to debate. We didn’t have to say anything as she worked through this sequence.

Apparently, speech and debate is part of our family culture.

Our family culture of debate participation crept up naturally from what I (as the primary teacher) value and the opportunities I want my kids to take advantage of. But we did not have a formal commitment to family culture until we were in one of those discouraging seasons and went to dinner with two couples whose parenting journey is several years ahead of ours. As we related some of our struggles and fears, they graciously shared some of their best insights and ideas.

A lightbulb went off when one of these friends suggested we think about things that define our family. So, we went home thinking intentionally about our family culture and how we wanted to shape it around our core values.

Culture gives muscle to the things we believe. What do we DO to build habits and live out our values?

Because we value faith, our family attends church and finds ways to serve. We also pray together and keep a prayer tree where we post the needs we are aware of, so we don’t forget them in our daily lives.

hand written prayer requests on a painted tree

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Because we value family, we eat dinner together, and we celebrate holidays and birthdays first and foremost as a family. We welcome others into our family on some of these occasions, but we are always expected to be present for family celebrations.

As we have devoted time to developing our family culture, we have noticed the cultures of other families around us. Hunting, political protests, New Year’s tapas-making night, and Star Trek binges are some of the things we have observed other families doing together.

Around the holidays especially, I remember the family culture that shaped me. Saturday night popcorn and hot chocolate at my grandparents’ house, the entire family going out to see Christmas lights, taking Christmas cards to the assisted living center, and sleeping around the Christmas tree with my cousins. All these activities build and strengthen family ties and values, and they will help shape our children as they become adults, just as they once helped us.

What is your family’s culture?