When I was a young child, our family lived in Minneapolis, Minn. We frequently crossed the Mississippi River, and each time, I was awestruck with the size and grandeur of this river. Later in my life, I have crossed the river several times and find myself marveling at its size and power.
Imagine being in a small canoe without any paddle or rudder on the Mississippi River. Your goal is to go upstream. Instead, the power of the river will eventually take you downstream to drift aimlessly. You could end up in the Gulf of Mexico without any way to direct your course.
This may not be a problem if you don’t care where you end up, but what if you wanted to arrive at a different destination?
Families are similar. Without intentional goals and actions, we get carried out to sea and won’t reach our desired destination.
Dr. William Doherty from the University of Minnesota argued that healthy families should be intentional. If parents don’t consciously and intentionally take charge of the course of events, activities, and plans for their family, the children and adults will likely get caught up with the busyness of life and miss their targets.
Another way of thinking about this is that if we fail to make a choice, we will make a choice by default. For example, if I fail to make it to the gym to exercise, I will gain weight. If I fail to change the oil in my car, there will be engine damage. If our family does not consciously make choices to manage and save money, we won’t have enough money to pay our bills.
Many of the important choices about marriage, parenting, and other important aspects of family life result in better outcomes when we make thoughtful and intentional choices.
Some of the more important choices we make include family finances. I am convinced that the challenges families face with finances are not based on deficient math skills. They stem from communication difficulties making budgetary plans and the relationship skills to follow through with plans and to negotiate changes that inevitably come.
How we use our time is another area where making conscious choices is highly important. Do we choose to spend our time talking with our children or spouse, doing activities together, connecting emotionally and learning together? Or do we choose to spend our time watching television, playing video games or doing other less productive activities?
Finally, another important area in family life where conscious and intentional choices are highly important is in the area of discipline with children. Effective discipline requires a conscious plan, collaboration between parents, time to communicate with children, effort, follow through, and lots of patience.
There is not enough space in the column to elaborate on the elements of effective discipline, but suffice it to say it requires an intentional plan. It won’t automatically or magically happen. Families benefit from making intentional and conscious choices as opposed to drifting in the cultural morass of modern society.
Paul Schvaneveldt is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.