Want A Strong Family? You Need These 5 Powerful Words


If you carefully choose a word of the year, you know how important a single word can be. Imagine the power of a few words in the life, direction and purpose of your entire family! Naming our family values has helped us identify our priorities and solidify our beliefs. It also means big decisions are easier because they get filtered through our values. If you really want to build a strong family, you need to choose the right words and grow stronger together. We’ll show you how.

I read an article in 2008 that dramatically changed my life, my marriage, and my family. I don’t use strong words like that very often–I tend to intentionally steer clear of drama whenever I can. But in this case, I really cannot overstate the importance of the decision my husband, Ken, and I made to take action on what I read.

We chose 5 powerful words.

Those words were faith, family, education, service and travel. Five words that were unique to our family. We changed them with the help of our boys this past year. I’ll share the new words and how we chose them later in the blog.

Choosing those words wasn’t an easy process. We’d been married for 11 years and we had a toddler and a newborn. It was time to get serious about where our family was headed, so we decided to identify our core values. 

Is this the same thing as a word of the year?

It’s pretty similar to the word of the year that’s popular and trendy. To be honest, it kind of annoys me. Sometimes I’m anti-trend to a fault. (I’ll blame my mom because I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV or get a Swatch so I decided it was stupid since I felt left out.) It took me longer than most to get a smartphone and I still haven’t read any Harry Potter books. (I know, I know….)

The word of the year is a little different. I’ve been choosing one for quite a few years and it bothers me that it’s become the thing to do. Not because I want to say I did it first (I didn’t) or because I don’t want to be like everyone else. I think it’s because I want people to take it more seriously…to realize that there’s something better than choosing a word of the year: identifying your family’s values and living them out all year long. 

If you carefully choose a word of the year, you know how important a single word can be. Imagine the power of a few words in the life, direction and purpose of your entire family! 

Who actually spends time thinking about values?

Think about companies and nonprofit organizations, including schools, where you’ve worked or volunteered. They likely spent a lot of time defining their core values–similar to the word of the year. These values are as important as the mission and vision statements because they’re the foundation for everything else, including the overall culture of the company. Your favorite brands probably have clearly defined values that guide their advertising and culture. I spent some time looking at company websites and chose a few examples: Target, Shipt and Wendy’s.

Core Values at Target 

  • Affordability
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Innovation
  • Community
  • Growth and development

Their values lived out: Target’s merchandise is affordable and this Real Simple article celebrates their size-inclusive clothing lines. I noticed more diversity in their models when I walked into Target the other day. (Side Note: walking into Target is dangerous. If I don’t ever go inside, then I have no idea how many things I NEED in there. I’ve saved us so much money by using Shipt grocery delivery instead of relying on a million Target runs.)

Core Values at Shipt

  • Hustle harder
  • Take your work (but not yourself) seriously
  • Grow freely and fail fast
  • Love each other
  • Celebrate the wins (big and small)

Their values lived out: Mary and I are picky about the companies and products we share with you–we share things we love and use, like Shipt. I listened to Jen Hatmaker interview the founder, Bill Smith, and immediately signed up because he clearly understood the needs of busy moms, and he talked a lot about service to his customers and local community. From the Shipt blog: “By finding ways to deliver groceries in cities across the country, far-away families are able to help aging parents, a friend can lend a hand to a new mom, and a shopper can earn the money to take that trip they’ve always dreamed of.” They’re working to bring fresh groceries to food deserts and have developed a strong partnership with Feeding America. 

Core Values at Wendy’s 

  • Quality is our recipe
  • Do the right thing
  • Give something back

Their values lived out: Founded in our backyard, Wendy’s is a favorite around here–and living in a test market for a lot of food chains is pretty cool. This is usually my younger son’s first pick for fast food, and I love supporting Wendy’s because they are so committed to adoption, a cause close to the heart of our family (read our adoption story here). Wendy’s focus is on foster care adoption because that’s the story of the founder, Dave Thomas–he also created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

These are huge brands, but even small businesses, colleges, school districts, and nonprofits devote significant time to clarifying their values. Why?

When you know what your values are, making decisions is so much easier.

It eliminates uncertainty, reduces the number of options to choose from, and ensures that people know what you’re about. According to this Forbes article, values help to define a person’s sense of purpose. 

This video by Soul Pancake was interesting…a lot to think about.

Why should I think about values in my family?

So, here’s what we’ve established so far about successful businesses and organizations:

  • They have clearly defined values.
  • Their values guide and simplify decision-making.
  • Their values give employees a greater sense of purpose.

If this is all true, WHY don’t we identify core values in our marriages and families?

I mean, look at that list above! Wouldn’t you love to be confident about the decisions you make, and make them more easily? Wouldn’t it be easier–and a heck of a lot more satisfying–to get out of bed every morning knowing that you had a really good reason to face the day?

If you choose a word of the year, you’re doing all this for yourself anyway. So I want to challenge you to step it up a notch and take it to your family.

Can values really transform my family?

YES. If you’re willing to set aside some time with your family to choose your values, it WILL make a difference. 

I am SO glad my husband and I took time to do this 10 years ago. It makes me tired just thinking about what life was like then with a rambunctious 19-month-old, a newborn, and a big dog in a tiny rental house over 500 miles away from our families. I was teaching online and doing some curriculum writing for textbook companies while Ken was overseeing the admissions office at a small college that depended on student enrollment to stay afloat. He was feeling tremendous stress and I had never been lonelier.

happy birthday card

We sent a lot of pictures to family during those years.

I could have stayed in that lonely place and focused on my struggle to take care of a baby and a toddler without the help of grandparents and other relatives, but we had made the choice to move away. There were definitely times when I struggled to find joy in our circumstance–looking at all of the things that felt unfair was a lot easier–but I tried to make the best of it.

And now as I look back on those two years, I am so grateful for the time we had to figure out life as a separate family unit. To work on our marriage and make decisions about who we wanted to be as a family.

Naming our family values forced us to decide on our priorities and solidify our beliefs. We chose these five values: faith, family, education, service and travel.

How do you use your family values?

We’ve come back to those values in discussions about everything!

Should the boys be playing travel sports? If so, should we look for the most competitive teams? They both play now, but we decided to choose clubs that have lower fees, reasonable practice schedules, and local travel. We didn’t want to miss Sunday mornings at church (faith) or eliminate vacations because of the cost or schedule of sports (travel). This decision was right for our family because it aligned with our values, but it would’ve been easy to just go with the flow and move in a direction that wasn’t going to end up where we wanted. Now, if we hoped our kids would get an athletic scholarship or if we lived and breathed a sport, our decisions would be different.

Is this the right job to pursue? I could make more money if I went back to teaching high school, and Ken could earn more as a college enrollment vice president. But I was emotionally exhausted when I taught high school. My job at a university gives me flexibility and I love what I do, so we made a quality of life decision (faith, family). When Ken was at a professional crossroads recently, we realized that we only had 8-10 more years with our boys at home. He wants to be present and involved, so he shifted some career goals to have a more flexible schedule and work on his own consulting business, College Over Coffee, helping families navigate what has become a very complex path to college (family, education). Here, our decisions would have been very different if we had identified wealth or advancement as our goals. Figuring out how to balance our individual goals for advancement with our family goals hasn’t always been easy.

As our boys got older, I realized that we weren’t following through on our service value. It really bothered me, and was a driving force in creating SALT effect. We want to focus on “Serving And Learning Together” because we know what an incredible impact we can make on our families and communities. Our values also led to a mission trip to Mexico that was inconvenient and expensive. But it checked every box (faith, family, education, service, travel) and was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

All of our big decisions get filtered through the values we chose for our family.

We are definitely a work in progress–absolutely no one in this house has arrived, and sometimes I’m not sure any of us will–and there’s no guarantee that life will turn out a certain way, but I’m determined to have a plan and move in an intentional direction.

I don’t want to leave my life, my marriage, or the lives of my kids up to chance. Plenty of people are content to move along wherever life takes them because playing it safe is most comfortable. But that’s not me, or Mary. We’d rather have a plan and a goal, and grab those tightrope opportunities when they come along.

How do I identify my family’s values?

This may not be a quick process, but if you do it, it WILL be worth your time. You’ll see the benefit right away, and for years to come.

Download our Family Values Worksheet for a 5-step guide to choosing the 5 powerful words that will be the foundation of a strong family.

My husband and I recently decided to update our family values with the help of our boys. It was a fun discussion and I learned about things that really mattered to them…things I may have overlooked. Our new values are faith, communication, family traditions, adventure and downtime. I had no idea how much our boys loved being at home!

If you want to take an extra step and be more intentional about building a strong family, we’d love to have you join us in our next online workshop. It’s a chance to dig a little deeper, learn more about yourself and what you can do to find a better balance in your life and with your family–all with a community of other busy moms just like you.

Sign up here and you’ll be the first to know about our next workshop.

Missy Cooper joined our workshop and made the beautiful sign below to display her family values. Here’s what she had to say:

The Good Busy, Bad Busy workshop from SALT effect has been a game changer for our family!

At the beginning of the workshop we were challenged to identify some core family values that will help keep us focused and also help our decision making processes. We’ve had them narrowed down for awhile but today I finally took some time to get them on a sign so we can hang it up and be reminded often.

I have struggled my entire life with saying “no” to things and also “yes” to other things and this really helps me to think critically about the ‘why’ behind my decisions. If what I am considering doesn’t check AT LEAST one (ideally more) of these boxes then we likely have very good reason to say no, even if it seems like something we “should” do.

If you have the chance to enroll in this workshop the next time it’s offered, I would HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend it

Family Values - SALT effect




How do values connect to the word of the year?

I love having family values, but it’s good to have something to focus on individually. For the last 8 or so years, I’ve chosen a word of the year that has honestly guided my entire year…most of the time. I didn’t do so well the year I chose “simplify” — I have a tendency to make things much more complicated than necessary and I don’t think I worked very hard to change that. The year I chose “stewardship” we made intentional decisions about how and where we tithe or donate our money, and I tried to be more aware of how I spent my time. When my word was “brave,” Mary and I started this business and I worked to be more brave as a mom.

I had a hard time figuring out my word last year. I started thinking about it in December and mulled it over all month long. I realized what it needed to be on New Year’s Day: Peace.

I told my husband and kids what I decided and then looked at the coffee mug I had in my hand–it said peace! I don’t believe in coincidences…I believe God weaves our stories together with purpose…and that was an answered prayer for me. We have plenty of struggles in my house and I long for more peace in my home. Pretty sure that starts with me.

This year, my word is Steady. As a working mom and business owner, I have a lot on my plate. I want to do a better job this year of keeping a steady pace–in my grading as a teacher and in my writing as a blogger. I want to tackle projects at home without being overwhelmed, and looking at them in smaller pieces will help.

I also want to be more steady in terms of my mental health. I’ve struggled with depression since my early 20s and this past year has been harder than recent years. I know all the things to do–exercise, eat well, pray, stay connected–and I want to stay the course even when I don’t feel like it. And most of all, I want to be a steady presence in the life of my family. We’re hitting the teen years and I know I’ll need a reminder to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. 

peace mug by chair with books pillows and blanket My perfect morning spot.

It took Mary a little longer to think of her word last year, but she landed on love. She’s a self-proclaimed perfectionist who really wants to be less critical and controlling (her words, not mine). She’s also a doer and a planner; she wants to see people who have different strengths with fresh eyes and align her faith with her thoughts. After all, the greatest commandment is to love God, immediately followed by love your neighbor. It’s the Golden Rule, and the word on the gold necklace her sister gifted her for Christmas. 

gold necklace love on blue sweater

So what’s better than a word of the year? There’s nothing wrong with choosing one because it’s fun or because it’s trendy and you want to join in. But knowing how my word fits with my values and then living it out is even better. I could have wished for peace all year long, but I had to make some changes (like getting up at 5am so I can have time to myself to pray, read and think because nobody else is awake yet).

Are you ready to do something with your values and word of the year? Words are powerful–choose the right ones for your family and grow stronger together.


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