Family in a Phrase - January 26, 2023 | Kids Out and About Vancouver

Family in a Phrase

January 26, 2023

Debra Ross

When I was in college, my history professor would invite students to his house for brunch on Sundays; we'd hang out with his family and talk about aspects of life completely unrelated to the French Enlightenment. One day, in the kitchen, he asked his 13-year-old daughter to tell me their family motto. She rolled her eyes. "Oh, Dad, really?" He insisted: "Deb needs to hear the family motto." So she sighed and said, "Okay, fine. It's Don't take crap." (Actually, it was a stronger word than "crap," but you get the picture.) I was astonished; I'd never thought of such a thing. My own family wasn't hip enough even to have a motto, much less one that compressed, in three little words, the fact that all people—kids and adults alike—are worthy of being treated with respect. It changed my life.

When my husband was growing up, his family didn't have a motto, either, but that didn't mean they didn't have a family identity. Whenever my future father-in-law saw someone being boorish or mean, he'd say to David, "See that? WE don't do that." Perhaps it wasn't as nifty as having a family motto, but it nonetheless instilled a firm sense of ethics: "We" are people who treat others with grace and dignity. It worked; David does.

When David and I had kids of our own, we thought hard about how to cultivate a family identity that would help Madison and Ella learn that "we" neither treat people badly nor accept poor treatment, ever. I wish I could say we devised a clever saying that would package those concepts into one slick phrase... but, honestly, we've just used a thousand boring variations of "Don't take crap" and "We don't do that," and it seems to have worked.

Does your family have a motto? If you asked your kids what it should be, what would they say? Write me, I'd love to hear about it.