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Family Constitution


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#1 M. Leary

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 04:08 PM

I have been trying to think of ways to make our family life more intentional, and recently created a "family constitution." Has anyone else done this? What sort of things did you include (or would include if you had created one)?

#2 Jason Panella

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Posted 15 November 2010 - 04:50 PM

I thought, for a moment, that this thread would be about something a certain radio personality was selling.

#3 Phill Lytle

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 10:46 AM

I have been trying to think of ways to make our family life more intentional, and recently created a "family constitution." Has anyone else done this? What sort of things did you include (or would include if you had created one)?


Would you mind elaborating a bit about what you did? I think I get the idea but I'm not exactly sure how something like this would be implemented. Thanks.

#4 Russ

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 11:41 AM

Yeah, I'd love to see what you put together, Miguel. I suppose we've had documents at various times to set things forth, but they've been more along the lines of declarations of war (WAR ON SIBLING INFIGHTING!)or emergency legislation to cover things like chores. An actual written constitution hasn't really been something we've considered, though.

#5 M. Leary

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 11:53 AM

Well, Phill, I just thought it would be a good experience to sit down as a family and create a way to consider what we are all about by means of some kind of document that we could collectively change over time. I did a little poking around and found that this is not a very original idea, as there are a number of parenting books about "family constitutions."

What we did was sit down and toss out ideas about what we would want in such a document - our four year old even contributed some wonderful ideas. What we came up with is (oddly formatted here...):

Article I: We are free to be preoccupied with the person of Christ and the shape His calling is taking in our life. Further up, further in.

Article II: We are free to be characterized by the counterintuitive joy of total hospitality.
Amendment II.a: The economic ethics of all major purchases will be discussed by the family.
Amendment II.b: The duly established Quarterly Giving Project will be curated on a rotating basis by all members of the family per quarter annum.
Item II.b.1: Except William Asher, as he is currently too little.

Article III: We are free to struggle, question, and openly wonder within the borders established by grace and virtue.
(Tabled) Amendment III.a: Unless the survival of the family is at stake, in which case dad may not be questioned.

Article IV: We are free to always tell each other the truth, even if it is unpleasant.
Amendment IV.a: Arguing is a permissible form of truth-telling, if and only if said arguing will make us better humans. It has been unanimously decreed by the family that hitting does not constitute a legitimate argument.

Article V: We are free to expect Dad to be unreservedly in love with Mom.

Article VI: We are free to honor our commitment to celebrating creation by taking care of the house and yard that God has given us.

Article VII: We are free to prioritize our need for companionship and/or conversation over the activities of another family member.

Amendment VII.a: This right will not be assumed when the party in question is engaged in a task that requires a great deal of thought. In such an event the right shall not be assumed until the party in question has either completed the task in question, or is able to reach a point at which the thinking could reasonably be resumed at a later time.

Article VIII: We are free to know that this family is Home, regardless of where we might actually be.

Edited by M. Leary, 23 November 2010 - 11:54 AM.


#6 Russ

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 03:02 PM

I enjoy the way that you've structured these articles. Anybody can avoid proscriptives (though they have their place), but you've also avoided the language of "rights" in favor of "freedoms." A subtle distinction, some might say, but it's an important one. For one thing, it interlaces your family dynamics with the undercurrent of Christian freedom. It's not a license you can flaunt or a right you can invoke to get something over on somebody, but rather an ideal or an aim that you're free as the redeemed to pursue.

Amendment II.a: The economic ethics of all major purchases will be discussed by the family.


I'm fascinated to see how this would play out. What's a major purchase? And I note the distinction between discussion and decision-making responsibility.

Article V: We are free to expect Dad to be unreservedly in love with Mom.


Now this is just ridiculous brown-nosing and suck-upping.

Article VI: We are free to honor our commitment to celebrating creation by taking care of the house and yard that God has given us.


Yeah, love this. It makes all the difference in stating this as an ordained freedom as opposed to a obligated chore.

Article VII: We are free to prioritize our need for companionship and/or conversation over the activities of another family member.

Amendment VII.a: This right will not be assumed when the party in question is engaged in a task that requires a great deal of thought. In such an event the right shall not be assumed until the party in question has either completed the task in question, or is able to reach a point at which the thinking could reasonably be resumed at a later time.


I get the gist of this, I think, but you'll have to give me the version you gave Bella. I'm imagining you hunched over a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls, teasing out the answer to some long-disputed question, and she presents herself with a need for companionship and/or conversation. What happens next? One of those esoteric Supreme Court balancing tests?

#7 M. Leary

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 03:59 PM

It's not a license you can flaunt or a right you can invoke to get something over on somebody, but rather an ideal or an aim that you're free as the redeemed to pursue.


Thanks for noticing this. The original draft included "rights" language, and it took me a while to find a better way to frame the whole thing. I decided to go back to the way Paul describes our ability to peacefully submit to one another in domestic situations as an actual resurrection-based freedom rather than a social contract predicated upon mutually agreed upon rights.

I'm fascinated to see how this would play out. What's a major purchase?


About two hundred dollars and up. We thought that would give us the opportunity to consider our relationship to "stuff" more intentionally and communally. I am honestly nervous about this given my tendency to snap up tool or home repair bargains on the fly. I actually tried to sneak in the "survival amendment" in Article III to give me an out (e.g. "But this tool will make our home better, thus increasing the probablity of our survival" or "This shotgun will increase our probability of survival in a zombie attack by 78%"). But my wife sniffed a rat and decided to table it until she could figure out what I was up to there. She swayed Bella to agree.

Now this is just ridiculous brown-nosing and suck-upping.


Of course. Children need to see what really makes marriage work, and I am only being half-facetious as I say that.

I get the gist of this, I think, but you'll have to give me the version you gave Bella. I'm imagining you hunched over a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls, teasing out the answer to some long-disputed question, and she presents herself with a need for companionship and/or conversation. What happens next? One of those esoteric Supreme Court balancing tests?


Well, it is Romans and Luke/Acts right now, but that is the gist of it. I am not sure what the litmus test is here, but I think it will be a total anxiety that the world will fall apart if I (or they) don't finish this page. There is an existential risk/benefit ratio buried in there somewhere.

#8 Russ

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 05:55 PM

That's great. I'm a little surprised you gave Bella full parliamentary rights. Please tell me she moved to amend an article or call a question or something, or at least that she seconded them. I know the emphasis in creating this kind of document as you've done so is to liberate rather than restrict, but I'd still be a little wary of ceding full parliamentary rights to the kids where they outnumber the adults, like at my joint.

#9 Persona

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 06:37 PM

This is awesome. Will keep in mind for future consideration...

#10 Thom

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 08:44 AM

I love this idea, although, it is somewhat reminiscent of a Cosby show episode.

Thanks Russ and Mike for discussing this in the open forum.

We have never actually sat down and tried to compose a document. Our family constitution of freedoms mainly consists of quick ways to remember how to love and respect one another.

"If you can't do it with a joyful heart then do it with a quiet mouth."

"Listen and obey and we'll have a great day." Because "Obey your father and mother so your days will be longer," just wasn't working.

"Not calm, no spanking." If mom/dad are not calm, we are not allowed to spank. This has really helped us as parents to realize the weight of such punishment as well as feel the weight of administering said punishment without the mental block anger or frustration can create and sort of numb you.

Okay, so that is sort of Mary Poppins but it does help to discuss, and remember, the deeper truths. We have also established that the boys are allowed to express to us when they think we are behaving inappropriately or in an ungodly manner. This has really opened up great moments of conversation and has helped to shape our persons as adults.

An aside: I do wonder why these types of documents and church discussed family structure, more often than not, focuses so much attention as to how the man/husband/dad should perform in a family unit/marriage (Article V: We are free to expect Dad to be unreservedly in love with Mom) and places little attention of the "loving" expression on the part of the woman/wife/mom. I know you said this was a little tongue-and-cheek, Mike but I do wonder why the church tends to stress social roles the way we do.

#11 Russ

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 09:27 AM

"Not calm, no spanking." If mom/dad are not calm, we are not allowed to spank. This has really helped us as parents to realize the weight of such punishment as well as feel the weight of administering said punishment without the mental block anger or frustration can create and sort of numb you.


Yeah, this is great. Remember the narrator's confession in Gilead, where he says to his daughter something to the effect that he wishes above all else that he'd learned before adulthood how to control his temper? I know every time I hear 1 Cor. 13 it feels like "patient" and "slow to anger" are spoken in underlined boldface, like they're the language upon which our family's conversation is (or should be) based, and that from which all those other characteristics develop.

#12 Thom

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 02:50 PM


"Not calm, no spanking." If mom/dad are not calm, we are not allowed to spank. This has really helped us as parents to realize the weight of such punishment as well as feel the weight of administering said punishment without the mental block anger or frustration can create and sort of numb you.


Yeah, this is great. Remember the narrator's confession in Gilead, where he says to his daughter something to the effect that he wishes above all else that he'd learned before adulthood how to control his temper? I know every time I hear 1 Cor. 13 it feels like "patient" and "slow to anger" are spoken in underlined boldface, like they're the language upon which our family's conversation is (or should be) based, and that from which all those other characteristics develop.


"Patient" and "slow to anger" should be boldface. It is wild that you mention that thought. When the boys and I pray at night James 1:19 is often, if not always, part of my prayer. "...take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..." I can't even express the wisdom that speaks into my life right now and I want my boys to know I am committed to living in obedience to the scriptures, no matter how long it takes to correct my wicked ways.

Maybe we will work that sort of confession and honesty into our family constitution. There is so much freedom experienced in confession and acceptance.

#13 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 04:45 AM

"Patient" and "slow to anger" should be boldface.

Heh, heh. For me, the bold face seems to be: "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things". I'm childless yet beset with children. This is my challenge regardless of children. This enterprise and this discussion is excellent.

When the boys and I pray at night James 1:19 is often, if not always, part of my prayer. "...take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry..." I can't even express the wisdom that speaks into my life right now and I want my boys to know I am committed to living in obedience to the scriptures, no matter how long it takes to correct my wicked ways.

Oh, Thom. This is real good. And I've been having a debate at church with a good friend about the value of James.