A few months ago, we had a family council where we put together a “family constitution” to help with family government. A family is a mini nation in a way and it is important to have clear, established rules that everyone can understand and voluntarily opt into. Everyone had a voice in the creation of this constitution and many of these principles were already well-understood by each member.
Our first draft has four articles that represent the entirety of the constitution as it now stands. Interestingly, all of the articles seem to stem from the first in one way or another.
I. Respect people and their property.
II. Leave no trace.
III. Work before play.
IV. Apologize and forgive.
Clearly, our constitution probably doesn’t cover everything, but it serves for our current needs. We wanted something extremely simple and thus far, we haven’t found anything else that we really feel that we need to add to it.
Almost any situation can be brought back to one of these four articles.
Respect people and their property
If kids are fighting over toys, all we need to do is establish who the property rightly belongs to. It is then up to the person to choose justice or mercy. Justice means that they have the right to play with the toy no matter what. Mercy is an act of unselfishness where they can deny themselves the toy momentarily to benefit another. Justice is always fair, mercy is always unfair, but love makes it a preferable choice in certain instances.
These principles, though complex for some, are understood very well by small children.
Leave no trace
This phrase was borrowed from Boy Scouts but references the oft-repeated parental mantra, “Clean up after yourself!” This very clear statement encourages family members to leave spaces at home as if they were never there in the first place. Often I will state, “Hey, I found a trace…” and the kids know what to do.
This is helpful to me personally because when I am preparing things in the kitchen or shaving in the bathroom, these words arise in my mind and I make a small, extra effort to make sure there is no trace of my activities.
Work before play
Another simple and timeless concept encourages family members to put first things first. If people do their work first, we can all play together later. If kids play now, they must slave away into the night doing homework. It’s not only a good habit to develop, it makes life a lot more enjoyable for everyone.
Apologize and forgive
Last but not least, the most difficult article of all. We all committed to one another to acknowledge when we have made a mistake and apologize to those we have wronged. When someone has apologized and made restitution (if necessary), we agree to forgive them so that peace may be restored.
We recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that apologies and forgiveness are two principles that heal all wounds.
Inspired by the US Constitution, we did not mandate any kind of religious practices or behavior into our constitution. The closest you get to that is Article IV, but it is more geared toward handling conflict. Principles of religious restitution such as repentance are dealt with by persuasion rather than legislated by force.
All other religious teachings are done with persuasion. There is no compulsion toward religion, we seek to simply set the best examples that we can and thus far it has been successful. We try to use the gospel principles in practical ways rather than in theory – and they work.
Note that I still have young children under the age of 10 at the writing of this article. I’ll have to get back with you in 10 years to review how our constitution has been amended when dating comes into play.
I suppose many older parents and grandparents might look at my efforts as quite humorous and I’ll probably be laughing along with you in the next few decades but this works for us now and I thought I’d share. Maybe there is something useful here for someone else out there.