The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families: Building a Beautiful Family Culture in a Turbulent World
by Stephen Covey
If there is any book that belongs on a parent’s bedside table (besides the Holy Bible), it should be this one: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey. In a society that is fueled by efficiency tactics, best practices, and mission objectives, Covey knows how to reach his audience. Better yet, he knows how to apply these concepts to the family sphere where they typically don’t get applied. By way of example, have we not all heard about crafting a personal mission statement? Even if you haven’t done so yet, it is probably something you have thought about doing. Covey takes it a step further and challenges every family to craft a family mission statement starting as newlyweds.
As the father of nine children, Covey is a passionate advocate for preserving the integrity of the family unit, faced today with unprecedented societal-cultural paradigms and practices that threaten it. Despite this turbulent world, Covey gives hope for families to effectively build a different culture: a beautiful family culture.
Although the seven habits may sound familiar (they were first introduced in Covey’s bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989), they are reapplied to the sphere of life that makes the most impact in society – the family.
Habit 1: Be Proactive – To be proactive is “to act based on principles and values rather than reacting based on emotion or circumstance.” This habit focuses on the fact that we can all become agents of change. It first requires taking stock of our unique human gifts, which allow us to exercise our innate freedom to choose, based on principles and values. Next, we determine and distinguish our circle of concern and our circle of influence. My favorite take-away from this chapter is about building an emotional bank account with your children and loved ones by apologizing, being loyal, making and keeping promises, and practicing acts of forgiveness.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind – Following from the cultivation of the first habit is the building of a family mission statement in which principles such as forgiveness, compassion, and charity take precedence, “ahead of each other, and ahead of our family.” Wow! This is a strong statement. Covey goes on to explain that this one principle has “given a sense of appropriate priority to everything else.” Of course, determining what these guiding family principles are doesn’t happen overnight. Covey explains how their family principles were drafted, re-worked, and re-written numerous times over the years with the input of all members of the family. The step by step guide to writing a family mission statement may be the most valuable part of this book.
Habit 3: Put First Things First – This may be one of the most difficult habits to wrestle with: putting family first in all things. Covey tackles the thorny questions of work-life balance, day care, full-time working mothers, etc. with tact and truth. He says, “the place to start is not that work is non-negotiable; it’s with the assumption that family is non-negotiable.” Hitting home the fact that no one else can raise your children as you can, the parent, Covey adds an effective tip: weekly family time (another ear-marked page in my book). It’s a time to plan, to teach, to solve problems, and to have fun. Covey also emphasizes one-on-one time with your spouse and each member of your family as part of the relationship-building that comes with putting first things first.
Habit 4: Think “Win-Win” – The next three habits are explained by Covey as the root, the route, and the fruit. By seeking ‘win-win’ arrangements, habit four emphasizes the mutual benefit when both people are satisfied. This nurturing attitude, when cultivated consistently, is the root from which the next habits grow.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand…Then to Be Understood – Following from above, this habit is the way, the route, or method for deep interaction. This habit allows us to step out of our own paradigm and embrace – with understanding and empathy – the heart and head of the other person.
Habit 6: Synergize – Finally, synergizing is the fruit of the efforts made above. The third-way alternatives to my way or your way make for the best way forward. Through practicing this habit, compromise becomes a way of daily living and loving.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw – In the last chapter, Covey emphasizes the need for every family to renew itself in the four key areas of life: physical, social, mental, and spiritual. The importance of traditions is emphasized here as the secret to maintaining the healthy embodiment of these key areas of life.
Every chapter contains numerous real-life examples of how these habits work and the results produced. What makes this book particularly effective is the helpful list of ideas at the end of each chapter/habit to that makes sharing the ideas and concepts with teens and children easy and enjoyable. Covey obviously has practiced what he preaches and knows what that entail
My husband and I, hardly one year into our marriage, are eager to put into practice these guidelines for life as we read and re-read the copy by our bedside. Furthermore, our brothers and sisters and their families can all count on receiving a copy for Christmas, so that we can start the new year by building a beautiful extended family culture that permeates our lives and touches one family at a time.
About the Reviewer:
Julia Dezelski is the Assistant Director for Marriage and Family and Laity in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Disclaimer: Book reviews do not imply and are not to be used as official endorsement by the USCCB of the work or those associated with the work. Book reviews are solely intended as a resource regarding publications that might be of interest to For Your Marriage visitors.