Family mottos can unite with just a few, simple words.
“Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
Mottos. To me, they feel like legacies. By definition, of a motto is “a short expression of a guiding principle.” Sometimes a recurrent saying becomes a motto, but only if you truly believe in it and it’s reflective of the character of the person or group. For example, what started as a phrase often said in the Bush family became a motto. “I love you more than tongue can tell” is from a children’s poem. It was one that Barbara and George H.W. read to their daughter, Robin, who died of leukemia at age three. She repeated those words to her father before her death, and it stuck. It became a statement that embodied a family whose priority has always been love.
One of the first things I learned about my future mother-in-law while dating her son was that she had a motto, and everyone knew it — “moderation is the key to life.” As a 23-year-old, my assumption was advice about alcohol consumption she wanted to bestow to her children, but as time went on, I learned it was more than that. It was a response she gave to many questions thrown her way. From work to love to health, it was her way of telling us not to focus too hard on one part of our lives, rather, find balance.
I wanted to find my own motto.
As we built our family of four, we began saying something over and over that first came up during an argument with our then-toddler. I can’t remember what happened, but I do remember wanting to let my daughter know that even though we were angry with each other, I loved her so much. The conversation went a little something like this:
“I know you’re angry, and I’m angry too. I didn’t like how you were acting, and I’m sorry I yelled. But you can love someone and not like something they did or said. Through it all, if they are important to you, you still love them. So, what do we always do? Love each other.”
And there it was. I said it more as toddler tantrums continued. I’d ask, “Ruby, what do we always do,” and she’d answer, “love each other.” It immediately brought our guards down and allowed us to forgive and forget.
My heart swelled the first time she said it on her own. One day I started getting visibly frustrated. She walked over to me very calmy, grabbed my hand, and said, “Mama, what do we always do?” Besides cry from a range of emotions, I said, “love each other.” It was a light bulb moment, realizing this small child was being so empathetic. Our family has probably said these words hundreds of times. My son is now a threenager, so de-escalating conflict is a survival skill, and these words help.
I’ve heard many people say, “love will find you when you least expect it,” and I believe it’s true. I also believe the same applies to other aspects of life. I wanted a motto or legacy to give to my kids, but it came without trying or being forced. I don’t think any of the mottos mentioned in the beginning were meant to be that; rather, they became mottos because the person embodied what they said.
These words are spoken by the four of us, but they are carried into our daily lives. My kids are caring. They love their friends. Our motto has helped discussions about disagreements with their buddies. To be kind is to spread love, and that’s the most important thing I want my kids to learn. I don’t care if they’re good at sports, make straight A’s, or are popular, I swear. I just want them to be kind and to spread love.
We’re building a house, and I’ve been thinking about how to decorate. The first thing that came to mind is a big custom sign that says,” What do we always do? Love each other.”
So, what’s your family motto?