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24 Family Mottos That Help Guide Parents and Children

"It's not a waste of time if you learned something."

Maybe it was passed down from your parents or grandparents. Maybe it was something you read, liked, and decided to use in your life. Whatever the case, the family motto is an important tool. They serve as mission statements of sorts, simple utterances that make clear what family values you care most about. Sure, you have to repeat them again and again. But they remind you and the kids to, say, be kind to others or not give up when the going gets tough. They’re sweet, silly, little reminders of those true norths that keep a family oriented.

As many have their particular version of one, we asked 23 parents to share their family mottos. From those that preach hard work to those that remind families to seek joy, all the family mottos below are statements that help offer guidance and support. If you don’t have a family motto, perhaps one of these will speak to you. Or maybe your family motto is “No family mottos.” In that case, we can’t stop you.

1. “There are two kinds of people in the world: The kind who get things done, and the kind who make excuses why they don’t get things done.”

This was said by my grandpa to his kids, to my dad who said it to me and my brother, to me with my daughter (and I’m sure everyone was sick of it at some point). It used to annoy the hell out of me. Now I say it three times a week. Hell, I honestly don’t even have to say it anymore. If my daughter has slacked on something, as soon as I say “Emma…” she’ll say “I know. There are two kinds of people…” — Robert M. Wheeler, Jr., partner at Rapid Recovery

2. “Happiness is not something you sit back and wait for.”

We have used this family motto with the children for some. We want them to know that if they are unhappy with a citation and want it to change, they have to be the driving force behind it. As adults, we all make sacrifices for the ‘greater good’ but what can be good about being unhappy? Life should be more than work, more than school, so you have to find those happy moments and grab onto them. But sometimes you have to make them yourself, too. Laugh more and be present. — Thomas Fultz, CEO and Founder, Coffeeble

3. Be honest even…when it’s hard.”  

One person begins this motto and another finishes it. We chose it because integrity in all things is important to me and my husband. Therefore, we wanted it to be important to our children. We are a blended family and have learned the hard way that dishonesty hurts relationships. It is crucial that our home remain a safe place, one in which we can rely on each other and remain connected. For us, this begins with honesty. — Kate Frasier, Parent Coach, Connect Point Moms

4. Make plays not excuses.”

I have four children aged 10-15 and I believe this applies to all areas of life.  Not just on the courts but also the classroom. When they come home with excuses for grades or behavior I answer with, “How could you have made a play?”  —Treg Spicer, pastor, speaker and writer.  

5. “It’s not about me.”

Our motto has double-decker significance. Number one is the obvious ‘put others first’ implication. Rarely will humanity find meaningful and lasting joy by simply filling our own needs. Number two is a bit more elusive but just as powerful. And that is that when we feel wronged in some way, it probably isn’t about us. Think someone is mad at you? Perhaps they’re just having a bad day. Feeling a cold shoulder from a friend? Maybe your friend thinks you are upset with him. Approaching relationships and life in general with “It’s Not About Me” is alive and going strong for at least a decade in our home, and we’re so grateful for it. — Shelley Jefsen, mother of four, Family Life Coach, Speaker, and Writer

6. “Hellers stick together.”

This was my father’s family’s motto. He emphasized that our siblings and other relatives are precious people in our lives.  Dad wanted us to avoid major conflicts and family rifts.  Instead, he wanted us to support one another, despite our individual differences.  I am now almost 72 years old. I remain close to all my siblings, my aunts and uncles, and many of my cousins.  — Janet Ruth Heller, author

7. “Be fair, share, and show you care.”

We started saying this motto because our kids would fight over everything. It’s kind of our spin on “treat others how you want to be treated.” We have a 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. — Alice Anderson, founder and creator of Mommy To Mom

8. “Dare to be dumb”

This is a jokey motto we have in our family. It’s a little cheeky, but despite how it sounds, it does have an endearing meaning. This motto reminds us all to boldly take a leap of faith and to follow what you believe in. Whether it works out or not, experimenting and taking chances will help you learn from your mistakes and ensure that you do even better in the future. Not every decision you make will be pinpoint accurate, but they don’t always need to be. Whether you succeed or you learn a lesson, you’ll be better off. — Brian Turner, Chief Technology Officer, Covert Binary

9. “See the good”

With so much negativity in society, it’s important to stop and appreciate the beauty of the world we live in from time to time. We should never forget to appreciate and show thanks for what we have, and to always look for the good in people even when you may not see eye to eye. This motto means a lot to my family, and reminds us to be the most accepting, thoughtful versions of ourselves possible. — Anthony Martin CEO & Founder of Choice Mutual

10. “Less is more”

This saying helps us cherish the things we have without constantly reaching for new items. Finding satisfaction in what you have is essential to a happy life. We also use this motto as a reminder that the more you have, the more responsibilities you have. While it may be nice to have a luxury vehicle, for example, it’ll also require more maintenance and caution when driving it around. Less is more because less is usually all you need.  — Grant Aldrich, CEO, Online Degree

11. “When one door closes, another door opens.”

A classic for a reason, and one that has carried me through my life and career.  This has been proven to me time and time throughout my life and it is something that everyone should remember. There have been so many times in my life when the closing of one chapter has only led to far more exciting and interesting chapters. Remember that it is never the end and that better things are coming — you are only making space for those things to come. — Vinay Amin, Founder and CEO, Eu Natural

12. “It’s not a waste of time if you learned something.”

This is something my parents would tell us when we were feeling frustrated, especially when we see no return to our efforts. We heard the same thing when we had to do seemingly mundane tasks and chores at home. Looking back, there were countless “wasted moments” but this motto reminded me that I’ve learned a lot from them. Even doing chores foundational in the shaping of my character as a CEO — Sander Tamm, Founder & CEO of E-Student

13. “Always see people.”

Ours is a full-time travel family. As a nomadic family, we are always on the move, but something crucial to us is giving back. So, we make sure we take the time to see people. It’s a reminder for us to not get caught up in our interest that we forget about others. It can be something as simple as buying a coffee for someone, taking food to a family in need, or taking the time to help someone carry their bags. No matter what it is, we make sure that we always see people. — Corritta, founder of Itz a Family Thing

14. “It is what it is.”

Partly this is because we love a tautology, but mainly it’s a good reminder that things don’t always — or usually — go to plan. Sometimes it’s invoked in hilariously awful ways (like that night our daughter wet the bed and then barfed in her newly changed sheets). Sometimes it’s invoked when things get more serious (like teaching our kids how to physically interact with their grandparents when the pandemic hit). But no matter what, it reminds us that our strength lies in our ability to deal with life on life’s terms, and that no matter how hard we may want to push back, it is what it is. – Greg Kanaan, New England-based arts and entertainment attorney.

15. “Difficulties are nothing when faced with determination”

My Chinese father had a saying: 世上无难事,只怕有心人. It roughly translates to the above. He would say it when I complained about my homework or any challenges. My takeaway was that if you want something bad enough, you’d do anything to achieve it. It’s only when you aren’t passionate that you allow hurdles to defeat you. — Charles Wee, COO, Deala.com

16. “Seek love and appreciation, not money and validation”

Sometime after I returned home from Iraq, my uncle Frank was sitting next to me and he said something to me that I’ll never forget. He said: “I’ve been popular. I’ve been around people that wanted to help me spend my hard-earned money. No matter what job you have, no matter your accomplishments, or what happens in life, it will only be your family and the people who love you who are there for you in the end. I hope you learned that, during some of your moments in Iraq. Life is short, manage your time wisely.” 

This really stuck out to me in a big way. Because while I was in Iraq, I witnessed firsthand how fast life can be taken away. What he said was absolutely true – only those people who really love you will care enough to visit you in the hospital and attend your funeral. By thinking toward the end of life, you’re able to be more careful with actually living in the moment, and always be doing something of value for others in your precious present because it’s the only thing you leave behind.” – KC Elvis, Native American entrepreneur, father, and founder of Feather Bear Forever

17. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”

This is a useful motto because it reminds me to track all of my efforts – time, money, and personal. This motto has helped me immensely in creating more order in my business as well as my personal life.  — Andrew Winters, Attorney and Co-Founder of Cohen & Winters

18. “When you’re not sure, do your best.”

Growing up, my parents had this family motto. They wanted to instill confidence in us by reminding us how often we’d deal with doubt or a lack of confidence in a situation, and the right way to handle that. Of course, we all supported each other—after all, sometimes what’s best is to ask for help. Yet as I’ve grown into an adult and started my own company, I’ve found the action-oriented nature of our family motto has really helped me deal with a lot of challenges. It’s one I’ve appreciated. — Nate Tsang, Founder and CEO, WallStreetZen

19. “Nothing is always.”

For as long as I can remember, my father would always shrug and say this phrase. It was his version of “change is constant”, “nothing is permanent”, and “this too will pass”. He would use it during both happy occasions and tough times, reminding us to appreciate the good and trust that the bad would always get better. This lesson, or family motto, has resonated with me my whole life and has helped me shape my current unconventional lifestyle. It makes me unafraid to step out into the unknown because even if I don’t like where I end up, I can trust that it will change. — Rachel Cassidy, veterinarian consultant for Animalso

20. “Pretend you’re in France.”

We were visiting family in France when the kids were very young. They had a habit of touching absolutely everything in a store, whereas the French seriously look down their noses at touching store items (not to mention children, in general, and especially American children.) So, I was on hyper-alert whenever we entered any store in France nagging repeatedly “don’t touch anything, don’t touch anything.” A few years later, they still want to touch absolutely everything in stores and sometimes it’s just not appropriate. So, I follow them around nagging repeatedly, “Pretend we’re in France – don’t touch anything. Pretend we’re in France – don’t touch anything.” It’s usually met with, “Dad! We’re not in France!” — Gavin Lodge, writer and actor.

21. “What’s the best thing about the Henderson’s? They never give up.”

It’s a point of pride that we instill our kids with a sense of perseverance. That you always try and try with all your effort. This motto is about working through the hard moments to achieve a goal or aspiration or accomplishment. It’s not about never quitting but about laying it all out there, leaving the playing field knowing you’ve done your best.  — Christian Henderson,  Nashville

22. “Consistency thou art a jewel.”

I had a mural painted in my house before my son’s birth with this motto. It is a constant reminder that the culmination of my daily choices will be profound. I apply that to reading to him, nutrition, focused attention, and other goals I have as a father. — Jason J. Platt, couples and family therapist living in Mexico City, Mexico.

23. “Just remember, you are [name here]”

“There’s this great episode of The Simpsons where Lisa has a crush on her substitute teacher, voiced by Dustin Hoffman. He ends up leaving, and Lisa is brokenhearted. But he gives her a piece of paper to read whenever she’s feeling down. It says, simply “You are Lisa Simpson.” It’s a sweet little moment and something I often repeat to people in my life when they’re feeling down — “don’t forget, you are [name here.] It’s my way of saying “hey, you got this.” My kids always respond with, ‘yeah, yeah, I am Greg Fisher.’ But they understand it.” — Owen Fisher, father of three, Alexandria, Virginia

24. “Don’t take yourself too seriously!”

“During COVID-19, I started a family band called “The Chewies” with my four kids (aged 3-13). The band plays – admittedly – “bad 90s rock” and has pushed us to put the family motto to the test. I believe my kids are (largely) impervious to embarrassment, which makes rehearsal one of the highlights of my week. While it guides my parenting, I also bring this motto to the office by embracing the humility that comes with innovation. We can’t learn and innovate if we’re too focused on always being polished and perfect.” — David Chubak, Head of Citi Retail Services, Citi