Strategic planning sessions. Company retreats. Visions and goal setting.
Most of us who have worked in any kind of administrative environment have sat in brainstorming meetings with someone facilitating the event probably with a flip chart or computer screen.
We know the drill. You have a vision, a mission statement, you arrive at “the why” and then start listing “the how’s.”
But what about your family unit and how it runs? Is there a plan or just day-to-day survival?
Most of us, especially spouses and parents, have expectations about how we would like things to be within our households. Perhaps without putting it into words we want our relationships to grow and be nurtured.
But, like company mission statements, plans of action and successful solutions don’t happen without effort and dedicated work.
Parenting is a privilege and a blessing. It’s also a huge challenge, and parents learn quickly that there are no magic bullets and often look to other parents for advice.
To guide their journey on the path of parenthood, some parents even create a roadmap—their own set of written down family values.
Troy and Amelia Stansell have called Warrenton, Virginia, home for 15 years. They have two young daughters, Amelia Grace, 9, and Betsy Ann (better known by her nickname, “Bitsy”), who recently turned 7.
In their 40s, Troy and Amelia take their roles as supportive spouses, heartfelt friends, and caring and committed parents very seriously. They set aside time to openly share their feelings and come up with family to-do lists. These are not lists to do with grocery shopping or projects around the house or health goals (although there are those lists) but lists that speak to values.
What kind of young women will Amelia Grace and Bitsy be when they are on their own and walking their own journeys in the world?
Will they be women of faith, respectful, kind, courteous, courageous, confident, creative, disciplined, and responsible with a buck?
If these are the kinds of daughters whom Troy and Amelia would like them to become, what is their role in creating that recipe?
How are they to be educated? What environment will be the best for them to grow? How much travel? How many books? How many sets of colored pencils, crayons, and finger paints? Do they allow video games and, if so, which ones and how often? What about screen time? What about attendance at church? And the lists go on.
A Faith Foundation
Troy’s home state is Idaho and Amelia is originally from Washington, where she grew up on a dairy farm. They met when they were students at the University of Idaho. Troy hails from Lutheran and Quaker backgrounds and Amelia from a Presbyterian one.
Both shared that attendance at church wasn’t always regular as adults but the base had been established and it was important that their children be raised knowing God and on a foundation of faith.
“This is something that we both agree on,” Amelia said.
Active and committed, the Stansells participate in many of their church’s charitable and relief efforts.
Choosing the Classroom
Both girls attended a Montessori preschool and kindergarten. Then it was time to think about elementary school and that education piece in the girls’ lives.
The Stansells decided to send their daughters to Fresta Valley Christian School, founded in 1977 in Fauquier County, serving students from preschool through grade 12. Its mission was in line with their intent for the girls to have a quality education with a Christian perspective.
The school is small, and the community of administrators, teachers, and parents is a tight-knit group.
“We like what we see—the structure, discipline, quality education, confidence,” Troy said. “The teachers want the students to be challenged and to do better.”
“Respect is big for us, for yourself and for others,” said Amelia. She likes that their girls are not only challenged academically but values are instilled that elevate and raise them up. “They’re not pulled down.”
“It’s a partnership between the teachers and the parents,” said Troy. “It is a place where they are learning but they are also learning to love God and they are surrounded by love.”
Troy is a quality engineer with Micron and Amelia is a senior commercial loan officer with UVA (University of Virginia) Community Credit Union. As business professionals, they’re confronted with work challenges, choices, and consequences on a daily basis.
As parents of two young daughters, they want those lessons about choices and consequences to be learned early.
“We want them to think and make good decisions. We let them manage small problems now on their own,” Troy said, with the hope that later, they will make good decisions when it comes to larger issues.
He got up and grabbed a book from their home library. “This is good,” he said, referring to a book by Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay, “Parenting With Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility.”
Bringing In Big Sister
In 2019, they decided to bring in an exchange student: 16-year-old Kaili, from China, became part of the Stansell household.
“We went from two young girls to having a teenager in the house,” smiled Troy. “Gave me a taste of what to expect when my girls are older.”
“She’s an awesome kid and it was such a great experience,” said Amelia. “We are her American family and there will always be a space for her here.”
Kaili became the big sister to Amelia Grace and Bitsy. They watched her play the violin, experiment with drums, do calculus, and join them in art projects.
Kaili’s stay was extended because of COVID-19 and travel restrictions. The Stansells drove her to Chicago, where she is attending college.
Troy looked wistful. “It was hard saying goodbye. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we send our own daughters off to college.”
The family’s road trip to Chicago is only one of many trips together the family has taken over the years, in the United States as well as abroad.
Amelia reminisced about securing a passport for one of their daughters in time to make a wedding overseas.
“They were small and we had strollers and all that but we did it,” she said.
And there’s been no looking back when it comes to travel, which is a passion for Troy and Amelia.
“If we can do it, why wait until they are 18 for them to see the world?” said Amelia, who likes to take the girls to foreign local markets and neighborhoods and cook new foods.
“Their education is not always out of a book,” added Troy.
Making Time for Mom and Dad
Amelia’s mother, Kathleen, comes several times a year for extended visits. When she does, Troy and Amelia have an opportunity to travel without their daughters.
“There’s mom and dad but there’s also husband and wife and friends,” said Amelia. “We feel it makes us better parents when we take time together to recharge.”
It was on one of their trips together, in 2018, that the Stansell Family Values Plan came into being.
“We were somewhere near the Czech Republic, and our conversation turned to putting down our family goals on paper,” said Troy.
Amelia was quick to cooperate. She usually has a pad of paper and pencil handy for taking notes.
“It helps to ground things when you write them down,” added Amelia, who is also keen on having family retreats to refine their plan and make any necessary adjustments.
They may have different tactics, but strategically, the Stansells are on the same page when it comes to raising their daughters.
And they are on the same page when it comes to respecting each other. Amelia is more outspoken. Troy tends to be quieter.
Coming up on their 20th wedding anniversary, they both recognize that they wear a lot of hats, but it’s important to make time for your spouse.
“Sometimes we have mini check-in dates,” said Amelia. “We grab a cup of coffee and talk. If we have each other we can take on anything.”
While guidelines are definitely in place in the Stansell household, there is lots of flexibility.
As Amelia and Troy sit at the kitchen table, coffee cups in hand, the girls make occasional appearances. Amelia stops to comb Bitsy’s hair. Troy takes a minute to help Amelia Grace look for the family cat.
Their refrigerator is a mosaic of calendars, post-it notes, photographs, recipes, the girl’s drawings, and funny magnets.
Their family room is filled with cozy places to sit, books to read, plants to water, and projects to finish.
Another room has a large dollhouse, more books, and art materials.
There are potlucks and birthday parties on their agendas, parks to visit, puzzles to put together, dinners to cook, and sweets to bake.
Faith, education, travel, outreach, fun, and family are just some of the ingredients that make the Stansell recipe good preparation for a pleasant parenting journey. Their family values were created by input from many people whom they admire and love.
“If our story can inspire one other family on this parenting journey, that’s a good thing,” said Amelia, “and it will also be a piece of history that we can pass down and share with our daughters to let them know what legacy their parents were trying to leave for them.”
Stansell Family Values
To leave a legacy to our children and our children’s children while enjoying what lies ahead.
“I am willing to do today what you won’t, so I can do tomorrow what you can’t.”
—George S. Clayson, “Richest Man in Babylon”
Stewardship: Making the most of God’s blessings and not being wasteful.
- The present is a gift and must not be wasted for tomorrow is not promised
- Be proactive and not procrastinate
- LIVE not just breathe
- Leverage God-given skills, talents, and vocation as an opportunity to serve
- Not waste time on idle thought, but put into action
- Wisely invest the gifts given to you
- Be charitable, it isn’t our money, but God’s money that we have been entrusted with
- Not taking on debt so you are not a slave to the master
- Not be wasteful of our Earth and its resources or things
Teamwork: As a family unit we work together and mutually support each other
- Our family unit is a collection of individuals and our family is a team and puts family first
- Leverage each other’s talents and strengths
- We know when to ask for help
Independence: Staying true to one’s self through personal freedom
- Independent Thinkers—we do not give in to peer pressure or mob mentality
- Financially Independent—we do not take on debt therefore we are not slaves to the lender
- We can be nimble because we are not limited by debt
- We don’t “owe” others favors because we do not ask for them—we ask for help, not favors
Learning: We believe in life-long learning through formal and informal education and experiences.
- Learn at every opportunity—including failures
- If you are not failing or feeling pain, you are not testing the limits of your strength and therefore not growing to your fullest potential
Legacy: We work to leave “it” better for our children and their children.
- Strong family values
- Globally throughout our community and beyond
Purposeful: We are deliberate in our thoughts and actions and begin with the end in mind.
- We make rational choices and thoughts based on data and reality.
- We are moving in a direction and making choices based on our goals and values.
Respect: Showing care, compassion, and honor of oneself and others.
We are respectful of ourselves, our family, and others: things, time, talent, and treasures.