What's Your Family Motto?

by Josette Plank
Originally Published: 

My daughters say our family motto is, “Girls, time to wash the dishes!” Our dishwasher broke a few years ago, and since I have more kids than I have cash to repair appliances, we’ve been doing our dishes Little House on the Prairie style.

As these things go, “Time to wash the dishes” is not particularly eloquent. But I think our motto inspires teamwork and encourages the kind of grit so often lacking in kids these days. My daughters tell me I’m full of baloney, to which I say “You’re not the boss of me!” (Another potential family motto.)

If you don’t have a family motto, no worries. I asked a few parents to share theirs, and none is trademarked. Feel free to borrow or combine mottos to suit your family’s ages, stages and appliance breakdowns.

We’ve got this.

“We’ve got this” is a family rallying cry, says Kathy Martinez Collier of Chester Springs, PA—in all sorts of situations, from the mundane (facing a pile of laundry) to the more serious (illness in the family).

“Most recently, it has been the mantra when talking our son through his anxiety issues,” Kathy says. “Sometimes it is modified to ‘You’ve got this,’ but we usually stick to ‘We’ve got this’ because we want him to know we are with him.”

Be less helpless.

“Our family motto is used when the kids ask us to do something for them that they’re capable of handling for themselves,” says Heidi Dugan of Millville, NJ.

Heidi is mom to two teenagers and says that a family motto can be used with 360-degree application.

“My kids will say it to me. Like when I ask my 6-foot-tall son to get something off a high shelf, my daughter will point to the footstool and remind me to be less helpless.”

Seek and ye shall find.

As a corollary to “Be less helpless,” my neighbor Lorri says this was her mother’s favorite motto.

“For me and my four siblings, ‘Seek and ye shall find’ was uttered every time we asked if my mom knew where our shoes, gloves, hats, notebooks, etc. were.”

You must be confused.

“Our motto is usually said by one of the adults to one of our five kids, four of whom are teenagers,” says Lisa Namnoun of New Jersey.

“It’s used when the kids say something like ‘Can I have a Sweet 16 party in a rented hall with a caterer and 100 guests?’ or ‘It isn’t my job to shovel the driveway.'”

Note: “You must be confused” can be useful in many of the situations in which children mistake themselves for a Kardashian or you for Ivanka Trump.


“My husband thinks our motto is ‘Anything less than the best is a felony,'” says Jacqui Ainsworth of Austin, TX. “I think mine is ‘Seriously?'”


“Today I used it when my 12-year-old daughter asked if she could ‘wear her scar’ to go out to dinner. It was a scar she had drawn on her face with marker, a huge red blotch from her forehead, down her eye and onto her cheek. It was some cosplay thing from an anime.”


Be a toughie, not a fluffy.

My sister Anne Riotto from Barnesville, PA, has raised two children to fully employed adulthood. She says “Be a toughie, not a fluffy” was used “to convince kids they can endure longer than they realize, particularly when learning something new.”

My friend Kate’s family motto bears a similar sentiment: “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

“Unfortunately,” says Kate, “my 13-year-old daughter hasn’t internalized ours.”

It’s OK, Kate. That one would trip up some grownups I know.

Safe and happy.

Meg McCormick says her parenting catchphrase is “Safe and happy.”

“As in, ‘As long as the kids are safe and happy, the rest is fluff.’ It pertains mainly to those times when another party is watching your kids, but it also applies when one parent is away and the other is playing zone defense.”

I read “Safe and happy” as not just a motto, but as a parenting battle cry against our own impractical expectations of doing it all and being it all for our kids.

Kids, when you’re going through a rough patch, we’ll be there for you as a family—”We’ve got this.” As a family, we’ll keep each other safe and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

But we’ll also toughen you up, because a good family motto will encourage practicality, responsibility and a gentle nudge toward independence.

“Time to wash the dishes!” is as good as any. I think it’s a keeper.

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