Of all the jobs you’ve had, parent may well have proven to be the most difficult — but maybe also the most rewarding. Children — ours or other people’s — can teach us a ton of surprising lessons about life and love we might have missed without their jumping-off-the-walls instruction. And if you have kids, the upcoming new lap around the sun means another 365 days of chasing those wee ones. But how can you make this year the one when you really set a good example and mentor them the best you can as they prepare to fly off solo (eventually) into the real world? This New Year’s, take a moment to consider your parenting habits — rather than making the same-old NYE resolution to drink more green juice or hit the gym more often in 2018.
“Resolutions offer us an opportunity to accept aspects of our lives and ourselves that we want to change, to forgive ourselves for being imperfect and to try again,” explains child and adolescent psychiatrist Gayani Desilva. “We get to clean the proverbial slate and start anew whenever we make a resolution. As parents, making resolutions models for children that we can accept our weaknesses, misgivings and challenges and be hopeful about making changes.”
If a sweeping statement of intended change seems like a bit much to digest, consider making monthly micro-goals that’ll sustain your motivation throughout the year. Here, parenting experts offer their best ideas for monthly resolutions from January to December.
January: Spend one hour a week on yourself
Before you raise your eyebrows in doubt — considering how overstressed you probably already feel wrangling those terrible twos or 13-year-old woes — know that this is possible. Parenting expert and coach Christy Whitman stresses the importance of exhaling. Because it’s easy to get lost in the needs of kids or a partner, carving out time in January to give yourself extra TLC will help you feel more centered, relaxed and ready to face any challenge that everyday life may present.
If an hour feels overwhelming, break it up into smaller 10- to 15-minute sessions — perhaps right before bed or when you’re alone in your car — when you meditate or simply take a moment of quiet. You can even meditate on your parenting intention for the year ahead; Whitman suggests, “Imagine what type of relationship you want with your children and what type of environment you want to create.” And remember: If you want them to grow in a peaceful and nourishing environment, you’ve got to create that for yourself too.
February: Prioritize date night
When was the last afternoon you spent casually chatting with your partner about something that wasn’t related to homework assignments, saving for college or stressing about your baby’s milestones? Desilva says too many couples let their romance come in second to being parents (no surprise there) when in reality, strengthening your relationship with your partner will strengthen your entire family. Plus, staying connected will ensure you feel loved and valued no matter how stressful life becomes.
So in February, go ahead and be V-day cliché: Establish a twice-per-month date-night ritual and plan to stick to it all year. Desilva explains that dating helps partners “replenish the glue that keeps them together. Plus, romance is necessary for adults to feel connected to each other and to feel vibrant… Enjoy the benefits of romantic time together. Schedule date nights, and find a babysitter well in advance.”
March: Focus on your children’s positives
Sure, you can blame it on the stir-crazy tendencies that arise when the weather outside is frightful. But when those adorable kiddos aren’t minding their manners or following the rules, it’s easy for parents to develop a negative attitude. Whitman challenges parents to end the last days of winter on a high note by proactively seeking the positive qualities of their children instead of zeroing in on their faults.
This shift in your mindset may even give the kids a fresh opportunity to show up differently — since you’ll be approaching them (and any conflicts) from a place of patience and acceptance instead of criticism.
One smart tactic by which you can exercise this mini resolution with your minis? Celebrate their victories, no matter how insignificant they might seem. Life coach Thomas Gagliano suggests parents praise kids “when they do something they are proud of, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal.” He adds, “This builds self-esteem and value” and can go a long way in motivating kids to repeat their good deeds.
April: Invest in more talking time
Especially if you have multiple kids, you might feel like your children are auditioning for the lead part in the production of… your home. Are they constantly bickering and talking over one another? If you don’t dedicate time to meaningful discussions, arguments and tensions are bound to rear their ugly heads.
Spring-clean your old habits this month and adopt a family tradition at dinnertime: Pass around a “talking stick.” Yep, it sounds corny, but the idea is simple: Whoever is holding the stick gets to talk and everyone else has to learn to listen. “This allows all family members to be heard,” Whitman explains. Another idea? “Spend time before bed sharing your favorite part of the day. You can also go around and share one thing you are grateful for or what you appreciate in one another,” she suggests.
May: Get started on a lifelong dream
Sure, having kids fundamentally shifts who you are. But all of the characteristics, dreams and hopes that built your life pre-kids are still there, right? They might feel less prominent at the moment as you prioritize your family, but don’t forget: All your old dreams are still achievable — you just might need to give them a little nudge.
Desilva suggests parents do a bit of soul-searching in the late days of spring. Take a sunny afternoon while the kids are still in school to skip work and reimagine a goal you’d like to achieve one day. Whether it’s visiting every continent, opening a coffee shop, becoming bilingual or joining the board of a charity, schedule 10 minutes a day this month to strategize your success. “This commitment will help you feel better about yourself. Any time you expend energy to achieve a dream, you will feel invigorated… and enthusiastic about other aspects of your life,” Desilva says. “You will feel purposeful, accomplished and valuable.”
June: Resolve to work on mastering one communication skill
As much as you may have to bite your tongue when a friend effortlessly — and lovingly — describes one of your flaws, accepting our weaknesses along with our strengths is part of being an adult, right? For many parents, articulating frustrations and explaining our own feelings — especially in the heat of a grocery store tantrum — can often result in a meltdown of our own (which we later feel guilty about, of course).
In June, when the kids are out of school and deeply tangled in your hair, resolve to improve your communication skills through tangible habits, Desilva suggests. And hey, don’t just stop at the rugrats. Adopt this clear-communication mentality toward your partner, your manager, your mother-in-law, you name it.
“You could focus on counting to 10 before speaking, asking and understanding the other person’s point of view before mentioning yours, lowering your tone of voice when upset, stating your feelings instead of complaints or responding as soon as possible to text messages from each other,” Desilva suggests. “Changing one thing is doable and will have a significant impact on your relationships. Pick one skill, and do it every day in every interaction you have with people.” Chances are high you’ll see a significant shift in your relationship, even after a mere 30 days.
July: Stop apologizing
Over the next 24 hours, keep a tally of how many things you say you’re sorry for: when a stranger carelessly bumps into you in the checkout lane, when you don’t deliver 10 minutes ahead of deadline at work or when you rightly reprimand your child for starting a fight. Clinical psychologist Stephanie O’Leary says that all too often, parents apologize for events that aren’t their fault — or are even out of their control.
So in July, throw those two words out of your vocabulary unless they’re actually warranted. “Being an over-apologizer leads to unnecessary guilt and sets a not-so-great example for your son or daughter, who will model your behavior in the long-run,” O’Leary explains. “When you use the words ‘I’m sorry’ less frequently, they become more meaningful.” So O’Leary challenges parents to come up with the actual words they want to use instead. Are you actually upset at yourself for the rude stranger at the local market, or do you want to kindly let that person know they ran over your foot with their cart? Answering these questions to yourself will help you better articulate how you’re feeling — and better deal with the situation without selling yourself short.
August: Give your child a chore
It’s the end of summer — and you’re ready for those kiddos to head back to school. As a way to prep them for the classroom setting and help them develop fundamental life skills, it’s time to give that child a chore. Though it’s important to ensure the task is age-appropriate, O’Leary explains that any task will help instill feelings of confidence, build kids’ self-esteem and teach them the importance — and rewards — of responsibilities.
“The best way to start is to choose one thing that will truly make your life easier. In my house, it was slowly giving my kids a larger hand in preparing their lunches and snacks before school. Over time, they were able to pack their own lunches for the day, which helped them feel accomplished and made my morning a bit less hectic,” O’Leary shares.
With obligations in every last corner of your life, have you really paused to savor being a parent? Have you taken time to really understand, value and know your child? Psychologist Yvonne Thomas suggests using the structured start of the school year to add an important event to your family calendar: one-on-one time with each of your kids. “Having a good bond with your children can promote openness, honesty and closeness that can continue as time goes on and certainly comes in handy during more challenging periods,” Thomas explains. No matter how many soccer matches, speech and debate classes or coaching sessions you have penciled in, Thomas recommends making this session one hour — and in a place where interruptions are minimal.
October: Focus on teamwork
It might not technically be a race to the end of the year, but for busy families, October is often when the holiday season momentum gets started. That’s why refocusing on your relationship and building a cohesive team with your spouse becomes crucial this month. “If your partner and you can be on the same page for the most part, [you will be] healthy role models for your children,” Thomas says. “Decrease confusion and mixed messages. This will make the kids less able to divide and conquer.” You know, like when a kid keeps asking the pushover parent for permission because they know the other one will say no. This, Thomas explains, “can lead to an upset between the parents.”
November: Do good
November encourages families and individuals to pay respect to the many things they have to be thankful for — from a roof over their heads to a full tummy each night. As you explain to your kids what it means to be fortunate, you can put this lesson into action by signing up for volunteering opportunities. Your kids will walk away from volunteering with a new perspective — even if they dragged their feet the whole way there. “Donating your time and doing nice things for people without a cookie in return helps your children learn what selflessness is. They will learn that situations do not always need an expected payback in return,” Gagliano says. “This will help them reduce resentments and lower their expectations, finding the reward lies in the giving.”
December: Move more
It’s easy to fall into the rhythm of parties and sugar cookies. Though a little indulgence is welcome, Erica Hornthal of Chicago Dance Therapy explains that families who move together stay together. Blame it on endorphins or the laughter that ensues from a lighthearted ball toss, but making a commitment to stay active will keep you bonded. It doesn’t just have to be fitness, either — any type of activity will reap rewards. “This is a positive way to manage mental and physical health. Find ways to encourage your family to move, whether is it cooking together, taking a walk or participating in leisurely activities,” she explains.
Ready to get cranking? Print this out, pin it or save it on your phone — every month, a new resolution awaits. You’ll be a #RoleModel by 2019.
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