This time of year people talk about resolutions. We are bombarded by advertisements to join fitness centers, eat healthier, save more. Often times people start out with good intentions but within a few weeks or months, fall back into known patterns. In parenting, making resolutions that stick requires focusing on a goal (why we need to change), current behavior (what we need to change) and a deep dive into the way we can accomplish these decisions to do or not do something (how we need to change). A conscious consideration of gratitude is essential to the “how we need to change” analysis and is imperative for parents to make meaningful resolutions and keep them.
In parenting, resolutions are only successful if we take into consideration the effects of our own behavior on our goals with our children. That means we need to enumerate goals before making resolutions. Parenting goals may look like these:
- better relationships
- less yelling
- more laughing
Thinking about behavior over the past year parents may contemplate:
- how much time we spent one-on-one with our children
- how we handled conflict
- our response to our children’s needs – emotional, educational, physical
Parenting resolutions based on these goals therefore, might be:
- spend more time one-on-one with our children to foster better relationships
- handle conflict better so there is less yelling
- respond to their needs in impactful, transformative ways so we can feel joy together
Once we contemplate the why and what, we need to take a close look at how to change behavior; the crux to meeting our goals and making resolutions. Gratitude is key to successful and long-lasting change.
Let’s take “how much time we spend one-on-one with our children” as the first enumerated behavior we resolve to change. Where can we find gratitude here? When do we have opportunities to spend time with our children? Is it in the car when we take them to school or activities? Is it in our home during meal times, bed times, or weekends? Is it on vacations? Late at night when they are doing homework? Being grateful for opportunities to be near our children is the first step toward spending more time – meaningful time – with them.
If you’re grateful for the minutes you spend in the car, make the most of them. Make a rule that disallows devices in the car. What a great opportunity for captive conversation when everyone is belted in and can’t leave! If it’s difficult at first to think of topics to talk about, make a list ahead of time of things you’d like to know or topics about your day that you can share. Ask for your child’s opinion about video games, books, teachers, friends, restaurants, foods and toys.
If you’re grateful for being in your home with your kids during meal times, plan to eat together, with the same rules from the car – no devices – and talk. Play the question game – ask anything you want about anyone at the table and go around taking turns. You’ll be surprised at what your kids ask and what you find out. Your kids will bask in your interest in them.
If you’re grateful for a quiet house while your child does their homework and you have work to do, or knitting, or files you can organize on your computer, sit next to him while he does his homework. Be there. Maybe he will ask you for help or maybe you will just spend time sitting next to each other.
The second behavior enumerated is “how we handled conflict” with our children. How do we find gratitude here? Parents have the awesome opportunity to teach their children life long lessons on how to manage emotions, how to compromise, how to diffuse a situation, how to make others feel better. Being grateful for this amazing opportunity to help shape another person and recognizing the long lasting effects, is key to monitoring our own frustrations and impatience, exhaustion and fears that tend to make conflict resolution with children – well, more about conflict and less about resolution. If we can remember and embrace our role in shaping our children’s future success in disagreements, struggles, and challenges, the big picture will allow us to be our best adult selves in the moment.
Some tried and true strategies; disengage, walk away, practice calming techniques – deep breaths, closed eyes, listen and then listen more. Don’t react physically. Depending on the age of the child, take them to a different environment – outside, a dim room, a bright room, a quiet room, a room with music. Separate siblings in conflict. Wait until everyone’s temperature is lower before addressing the underlying issue. Then talk about the conflict calmly, fairly, and consult the child for his ideas about a fair outcome.
Response to their Needs
Parents are responsible for several of their children’s needs including emotional, educational and physical. Combining the gratitude we found in “spending time” and “handling conflict” gives parents awareness and forethought for addressing these needs in a meaningful way. We need to be grateful for the opportunity to play the role of care-giver, for being there when they need us no matter how hard it may be. When a child needs support for a crumbling friendship, or disappointment over not making a team, not getting a grade, not feeling well, again, that underlying gratitude for being the one who can cushion the blow, who they turn to (or will once we show them we can), that is a humbling sense of purpose that if we are open to it – gives us fulfillment beyond any other accomplishment.
So what is our real resolution as parents? Finding and feeling gratitude for the profound role we play in our children’s lives. Realizing that these moments are fleeting and appreciating the time we have so we lay a foundation for them to always come to us, knowing we want them to.
Happy new year to you and may this be a year filled with opportunities for you to feel and show gratitude, and for this gratitude to allow you to make deeper connections, create lasting results, and find deep fulfillment.