As 2019 comes to an end, inevitably we’re thinking about our resolutions for the year ahead. Plenty of us will vow to stick to an exercise regimen, reduce our sugar intake, clean out the garage, or save more money. All worthwhile goals, indeed, but how many of us are thinking about how to improve our parenting in the year ahead? Have you thought about what it might take for you to become a happier, more relaxed parent, and the impact that would have on everyone in your family? Consider these resolutions – or start with just one! — to reduce the stress of parenting and to add sanity, joy and fulfillment to your life.
1. Say “YES!” like you mean it. Your tween asks if you can host movie night and a sleepover, and you go through countless reasons why it’s not a good idea. Your daughter begs you to drive her and a friend to the mall, and you try explaining why you can’t stop the 20 things you’re doing to be their chauffeur. And then … just as you always do, you ultimately acquiescence. Sound familiar? Next time there’s a reasonable request, what if you go straight to an enthusiastic “YES?” It would add joy for everyone. Instead of acting like you’re doing your kids a huge favor when you give them the go-ahead to do whatever it is, try responding with a whole-hearted, eager “YES!” from the get-go. Everyone will feel great about it.
2. Unplug. Show your kids that they are your priority by turning off your phone and putting it out of sight when you’re with them. (There’s research that even just the sight of your phone is a distraction!) Start by unplugging for 15 minutes every day while you engage with your children. Not only will they know you are 100% present for them, but you’ll also be setting a good example by not being glued to your device.
3. Quit hanging out with people you don’t like. You are not obligated to spend time with people who don’t make you feel good about yourself or who are judging you or your parenting – even if it’s the parents of your child’s best friend. Protect your time, and model for your kids that there’s no place in your life for people who bring you down.
4. Resist the urge to complain. Of course, it’s annoying and exhausting when it’s hour four on the sidelines of your child’s travel soccer game in frigid weather. We’ve all been there and complained endlessly. But try reframing the experience next time from “I can’t believe this is what I have to do as a parent” to “I’m so lucky I get to be here with and for my child.” When we focus on the inconvenience, expense, or the myriad other aspects that make us complain, we lose out on the joy and privilege of the parenting process. Think of raising these precious human beings as a gift to relish … even if you can’t feel your toes in the cold and two hours of traffic awaits.
5. Create your own family traditions. Whether it’s breakfast in bed on Sundays, waking up to a treasure hunt on birthdays, popsicles in the park on the first day of spring, or a monthly board game tournament, every family can create traditions that help weave the fabric of meaningful, fun family memories. Let the kids take the lead so they have an opportunity to be creative and engaged. All of you will be filled with joy, pride and warmth when the kids start sentences with “In my family, we always …” for years to come.
6. Spend alone time with each child. It can be challenging enough to all sit down together for family dinner, let alone spend one-on-one time with each child (if you have more than one). But every child needs quality time with a parent – solo – in order to connect intimately, have ample space to open up, and feel uniquely loved. Even if it’s just a 10-minute walk home from school or an extended cuddle at night, carve out time to maintain that strong emotional connection.
7. Connect with extended family. Strong relationships with extended family help create a sense of belonging for your kids, and positively impact their development when they know they feel a bond with loved ones beyond parents and siblings. So, if your parents, in-laws, siblings or cousins live out of town, consider scheduling a weekly call with them (Facetime or Skype are even better) or make an effort to get together periodically. Or both!
8. Speak softly. This isn’t just about yelling less, though certainly that’s a worthwhile resolution. (Are your kids even listening when you yell? Likely not.) When you really want them to listen, try talking in a voice that’s quieter than your usual speaking voice. The quieter the voice the bigger the impact, especially when coupled with eye contact on their level and as few words as possible.
9. Laugh and play. Next time your little one wants to play Chutes and Ladders and your older child wants everyone to have a role in a family play, get on board because research shows that laughing increases your bond with your kids and decreases stress hormones. And do it because it’s fun! At least it can be if you embrace the silliness and appreciate these fleeting moments.
10. Have family dinners. Coming together as a family for meals strengthens your relationships, helps kids handle stress, creates a sense of belonging, improves self-esteem and is tied to better nutrition. Kids who eat meals with their family also have fewer psychological problems and a lower chance of engaging in high-risk behavior such as substance abuse. If dinner isn’t feasible, make it a priority to all sit down for breakfast together, even if it’s only for 10 minutes before the chaos of the day begins.
Susan G. Groner is the founder of The Parenting Mentor, a certified Positive Discipline Educator, and the author of “Parenting: 101 Ways to Rock Your World.” She is a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the mom of two adult children.