Q. I am a single mother with two boys ages 10 and 14. It’s time for me to make my New Year’s resolutions. Every year I make resolutions and my boys see me break them. I’d like to be a better role model. What advice can you give me about New Year’s resolutions? Is there a way to do resolutions as a family?
A. My hat’s off to you for recognizing that you need to change your behavior in regard to New Year’s resolutions in order to be a better role model for your children. I love your idea of doing a family New Year’s resolution. So how would you go about doing that? Early on, you would need to find a resolution that the whole family wants to work on.
One powerful idea is around acts of kindness. Acting kinder is a topic on the minds of many parents, teachers, and other adults who work with kids. The Dec. 2019 issue of Parents Magazine is all about kindness. The editor shares that she was “shocked when Harvard researcher Richard Weissbourd, Ed. D told (her) that in his study of more than 40,000 high school students, about 80% thought their parents were more concerned about their achievements or happiness than about caring for others. My thought is that there is room for both.
The ease of keeping any resolution is in how much you believe in the need for your behavior to change, and in how difficult you make your goals. If increasing kindness becomes your family resolution, here are some steps to take:
- Call a family meeting. Get everyone’s input about the resolution process. You could brainstorm some ideas about increasing the number of acts of kindness by every family member. Acts of kindness could include doing something kind for someone within the family, as well as toward classmates, neighbors, church members, or anyone else in the community. In the aforementioned Parents Magazine, an article by Catherine Newman discusses verbs that go with kindness such as “sharing, volunteering, giving, comforting, supporting, championing, compromising, listening, and noticing when someone could use help – a classmate with a math problem, a family member with a chore, an older person who needs a seat on the bus.” Discuss these terms in your family meetings.
- Set a goal. How many acts of kindness in a day or in a week constitutes success? As a family you could decide that everyone needs to do one act of kindness a day, or seven acts of kindness in a week. You could do an easy first week, with bigger goals in following weeks. You could slowly increase the number of acts of kindness as the year progresses.
- Hold weekly family meetings. Talk about each family member’s contribution toward meeting the goals of the resolution. This is a chance to check in with each other about progress, ideas, and feelings about the process.
- Display your resolution. You might want to have a visual representation of what you’ve agreed on as a group. Try using a big jar and marbles. Whenever someone meets their daily or weekly goal, that person gets to put a marble in the jar. When the jar is full, then the family can celebrate together by planning a fun activity, outing, or special meal. Take a photo of the family at the beginning of the resolution journey holding up a sign that states the resolution. Then, take other photos at various intervals to show progress. Document your successes!
- Keep notes. Include minutes from each family meeting and such things as family members’ drawings about their acts of kindness and ideas for new ones. Set deadlines for reviewing progress with the New Year’s resolution. Maybe mid-year you will decide that acts of kindness are now habits that have become a new way of life for your family. You can decide if you want to come up with a different resolution for the rest of the year, while keeping acts of kindness going.
What are some alternative family resolutions? Here are some ideas:
- Unplug from technology one day a week or month, or limit technology use in some way.
- Have more family meals together.
- Prepare and eat healthier snacks and packed lunches.
- Teach or learn a new skill that helps everyone in the family. This might include learning to prepare a meal, doing laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, or taking care of pets.
Remember, you can get too many resolutions going, some of them with goals that are too difficult. Keep it simple, fun, and doable. Coming together for a common good is a great way for families to bond and grow. Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions!
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.