Tonight you will likely slurp back oysters and pop a cork on the champagne bottle to ring in 2016. Or perhaps more realistically, collapse on the couch after toddler tuck-ins and wake up to the sound of a midnight text message from your sister wishing you a Happy New Year.
Either way, you no doubt have aspirations for a wonderful year ahead. (Perhaps one that includes not sleeping on the couch so much.) Given that many people identify family among their highest values, I'm sure you're keen to make some resolutions that have to do with your home life and the kids.
I don’t presume to know every family’s unique struggles and situation, but I can say as a family therapist and parenting expert that some universal areas make a powerful difference in our kids’ lives.
Here are three things we could all stand to pull up our proverbial socks:
1. Peace and Presence
2. Positives and Optimism
3. Heard and Appreciated
Okay maybe that was a tricky way of making it six, but bear with me and you’ll see what I am getting at as I describe each set.
Peace and Presence
Family life has become chaotic. We operate our families at a frenzied pace that only allows for a low-level quality of engagement with one another.
We live in a time of high-demand for our time and attention. We are highly distractible. Easy access to screens and alert-enabled devices beckon us away from our children with their dopamine inducing pings.
Yes, the family is together, but no one is really “home.” When not on a screen, we are racing to get someplace else: hockey practice, school, tutoring, karate, work.
This year, make it your resolution to focus on how to de-stress the family and find more peace and presence in your daily lives together.
We all need to stop the frenetic energy of getting to some future state and simply be mindfully engaged in this very moment with the people around us.
They say it takes about 30 days to entrench a new habit -- so think of ONE change you could make for 30 consecutive days in January. Maybe it’s waking a half hour earlier to take the time pressure off the mornings. Maybe it’s agreeing to only check your email AFTER kids are in bed.
You decide what might fit your situation. But find something to address the need to improve the peace and presence that children need for their own developmental health.
Positives and Optimism
Well, the research is in, folks. We know that happiness, mental health and positive change come from focusing our attention on strengths and the positives instead of our tendency to look at mistakes and shortcomings.
We can train ourselves to look for the good if we exercise that muscle and discipline our thinking towards more optimistic thoughts.
We can learn to be more positive and optimistic with our children as well as ourselves. After all, there is no bigger critic of our parenting than our inner gremlins filling our heads with doubts, guilt and worries about our own abilities.
As we face the year head, focus on training your brain to push out the negative thoughts when they appear and say “AH HA! No you don’t! I don’t have to think that bad thought, I would rather think more positively and I am free to choose my own thoughts so bugger off!”
Instead think: “Sure, that wasn’t the best job I have ever done getting the PTA newsletter out, but given I had five other big commitments fall at the same time, I did a pretty darn good job.”
And the same goes for your children.
When they're fussing over their choice of clothes, you could choose to think they are annoying you, or you could say: “I see that you are very discriminating in your choice of attire and that you really care about what you wear.”
If they have a melt down because they were drawing a picture and it suddenly wasn’t turning out the way they wished, instead of thinking they are over-reacting, you could say: “You had a vision of how that that final picture should look. You worked so hard and that passion you have for your art has left you disappointed. What passion and caring. What big emotions that heart of yours has."
Can you find the good and strength in every day situations? Make it a fun challenge, like playing a game. I promise there is a silver lining to every cloud if you learn to hunt for the good and in people’s strengths.
Heard and Appreciated
The backbone of every relationship is to feel connected by sensing that those near and dear to us understand us and want us, that we are valuable to them as our true selves. Sadly, we take others for granted and we drift.
We misunderstand others' point of view and we feel put upon instead of supported. Whether with our partners or our children, we could all do with some brushing up on listening skills and verbalizing to our loved ones how much we appreciate them.
Any little thing counts: their smile, their laugh, their willingness to push in their chair after dinner. It’s not easy being a kid, and it’s not easy being a parent. It’s not easy being a mom and it's not easy being a dad.
If we listen to one another we can understand and acknowledge the other's experience of family life. When we honour each other's points of view and make others aware we value their contributions, every one will feel more loved, more valued and more connected in the web that is our wonderful family.
Can you dedicate yourself to being better at listening and sharing your appreciations openly with those in your family this year?
If you can focus on these three (errrr six) things, I know you’ll have a happy, healthy 2016 with your loved ones.
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