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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for the Whole Family

New Year's Resolutions are becoming harder for me to make. With each passing year, I watch myself make and break the typical goals of cleaner eating, more hours at the gym, and less screen time. According to a 2013 study by Scranton University, only 8% of people keep their New Year's Resolutions. Given my track record, this comes as no surprise. My gut reaction when I hear the word "resolution" is to roll my eyes and question the point; by February the only action my running shoes will see will be collecting loose french fries on the passenger seat of my car.

But this morning, while watching television and decidedly not exercising, my 5-year-old overheard the morning show news anchor discussing resolutions and, being the curious child that he is, he asked me what that meant. In explaining it to him, I not only remembered the importance of setting goals to better one's self, but it also dawned on me that the one way I might meet my goals for the new year is if my kids hold me accountable (and they might learn a valuable lesson on personal growth in the process). We discussed the concept of New Year's Resolutions and I told him that every year I try to eat healthier foods and get more exercise, but some other people choose different goals depending on how they want to improve their lives. Since I've never been very good at keeping the aforementioned resolutions, I decided to ask my son what resolutions should I make for myself. Perhaps he knew a better way to a better me. Given that change doesn't come from doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I shouldn't have been so surprised by his answers:

1. Take me to the park more.
2. Don't clean the house so much.
3. Be silly.

And he's right. I haven't been very good at those things on the list. I found myself trying to give excuses for my behavior. The weather hasn't been very nice for the park lately. Our house is small and crowded, so it needs to stay clean. I'm tired when I get home from work. But what good are excuses in the face of 5-year-old honesty? These are the things that matter to him and, quite frankly, these are pretty easy changes to make. So my goals for 2016 will center on ways to be a better person in my children's eyes. Considering I'll have more influence on their lives than anyone else, I should take it seriously. And no one can hold me accountable better than my kids.

But the lesson doesn't end there. I told my son that he needs to think about choices and changes he can make to improve himself in 2016. The list he rattled off was far longer than the one he made for me. I find it interesting that we develop our sense of good versus bad, helpful versus harmful at such a young age. Granted, one of his resolutions was to improve his Lego Star Wars video game performance, but the rest of his goals were quite indicative of his moral development. They include but are not limited to eating more vegetables because they're healthy, practicing soccer with Dad, and earning a 100 on all his spelling tests for the rest of kindergarten (yes, there are spelling tests in kindergarten; I could hardly believe it myself). What was even more surprising was that his list didn't require a great deal of thought; he knew immediately what was important to him. Perhaps that's the key. Perhaps we need to make our goals simpler, more attainable, and relevant to our immediate needs and wants. Or perhaps he wanted to end the conversation as quickly as possible because his favorite show was about to come on TV. I'd like to believe it was the former.

This exercise was about more than setting important goals for myself; it helped me to realize what's important to my kids. It helped me remember the value of personal growth and that it's never too early to start thinking about ways to become better. But most importantly, it allowed us to create resolutions that will bring us closer together as a family. The years of raising small children is exhausting, but it's temporary. I have a feeling that when I blink and they're teenagers causing all sorts of rebellious trouble, I'll wish I spent more time cherishing these innocently messy years. And if I can instill in them the importance of self-reflection and self-growth, then maybe I won't have to drive them to court after an especially rowdy mailbox-smashing joy ride when they're 16. It's a win-win.

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