It’s that time of year again, when people scribble out resolution lists, pledging that this will finally be the year they lose 20 pounds, run a marathon or learn to cook. But what about ceasing all the yelling and screaming, spending more time with your kids and becoming a better mom or dad?
Of course, people don’t typically stick to their resolutions long-term (see the dusty treadmill-turned-clothes holder in the corner as Exhibit A). So, instead, we’ve compiled a sure-fire, four-step action plan to help you reach your full parenting potential in 2015. Your children will thank us (eventually).
1. Write the vision and make it plain.
Rolling into the new year without a clear idea of exactly what improvements you want to see in your family is like heading to a buffet in skinny jeans—it likely won’t end well. “Parents who are focused on the life they want to create rather than what they don’t want are far more likely to have a year filled with more,” says Natalie Blais, founder of A Passionate Parent, a service dedicated to helping moms and dads enjoy their children again and have a home filled with joy. “As basic as it sounds, the reality is when you don’t plan, you have no idea what it is you want. Parents are in full control of how they will approach each year, and by setting a clear, conscious intention, we have a road map.”
Julie Young, a Boston-based behavior analyst, suggests parents start off the new year by creating a family mission statement. “I think families are so busy they often lose track of their own family goals,” she says. “By making an effort to jot them down and post them in the home, families can cut down on the disagreements and sweating the small stuff because everyone will be in agreement about how to move forward together.”
2. Get a massage (or pedicure, or haircut).
As soon as that tiny heartbeat first appeared on the sonogram screen, most parents resigned themselves to a life of caring for their children’s needs before their own. Because that’s what good, responsible parents do, right?
Wrong, says Robin Kevles-Necowitz, a licensed psychotherapist and parenting coach in Fairless Hills, Penn. The author of Go Take a Bath cautions parents to make their own needs a priority. “Your children need to see you as a full, balanced, healthy adult,” she explains. “To become one themselves, they need a role model. You’re it.”
Blais agrees: “Why do we, as parents, feel the need to say yes to everything — to our children, to our jobs, to the parent council, to the sports teams, to everyone in demand of our yeses? Make a decision in 2014 to make room for what you truly love and learn how to say no to the things that suck the joy out of your life and the life of your family.”
3. Put ’em to work.
Helicopter parents have been getting a bad wrap for a while now, and for good reason. Smothering children and preventing them from learning from life’s bumps and bruises on their own not only impedes their growth and maturation, but it makes for very tired and grumpy moms and dads.
“Disappoint your children by saying no more often,” advises Susan Eppley, a certified parent coach with Parent Coach Atlanta. “Parents who say no to their children allow them to manage feelings of disappointment within the loving confines of the family home. To that end, Eppley tells parents to stop doing everything for their kids, beginning with chores. “Parents who assign chores to their children do less household tasks,” she adds. “Also, children with household responsibilities learn time management and household management.”
So how can parents determine which responsibilities their children are ready to assume? “Let your kids take the lead,” says Kevles-Necowitz. “If they can use the phone responsibly, then let them call the library to see if they have a book they’re looking for. If they can walk, why not let them push the vacuum cleaner around? If it’s too much, too soon, that will quickly become abundantly clear, but most parents err on the opposite extreme. They do far too much for far too long.”
4. Leave the kids at home.
Just when you were considering tossing out the babysitter’s phone number in favor of spending more quality time at home with your kids, here’s a reason to make date night a priority: “Parents who put their marriage first are demonstrating healthy, adult relationships,” says Eppley. “When the marriage is strong, children feel secure, and secure children tend to be happier children.”
Though it seems counter-intuitive, putting the marriage first is actually putting the children first, Eppley adds, because fighting parents aren’t typically able to focus on the family as a whole and make the best decisions. (Duh!)
Certainly, much of the advice here goes against mainstream thinking and focuses on restoring happy, healthy parents. And there’s a reason for that. “Self-care means putting your needs above your children’s,” says Kevles-Necowitz. “When children are at the top it puts an unfair burden on them to make you happy. Happy parents means happy kids. It is probably the most important, yet neglected, piece of parenting.”