How did your 2017 parenting year go? Are you the same parent today as you were on January 1st of last year? Are you the parent you want to be yet?
I am certainly not the parent I was one year ago. And, yet, I am not quite the parent I want to be either.
Do I yell less? Yes, but still more than I’d like.
Do I use Active Listening all the time? Well…. I try….
Do my children know I love them? Absolutely.
(So, that’s one thing checked off the Become a Better Parent list.)
But why am I not a superstar parent yet? Why haven’t I accomplished all my parenting resolutions from last year? I started out with such energy and good intentions! What happened?
Like every single one of you out there, I mean well. I try. I do my best.
Yet I intend to do so much better.
So why do my accomplishments not keep up with my intentions? And what is it going to take for me to get there?
With one year having come to a close, and another one about to start, I think about these questions a lot.
I did good last year. But I want to do even better this year. And check a few more items off that Become a Better Parent list.
Here are a few things I have learned that we can do to give ourselves the best chance possible of keeping our parenting resolutions.
#1 Stay Focused
When I look at my resolution list from last year I count about 8 things on the list. 1) Be a better listener; 2) Don’t yell so much; 3) Get the boys to do more chores; 4) Conquer the homework demon; 5) Serve the boys snacks with more protein; 6) Give constructive and specific feedback; 7) Do more yoga; and 8) Lose 10 pounds.
How many things on that list did I actually improve on? 1. Or maybe 2. Frankly, I forgot about half of them until I went back to read my journal for this article.
How many do you have on your list? 3? 4? 104?
In our quest to be better, we forget that we don’t have to be 100% perfect in every facet of life right now.
If we spread ourselves too thin we get too fatigued to carry on when times get tough. Or, like in the case of my list, you forgot about most of them.
What is it that you really want to improve on? Do you want to be a better listener? Want to be more fun? Handle tantrums better? Get the kids to eat healthier? Instead of all of them, chose only 1, or maybe 2, so you can focus your resources.
Visualization is often the first thing we do when we pick a goal. Our brain jumps right to what success would look and feel like.
Visualization makes it all seem possible. Frank Niles, an executive coach, writes, “When we visualize an act, the brain generates an impulse that tells our neurons to ‘perform’ the movement.”
Say I want our family to eat healthier. What is healthy eating to me? What does that look like, sound like, feel like?
To me it means eating meals with a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, some grain, and a dairy. It means bright and colorful and delicious plates of food that didn’t come from a carton and out of the microwave. It smells like fresh tomato sauce and roasting chicken. The more detailed the better!
Write it down in your journal. Make a menu or a list of new foods you hope your children will soon love. You can even draw a picture if you want! Then re-read it as often as you need to. Coming back to this vision, when you start to lose your resolve, keeps you motivated!
#3 Have a Plan
Here’s where the rubber hits the road! Don’t get me wrong, though, intentions and vision do matter. You can’t begin the journey to change without the intention of changing and having a destination in sight.
However, you also need a map in front of you helping you stay on track. I could have the intention to drive to California, but without a map who knows where I’ll actually end up?
A plan is a thought-out, step-by-step guide to achieving your goal. It is all the cities along road that you pass that signal you are on your way to California.
To get my family eating healthier I would probably start with getting all the junk food out of the pantry. Then I’d look at the vegetables and fruits they already like to replace the junk.
Finding healthier recipes for dishes they love will also be a good idea. Then I’d look for something new to add; like a lettuce salad and apple slices on the side of a dinner of spaghetti with homemade turkey meatballs and tomato sauce.
A solid plan is so important! It guides us along the way, and gives us a step-by-step road map so I don’t end up in Connecticut instead of California. It ensures we can act on those intentions.
Without a plan for a go-to dinner, you can bet I’m going to be pulling up at the McDonald’s drive through. Having a plan for healthy go-to dinner makes packing some veggies, humus, grapes, cheese, and crackers a really easy option!
If you want to reach your goals, experts recommend writing them down and then continuing to write about them. Journaling requires honesty and taking responsibility to improve your self-awareness. It’s also a safe place you can vent and even express every “naughty” feeling you are having.
It also helps you to self-evaluate – to look at your progress, setbacks, and assumptions. I add assumptions because sometimes what you think is the reason for certain behaviors isn’t really the cause.
For example, my sons insist that if I buy one of them a toy (or anything, really) I must buy something for the other one. I would get angry and say, “No! I am not buying you anything. You don’t need this!” And they would dissolve into tears and tantrums. I thought they were acting greedy and competitive.
Boy was I wrong!
They saw every purchase as a sign of my love. Asking for a toy was asking for proof that I loved them equally. Once I understood this I was able to change my harsh response into one that conveyed how much I loved them, too.
In the organization development field we call this Double-Loop Learning. It’s realizing that the way we are defining the problem and solving could actually be the source of the problem.
I would never have figured it out if I hadn’t been journaling in a way that was honest and allowed me to become more self-aware of my own assumptions and biases.
#5 Find Your Triggers
Journaling and then reading it also helps you find patterns and trigger points. Trigger points are situations, people, or things that stimulate a response in you. It can be good or it can be bad. Bad triggers can set you back or even make you want to give up entirely!
One of my triggers I discovered in my quest to get my children eating healthier was the 5 o’clock crankiness. For some reason as soon as I started making dinner at 5pm they began bickering with each other. This really triggered anger in me and I would start shouting at them to stop fighting. Dinner would become an angry, shouty affair.
Becoming aware, or as psychologists call it mindful, of my triggers helped me to change my response to them and set up strategies to deal with them.
In her talk at the Positive Parenting Conference, Sheila McCraith, creator of www.TheOrangeRhino.com and author of the book Yell Less, Love More, tells how she would put orange sticky-notes around places where she was getting triggered by her children as a reminder to be mindful of her emotions.
Once I realized the boys’ were fighting because they were “hangry” and analyzed my reaction, I was able to plan differently. I made up a small veggie tray and put it on the table. It was a healthy snack I could feel good about them having right before dinner. They stopped fighting and I stopped getting triggered.
#6 Find Support
No one can do this parenting journey all by themselves. And there are lots of parents out there just like you! Parents that want to do better and need support.
My mom used to belong to a Young Mothers’ Club. They would meet monthly at someone’s house for coffee and treats and a nice long chat. Even after they became grandmothers they were still calling each other for emotional support. (You never stop being a mom.)
In Maryland, where I live there are many parenting clubs. They meet at the library or a coffee shop. Some even meet at a yoga studio, church, or a private home. Some of these clubs bring in speakers like psychologists, pediatricians, and education specialists. Others hold special family-friendly events to create wonderful opportunities for moms with very young children. But all of them remind you that you are not alone.
You can also find support from reading different parenting blogs (like www.AFineParent.com!) and magazines. You can create discussion around them and get other points of views by sharing your favorite or most interesting articles on Facebook and Twitter.
And speaking of the Web, there are loads of on-line communities full of parents just like you! And if you can’t find your community consider creating one yourself – either online or in person.
You can do this!
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
As you kick back with your first cup of coffee in the New Year take just a few minutes to think about what kind of parenting resolutions you want to make this year.
- Pick one, maybe two, resolutions. And make them specific. “Be a better parent” is just way too broad.
- Visualize achieving your goal – what does it look like, taste like, sound like, smell like?
- Start thinking about a plan that will help you achieve your goal. Get a few steps decided and plotted out. Then think about the parts of the plan that you can do right away.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Journal the journey. Write it all down – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It will help you make some real breakthroughs and it will give you a great place to vent when you find yourself triggered.
- Acknowledge your triggers. You don’t just figure this stuff out overnight, but when you get one of those amazing flashes of insight acknowledge it. Once you acknowledge them you can start to figure out coping mechanisms and prevention tactics.
- Find your people. Build a parenting support system by exploring the parenting groups and clubs in your area. Google some topics that are related to your goal and see if you can find an in-person or online support group and articles. And of course, keep reading articles at www.AFineParent.com 🙂