Parenting Guru: How to choose New Year's resolutions that benefit your child

Evaluating family needs heading into 2013

I usually skip the practice of making a New Year's resolution, but I always spend a great deal of time reflecting on the year behind and imagining the year ahead. It is so appealing to have a do-over; a fresh calendar with no mistakes or missed opportunities. It is time to make a plan and get it all right. Or at least imagine that as a possibility. Where do you start? For me, that is easy this year.

In August, our youngest child started kindergarten and our oldest started high school (with a second-grader and seventh-grader thrown in for good measure). Striking a balance between work and family is always tough and I am still new to this struggle . But, I can't lose site of the fact that in less than four years our oldest will strike out on his own. I am losing sleep wondering how well we have prepared him for adulthood. I can't answer that question today, but I know I have to keep asking myself, "What else do I need him to know?". That brings me to my goals for 2013.

The Plan

So much of parenting is about multitasking. Doctors appointments are made from the soccer field and homework is finished during dinner. Are his grades good? Did he practice his instrument? Is his room inhabitable? These are the daily conversations with the focus on what the child is doing. This year, I want to focus more on who the child is becoming. In order to accomplish that goal, I need to make some adjustments.
  • Ask fewer questions, start more conversations.

    I won't find out much about my child's hopes and dreams by asking yes and no questions. I need to engage him in discussions about everything from friendship to politics. By getting him thinking and talking about subjects larger than what he wants for dinner, he will start to explore his own ideas and opinions while giving me a glimpse into his thought process. Luckily, I have a teen who is still willing to open up if given time. So...

Listen more, talk less.

Typically, chats with the children involve a lot more inspection of my opinions than theirs. The time has come to flip the table. Examining their own thoughts about the world beyond our front door will give them (and me) a better idea of who they are and where they fit in the world.

Be patient.

Honestly, this is not my strength. I tend to swoop in and do things for my children rather than letting them struggle to find their own solutions. I tend to jump in with what I think is best for them. The better course would be allowing them to practice making decisions, solving problems and thinking for themselves while we can offer guidance.

In writing this, I have focused mainly on our oldest child, because, well, I've got Cats and the Cradle playing in a continuous loop in my head. But, I think this list of goals can and should trickle down to the younger children, when appropriate.

The take away is that I need to pay less attention to what the children didn't do yesterday or have to do tomorrow and be present for what they need today.

Do you have a new family plan for the New Year?

Jeri Nowlin Shaffer is a Shine Parenting Guru and freelance writer. In her spare time, she is also a wife, mother of four and middle school History teacher living in Pensacola, Florida.