There’s something invigorating about fresh starts. Wiping the slate clean feels rejuvenating; vital. A New Year means a new start, and that typically means goals, new ambitions, resolutions, or some kind of renewal program.
Sadly, most of us struggle to create new patterns for our lives. We have an established way of doing things, and change doesn’t come easy. It can be even tougher when other people are involved. While we become evangelistic in our zeal for a new way of living in our homes, the rest of the family stares quizzically before returning to the screen in their hands.
What can we do to get everyone on board, and actively pursue our family’s "Best Year Ever"? Here are five simple ideas:
1. Get Your Heart Right
People consistently tell me it’s their kids that are the problem. In most cases, I don’t buy it. They’re children—not problems. It’s the way we see our kids that’s the problem. For our family to really thrive, we need to do as Professor H. Wallace Goddard says, and get our hearts right.
This, you’ll note, has nothing to do with anyone but us. It’s not about being more organized or creating better routines. Instead, it includes minor details like the way we speak to one another, the way we greet and farewell each other, and the way we listen. (I’m yet to meet a child complain that their parents listen too much.)
Getting our heart right means we find within us compassion, kindness, and a desire to help. Great parenting is about bringing out the best in our children and family. If we really want to make it a great year, perhaps our ultimate goal or resolution should be this:
I’m going to sure that the best in me speaks to the best in my child, spouse/partner, and yes, even my mother-in-law.
This is not a collective goal for the family. This is a personal focus for each of us.
If we can do this, we won’t yell. We won’t call names and belittle. We won’t act in fear, anger, or pride. Instead, we will choose faith in our family. We will communicate with kindness. We will lead with love.
2. Get on the Same Page
I did say simple ideas, right? Getting on the same page as an obstructionist partner, a temperamental teen, or an oppositional toddler might not be easy, but it can be done. Here’s how.
Have a fun family meeting. Promise everyone it will be short and easy. Ask these questions:
- What’s going great in our family?
- What are we missing?
- What one or two things can we do to be better this week?
It’s probably not going to be the “perfect” family meeting where mission statements are created, and a grand vision for the future of your family will appear before your view. But it’s a start.
In our family, we talk about one more thing: “What’s a great theme for our family this year?”
Over the years, we’ve focused on “I can do hard things,” “We’re all in this together,” and other statements with a similar motivational focus. And with a regular emphasis each day, the kids actually get it and enjoy it. The key to success with this, however, is consistent follow-up.
The biggest impediment to being a happy family is being tired. Sleep is not a luxury item. Instead of slouching on the couch, have an early night. Get the sleep you need and watch your relationships improve. You’ll be more vital, more attuned, more patient, and more capable if you sleep well. Simple.
4. Build Your Children
Our children need to know that we are proud of them, love them, and want to help them. A powerful way to help them understand this is to have regular one-on-ones with them. It could be on the front porch, at a local café, or while you drive. Talk with them about their strengths, discover the mission inside them, and focus on how you might construct their world so that it supports their development. Questions you might ask them include:
- What’s going great in your life?
- Where are we missing?
- What can we do to help you grow?
5. Get Routines Right
Perhaps the most practical thing we can do once we know what the plan is (being on the same page) is to create structure around it. In my book, 21 Days to a Happier Family, I highlight the way that routines make life easier because we free up cognitive space. When we have a routine (and a checklist!), we don’t have to think. This means less anxiety and more efficiency.
Researchers have discovered that routines and checklists make everything from surgery to piloting a plane safer. There’s no reason to think that routines and checklists can’t help families navigate complexity more effectively as well. So, focus on a morning, afternoon, and evening routine.
Mornings could be built around waking up at the right time (or even a bit early), eating a good breakfast, preparing good food for the day, and leaving on time.
Afternoons might be focused on rejuvenation and recovery from a long day. A bit of downtime before extra-curricular activities, reading, or household chores (or homework for older kids) can go a long way to making the afternoon go well.
In the evenings, emphasize relationships and nurture, reduced screen-time, and plenty of sleep. We also want to get things ready for the morning. Prepping uniforms, shoes, lunchboxes and so on can make mornings magic, rather than mayhem.
Remember, your morning starts the night before!
In our home, we’ve created a routine for Sundays that include our family meeting (to keep everyone on the same page) where we:
- Organize and coordinate our weekly calendars
- Plan our “Super Saturday” (where we have a low-cost or no-cost activity together as a family)
- Book our monthly camping getaway (usually no more than 48 hours)
- Plan our meals for the week
- Print up our breakfast and lunch menus so that each night the kids can select their breakfast and lunch for the following day (which makes mornings easier)
- Ask those three questions: what is going well, what isn’t going well, and where will we focus this week?
Getting these things right (being on the same page and having a flexible structure) is incredible for improving family functioning.
Renewal and a fresh start don’t have to happen in January. Family life offers opportunities to “start over” as often as is required. Resetting our heart, renewing our commitment to be our best, and rejuvenating our love for one another is not a once-a-year opportunity.
Dr. Justin Coulson is a bestselling author, husband, and father of 6. His new book is 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know and is available now.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.