“Dr. Laura….I’ve already given up on my New Year’s Resolution to be a more peaceful mother because I’ve blown it over and over…and it’s only the first week of the year! — Sylvia How are you doing at keeping your New Year’s resolution? (a) Great! (b) Not so great. (c) I’ve given up on keeping my resolution. (d) I gave up making resolutions a long time ago because they always fail. If you answered anything other than (a), join the club. Change is hard. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have invented the idea of using the new year to give us some momentum.
But it’s only the second week of the year. We have a whole year ahead of us to practice. To practice being more patient, practice pausing before we rush in, practice empathizing when our child expresses inconvenient feelings. Because that’s what parenting is — a practice. Sort of like a meditation practice. We may get more skillful at it, but we never get perfect. Perfection isn’t possible, and it isn’t even the goal. The goal is love. (And aiming for perfection actually makes us less loving to ourselves and others, so drop that perfectionism like a hot potato, and let’s go for something worth aiming for!)
So if you haven’t been perfect at your New Year’s resolution, what does that tell you? That you’re a failure as a parent and a person? That your child is impossible, beyond salvaging? That you might as well just give up? NO! It tells you that this parenting stuff IS REALLY, REALLY HARD!!
So don’t give up. Just take it one step at a time. Three simple steps. 1. Commit yourself by saying your goal aloud as if you’re already accomplishing it. Write it down where you’ll see it every day. For instance: “I am becoming a more patient mother (or father).” 2. Each day, decide one step you’ll take toward your goal. For instance: “Today I will take a deep breath and calm myself when I start to feel stressed with my kids.” 3. Every day, forgive yourself that you didn’t do it perfectly. I guarantee that you will end some days ready to give up. But this is a practice, remember? There’s no deadline. Remind yourself that you’re on a journey, headed in the right direction. Then figure out the next step. Refine and Repeat.
For instance: “Better today, but still hard to get calm when I feel frustrated. Tomorrow add a mantra: ‘They’re acting like kids because they are kids…It’s not an emergency.’”
Or: “I think I’d be more patient if I were less stressed about getting them into bed. I’m going to start the whole bedtime routine half an hour earlier so I can really enjoy reading and snuggling with them.” You may find yourself working on the same step for a month. That’s good. It takes at least that long for a new habit to stick. Assume you’ll be taking lots of steps backward. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed. As James A. Michener said, “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” And, I would add, the ninth and tenth.