Every December since becoming a parent I have vowed to do better. I promised to spend more time playing on the floor with my kids. I swore I would volunteer at school more regularly. I pledged to be more patient with my teens and later to send care packages to college. Each year, I made my parenting new year’s resolutions.
Every year there were new promises and new failures (this year’s care package, sent through Amazon, wound up on my own front doorstep). Despite this I am prepared to look at the new year afresh and willingly ignore my abysmal track record. Moving on, here are my New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Stop nagging.
Okay, nag less. I am not foolish enough to think I can stop cold turkey. Teens barely hear our nagging, it is the unwelcome background noise to their lives. Years of experience has shown that needless repetition yields little or no results. Young adults don’t deserve to be nagged, the expiration date has run out on that one.
Most of the things I nag my kids about — sleeping until noon, leaving a trail of devastation through our home, applying for a summer job — I know to be temporary. My new policy, I will wait them out.
2. Find small ways to be in my kid’s lives yet not disturb their lives.
Sure I would love it if my kids called me every day and told me everything going on in their lives, but am willing to acknowledge that this would benefit neither them, nor me. Instead this is going to be the year of the quick phone call, the short text or the amusing/meaningful photo offered up over GroupMe. When they were small they would run over and reach out to me or tell me a thought before running back to their friends. It worked then and I think it will work now.
3. Shut up about their appearance.
“Can you get that haircut?” “Are you really not going to shave?” Anyone who lived through the 70s or 80s has no business asking these questions. Here is the one defining truth: Youth is beautiful. I am going to hold that thought and leave it at that.
4. Keep working to define the line that runs between supportive and intrusive.
This is is life long project from the time we help our kids stand up on two feet. As my kids move into college and beyond, I want to continue to be supportive while fully grasping the meaning of the word “adult” My new policy? Give them help when they ask for it, not when I assume they need it. When they lay in their cribs they knew to cry when they needed me. I am going to assume they still have this skill.
5. Talk less and listen more.
Psychologist Lisa Damour calls it “taking out the emotional trash.” Our kids call or text, dump their problems and heartbreak on us, and then go on their merry way. They need to talk, but they don’t really need our solutions, or even our thoughts. Parents are a place to leave what ails kids, be it emotional baggage, or real baggage left in our basements. There is a moment when you can resent being their dumping ground. Damour argues that listening to our kids can lighten their load in life, and I am more than happy to collect a bit of garbage to make that happen.
6. Remember that these days are short, too.
Year end seems a perfect moment to remember that just as the childhood years now seem to have flown by, one day these years will seem brief as well. It is easy to look back and chide ourselves for not making the most of every minute. We still have minutes, and these are every bit as precious.