Most New Year’s resolutions are personal. Whether it’s trying to lose weight, exercise more, get a new job, or get better grades in school, our resolutions tend to be individual. And with good reason. It’s hard enough to make a change in ourselves or within our marriage—a family goal may seem too ambitious.
Yet having goals or resolutions as a family can help children understand the importance of interconnectedness. Family goals can help move parents from feeling like glorified chauffeurs, cooks, and cleaners to feeling a more accurate job description—the chief executive officers of the world’s most important institution. Daily life with kids can be filled with stress brought on by the minutiae of moment-to-moment small decisions that can eclipse the bigger picture of the meaning of family life.
Goals allow us to go deeper than whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher and what time practice starts tonight. They allow us to examine what we are trying to move toward. They give a nod to why we are family, why we live, eat, talk, laugh, and cry together. Try these family resolutions on for size.
Get to Mass each Sunday Weekly Mass as a family is an opportunity to recalibrate around a shared purpose. Whether everyone in your family is highly attentive and participatory in Mass or some members tune out for a bit, the net benefit of going is greater than skipping. Studies show that people who go to church regularly rebound more quickly from depression, children in churchgoing families are less likely to turn to alcohol or drugs, and if church attendance continues into adulthood the lifespan of those who attend is, on average, eight years longer than those who do not.
“I know that not every moment of Mass is going to resonate for my three kids,” says Elizabeth. “But I know that each one of them will take something away from it. Maybe a line from the gospel or a verse from a song or the time of silent prayer after communion.”
Elizabeth’s husband, John, says he sees Sunday Mass as a rare chance each week to “get some direction.” He explains that his job in sales is focused on meeting goals that focus on numbers and money. “Hearing about forgiveness, the importance of prayer, and the poor isn’t part of my 50-hour workweek,” he says. “Sunday Mass forces me to pause and focus on what I’m supposed to be about.”
Find family service work When families serve the needy together, they gain a crucial sense of perspective. The act of reaching out to others causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment—and this can be important for kids who might otherwise feel entitled or parents who compare themselves to their next door neighbors and come up short.
Jill, an eighth grade teacher at a Catholic school in a Milwaukee suburb, regularly takes her class on service field trips. “The energy and willingness of students to encounter and support people different from themselves opens their eyes to see Christ in others,” she says. “We have watched young people grow in appreciation, patience, and compassion.”
Amy, a school principal, sees the value of service both for her own family and for her students. “In this age of immediate satisfaction and abundant goods, children need to be taught that true happiness cannot be found in the amount of money you make, what house you have, or who your friends are. True happiness is found in giving of yourself, your time, and your God-given talents. True happiness is also found in a deep relationship with Jesus. Following the example of Jesus leads you directly to service to others.”
Take the family outdoors If winter looks too much like a period of hibernation for your family, consider a change of course. Like regular church attendance, time in nature has been statistically proven to stave off depression. “We set aside time for family hikes two or three times a month,” says Dave, father of four. “We try to pair it with some good food afterwards. At first the kids grumble, but they get into it. We leave our phones in the car and go for about three miles.”
Dave says that during their hour-long hike, he notices family members switching off who they walk next to. “The youngest might walk with the oldest for a while, the middle kid might walk with my wife, and then the pattern will change,” he says. “It gives us a chance to enjoy nature, but also spend time with each other without distraction.” Researchers find that children with ADD or ADHD are more successful focusing after time outside.
Because so much of children’s exercise is connected to organized sports, parents may have to be more intentional about getting everyone out. “We bought the whole family sleds and ice skates for Christmas,” says Trish, mother of two. “We are making a point of getting out once a weekend during the winter. It puts everyone in a good mood to be outside.”
Cook and eat together often Many families struggle to coordinate schedules and eat together regularly. Yet shared homemade meals are not only healthier than take out, they have an emotional benefit as well.
“When I asked my college sons to look back over their childhood and tell me something that stood out as meaningful, they both mentioned family meals,” says LaKeisha. “I was shocked. My husband and I had taken them on a number of substantial vacations, and they didn’t mention those. They talked about the meals. I like to think of myself as a good cook, but I know it’s more about the feeling of warmth that happens when we’re all together in the kitchen.”
Often crossing the threshold from take-out to homemade meals is a matter of having some easy recipes and a week’s worth of ingredients in the fridge. “I save time shopping with online groceries,” says Beth. “It’s a little more than the local supermarket, but still less expensive and healthier than another pizza.” Jeff, father of three, agrees that time together with food is a highlight of family life. “My wife does most of the cooking, but Sunday night it’s Dad and the kids. The kids and I are pretty much at the same level in terms of learning to cook, so we watch YouTube together as we do it to get the technique. My wife is always impressed, especially if we do a good job cleaning up,” he says.
Family resolutions don’t need to be complicated in order to be effective. Some of the most important resolutions might be practices that some families do without effort or thought—strong resolutions transformed into strong habits.
This article also appears in the January 2018 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 83, No. 1, pages 43-44).