A new year, a new set of resolutions. But the most important New Year resolution you can make, far more important than vowing this will be the year to lose weight or supercharge your work output, is about your family life.
No parent is perfect and we all have anxieties about not spending enough time with our children or, when we do spend time with them, that it’s in a half-hearted, vague, phone-at-the-end-of-our-hand, got-a-lot-of-other-things-to-do way. So why are resolutions so important if we’re all so fallible?
Linda Blair, clinical psychologist and author of The Happy Child: Everything You Need To Know To Raise Confident, Enthusiastic Children, says: “New Year resolutions are important because our memories are very episodic and we’re more likely to remember resolutions set at this time of year because we have a tradition of expecting to better our lives at New Year.”
But Linda warns you can be setting yourself up for immediate failure if your resolution is something vague like “spend more time with our kids”.
“Your resolution has to be specific, measurable and attainable,” she says. “For example, if you say you’ll do something every day, you just won’t. But most of us can manage doing something once a week, every week, like reading a book at bedtime to our children.”
Set smaller goals
As a society, we’ve never been more hectic and always-on; whether it’s the pressure to reply to that late night work email when you’ve just flopped on the sofa after putting the kids to bed or the parental guilt and competitiveness that stalk our playgrounds and leave ‘good enough’ parents scratching their heads in bewilderment.
So rather than loading yourself with more guilt and beating yourself up over failed expectations, make 2017 the year you set aside small windows of time for your children, when you give your undivided attention and you can all experience the joy of chats, laughter and squeezy hugs that make family life so wonderful.
“Things that children remember most are when the times when you gave your time genuinely and meant it,” says Linda Blair. “Your children are more likely to remember three minutes when you really listened and talked, with your heart, purely and altruistically because you love them.
“Humans are lonelier than ever before - we’re seemingly more connected, but remotely, talking through screens. We need the loving touch and scent of people who matter to us most. Despite all this technology, our brains are wired to enjoy real, sincere connections.”
Keep it simple
Ask any child for their most joyful memories and it will probably be something small and simple when their parent’s attention was entirely dedicated to them - dancing together to a favourite song, chatting in the car without being bossed, picking blackberries together, cutting shapes in biscuit dough. Asked for memories they treasured, these were the responses from some teenagers we quizzed:
“When Mum and me used to dance on the table to Madonna.” Jo
“When Dad read to us and put on silly voices for different characters.” Harry
“My mum teaching me how to make pancakes. Now I’m the pancake whizz of the family.” Louis
“Dad teaching me how to whistle.” Ella
“All of us singing along to the Pop Party CD in the car.” Carla
Interestingly, what sprang to mind first weren’t expensive presents or extravagant days out.
Your little one’s first years dance by in a flash. Capturing these magic early moments, by living in the present and putting your smartphone down, is an absolute must, says Liat Hughes Joshi, author of How to Unplug Your Child: 101 Ways to Help Your Kids Turn Off Their Gadgets and Enjoy Real Life.
“Peel yourself and your child away from screens and make some real life memories together,” the author says. “Screens are part of all our lives but when they start to become life itself, we’re missing out on so much.”
So make 2017 the year you make little pockets of time for your individual children. Ditch your mobile, delay putting on the next load of washing, and give your child the gift of happy memories that will last for years to come.