"Dr. Laura....My new year's resolution is to be more patient. But when I told my family, they reminded me that I made the same resolution last year. I feel like a failure, even though I know I've become a better mother over the past year." -- Christina
If you make the same resolution every year, join the club. That doesn't mean you're a failure. It means you're headed in the right direction, and you aren't perfect yet. (Shocking, I know!)
The bad news is, you won't be perfect this year either. The good news is, you don't have to be! Kids don't need perfection from parents. What they need is a parent who accepts them with all their imperfections, models compassion and respect, and apologizes and reconnects when things go wrong -- as they inevitably do.
This is tough work, because it's about regulating our own emotions. That's why resolving to be more patient rarely works. By the time we're gritting our teeth to stay "patient" we're already sliding into the stress response of fight, flight or freeze.
But if you want to become a more patient parent – and a happier person – it’s completely possible. Here are 5 Resolutions to support you in that goal. Practicing these is the work of a lifetime, so you still won't be perfect in a year -- in fact, you might make these same resolutions next year! But I guarantee you'll be a more peaceful parent, with a happier, more cooperative child.
1. Resolve to work on regulating your own emotions, so you can be the happy, patient, encouraging parent you want to be. Start by integrating daily sustainable self-nurturing into your life: Go to bed earlier so you’re better rested, eat healthfully to maintain your energy, transform those inner negative comments into encouraging ones, and slow down your pace so you're not as stressed.
Most important of all, commit to managing your reactions. When your emotions are dysregulated, you're in fight or flight, and your child looks like the enemy. Resist acting while you're angry. Calm your own upset before you engage with your child.
Does this sound hard? It is. Maybe the hardest thing we ever do. But every step makes the next one easier. There's no time like the present to begin. And you'll be astonished at how your child changes in response, as you decrease your own drama.
2. Resolve to love the one you’re with. The one thing we know for certain about child development is that kids who feel loved and cherished thrive. That doesn’t mean kids who ARE loved – plenty of kids whose parents love them don’t thrive. The kids who thrive are the ones who FEEL loved and cherished for exactly who they are. Every child is unique, so it takes a different approach for that child to feel seen and loved. The hard work for us as parents is accepting who our child is, challenges and all – and cherishing him for being that person, even while guiding his behavior. The secret? See it from his perspective, empathize, and celebrate every step in the right direction.
3. Resolve to stay connected. Kids only cooperate and "follow" our leadership when they feel connected. But separation happens, so we have to repeatedly reconnect. Remember that quality time is about connection, not teaching, so it’s mostly unstructured. Hug your child first thing every morning and when you say goodbye. When you’re reunited later in the day, spend fifteen minutes solely focused on your child. (What do you do in that 15 minutes? Listen, commiserate, hug, roughhouse, laugh, play, empathize, listen some more. Not enough time? What could be more important?) Stop working and turn off your phone and computer before dinner so you can focus on your family. Eat dinner together without screens and do a lot of listening. Have a chat and a warm snuggle at bedtime every night with each child.
4. Resolve to role model respect. Want to raise kids who are considerate and respectful, right through the teen years? Take a deep breath, and speak to them respectfully. After all, kids learn from what we model. If we can't manage our own emotions, we can't expect our kids to learn to manage theirs. Not always easy when you’re angry, so remember your mantras: You’re the role model, Don’t take it personally, It's not an emergency, and This too shall pass!
5. Resolve to address the needs and feelings behind your child’s behavior. All "misbehavior" is a red flag that your child needs your help to handle big emotions or fill unmet needs. Once you address the feelings or needs, the behavior changes. Parents who lead by loving example, redirect pre-emptively rather than punish (“You can throw the ball outside”), and set limits empathically (“You’re mad and sad, but I won't let you hit. Let’s use your words to tell your brother how you feel”) raise self-disciplined kids who WANT to follow their guidance.
Sure, your child will make mistakes, and so will you. There are no perfect parents, no perfect children, and no perfect families. But there are families who live in the embrace of great love, where everyone thrives. The only way to create that kind of family is to make daily choices that take you in that direction. It's not magic, just the hard work of constant course correction to get back on track when life inevitably throws you off.
So don't worry if you're making the same resolutions every year. That just means you're keeping yourself on track by choosing, over and over, to take positive steps in the right direction. Before you know it, you'll find yourself in a whole new landscape. Parenting, after all, is a journey -- not a destination.