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The Informed Parent

Making Family Resolutions

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jan. 05, 2004

Most of us make, or at least think about making, New Year’s resolutions. Most of us also break those resolutions by the middle of January unless we strongly commit to keeping them and doing something to assure that we will.

This month I am going to suggest that as a family one resolution be made for the year. Something needs to be chosen about which everyone agrees and that you believe everyone will be able to keep. I will offer examples of family resolutions and ideas about how to keep them.

A family resolution needs to benefit each member regardless of age or gender. It needs to be built into the structure of the family, acted on consistently, and acknowledged in some way. A family resolution that is honored can make a family stronger. It can show each member that as a unit the whole is greater than any one of the members individually.

Ideas For Family Resolutions

1. Family Comes First

We will begin with a tough one. Although many parents give lip service to the fact that their family holds the highest priority in their lives, when it comes down to it, jobs or other obligations receive the most commitment.

If you make the resolution that family comes first, it means that certain times each week will be set aside for family. It means respecting the time as carefully as a scheduled business or doctor’s appointment. It means that parents, children, and adolescents all honor that time as family time.

This can include a game night, going out to dinner, or taking a short outing. For some it may mean eating dinner together one or two nights a week. Only when families spend time together do they have the opportunity to know and respect each other and their individuality.

2. Family Meetings

While parents serve as the leaders in a strong family, each member needs to have input into many of the decisions and in solving disagreements. A family meeting is the forum for these kinds of interactions.

Family meetings are scheduled on the calendar just like a business meeting at the office. Each member needs to be present, and the meeting has an agenda. Let’s say that the primary resolution is to eat dinner together on Tuesday evenings. Inevitably, one or more members are not present. The agenda for a family meeting would be discussing how to make this dinner night a priority for everyone.

This meeting needs a leader. That job alternates among the members. An adult or older sibling will assist young children. The leader states the problem. “We have not been keeping our resolution to have dinner together on Tuesday evenings. Our meeting is to discuss what we need to do to keep that resolution.”

Each person then provides input about why he or she has or has not kept the Tuesday dinner commitment. During this time all but the speaker listens. Next, each member states a possible solution to the problem. Again this is a time for others to listen. Finally a discussion takes place and a solution is reached.

Perhaps the solution is changing the evening or changing the dinner hour. If one member states that he absolutely does not want to make having dinner with the family a priority, everyone must decide whether the resolution does not work for them. Will they be willing to have dinner without him, or can that person drop in when he wants? These are touchy issues that families must work out the best that they can.

3. Giving Positive Acknowledgment

Sometimes families get into the habit of criticizing each other. They forget that appreciation is what brings people together and helps them to grow in positive directions.

A family resolution might be agreeing to find one good thing to say about each person in the family each day.

4. Reaching Out

Busy families often find it difficult to reach out to extended family members. Making a commitment to call grandparents at least one time a month or having the children make and send a card to aunts, uncles, or cousins once a month helps keep families intact.

5. Family Projects

A project might be working in the yard together once a month, volunteering as a family with a church or local social service agency, or delivering unwanted clothing and household goods to a local mission every two or three months. A family project can be chosen during the meeting and agreed upon by each member.

How To Make Resolutions Work

New ideas rarely work unless effort is put into planning for success. A resolution is an idea. Once a resolution is chosen, the next step is creating a plan. The family meeting is a good place to develop the plan.

1. The How, When, and Where

A plan requires a how, when, and where element. Let us use as an example the family resolution for giving positive acknowledgment. How to acknowledge each other might be agreeing that initially a formula would be used. Each member might start the acknowledgment by saying, “I like...” and then filling in a compliment. A sister might say to her brother, “I like the way you helped me take out the trash.”

Acknowledgment occurs depending on how acknowledging your family currently is. Ultimately, families will acknowledge each other spontaneously throughout the day. Initially, setting aside an acknowledgment time is a wise practice. That time could be during dinner or just before bed. Pick a time that works best for your family.

Where acknowledgment occurs is closely tied to time. It could be around the dinner table

or gathering in the living room just before the youngest child goes to bed. Choosing a consistent time and place increases the likelihood that the acknowledging will occur.

Giving acknowledgment in this way probably sounds very stilted to you. It is. However, when attempting new behaviors, practice is necessary. Unless a way of practicing is planned, the new behavior will not develop.

2. Using the Calendar

Many resolutions require planned time. Put them on the calendar. If your family resolution is to spend more time together, at the beginning of the month put that time on the calendar. Consider writing the specific activity down, too. Family members build up enthusiasm when they know what to expect.

3. Acknowledging Success

Success needs to be recognized. As well as verbal acknowledgment, make a chart so each member can see his or her progress. Label the chart with the resolution written across the top and the behaviors to be recognized down the left-hand side. Put a star or a sticker on the chart each time the new behavior occurs. For example, label the chart “Family Time Together”. Down the left-hand side of the chart list the dates and activities. After each activity, place a sticker when it has occurred. Seeing progress encourages family members to continue carrying out the resolution.

4. Commitment

The final part of making a resolution work is commitment. Follow through on your decision. Support each other in following through. When you backslide, do not give up. Start again. Commitment to family resolutions makes good family times better and difficult times more endurable.

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