As the New Year dawns, we humans have a longing to recommit, to make aspirational promises and pledges. “I will eat healthier.” “I will be in touch with old friends.” “I will exercise.” These are all so good! But we tend to plan and do these things from the perspective of ourselves as individuals. This season, let’s make our individual recommitments but this year, let’s also recommit as families and communities too. Let’s make resolutions that will inspire and activate all the best parts of how we come together in our core circles of humanity. Let’s plan how we will best take care of each other this year. How we can best count on each other. Instead of rushing to buy that one last gift, or to spend more money, we can create a model over the holiday season that inspires us going forward together into 2014. Spending time together. Laughing together. Loving each other. Taking time to really see each other. With this inspiration from this season, 2014 can become our strongest year ever.
Here are five New Year’s Resolutions we can make together that will change us in 2014, make us stronger as families and communities and therefore stronger within each of ourselves, too.
1. Take time to listen.
Practice putting yourself in the shoes of your family member. Take on his or her point of view. Sit down and ask to hear their stories, the stories of the year that just went by. My father had a long year of struggle with cancer. Recently, I asked him to reflect upon it. I was so surprised by his reply. He said: “This has been the luckiest year of my life.” He explained that he feels so grateful to have the chance to live, but also to have gotten to spend time with people who love him and whom he loves too. I had a greater appreciation of him because I asked him to reflect on his experience. His unique perspective has changed me too.
Sometimes it is very difficult to take on someone else’s perspective. But starting from a place of a question rather than an assumption is so helpful. And asking for people’s stories is the best way to open new doors to communication.
2. Take time to read and play together.
The holiday season is so wonderful because it’s so cozy. Let’s do more of that year round. Let’s commit to playing games together throughout the year. Let’s sit down and read a book together. (Online or off!) No matter the ages of your children, the act of reading together is so powerful. Read aloud from poems, look at the news together, talk about a funny blog. Your child will remember these actions more than anything else. You are also modeling how much time means to you and what a gift time itself is. If our holidays are just about us rushing around to buy that one last thing, then we are starting the year with this idea that it’s all about that. When in fact, time itself is a great gift. For all of us.
3. Take time to do social action together.
No matter what, we all have something to give someone else. Our children love being able to do things with you that feel like they are impacting the world. Go together to deliver books to a school in need. Visit the toy store and make a purchase to benefit the local homeless shelter. Write a letter to the children of the Philippines who have suffered so much loss in the typhoon (do this via my organization, litworld.org, and we can get the letters there!)
Social action is local, and it is global. It feels good. The more we can do it together as a family, the stronger our unit grows.
4. Take time to affirm each other.
Let your family members know what they mean to you. Not just the great words “I love you” but the more specific detail that makes that person so, so, so precious to you and to others. What are those details? Take time at Sunday dinner to share them. And to honor the struggle a person might have had that week, to honor the small steps that build into big ones. The things the outside world might see as vulnerability you can all see as strengths. “I love how quiet you are,” you might say to your six year old, “You are always thinking about big ideas, and creating worlds in your mind.” The six year old will feel bigger and stronger because you said that.
5. Take time to celebrate.
Not just the big things, but the small things too. Have family celebration nights, where you share “shooting stars” for things each member has done or accomplished that feel wonderful, from small to big. For the smallest members, it might be that they helped a big sister get ready for school or learned a new skill. For an older child it might be that they walked to school for the first time or learned to ride a big kid bike. For a teen, it might be that they tried hard in school or helped a grandparent, or got up early without parent help (!). The accomplishment could be paired with a matching goal for the new year. And these accomplishments and goals could be written on a family bulletin board or on the refrigerator on felt stars, or a dry erase board so that the goals could be revised and added to as the weeks unfold. The act of celebration makes value. And value is what we want to express.
The time we have together is so fleeting, so precious, so huge. Let’s make our commitments in that spirit and have the kind of 2014 that brings us together in new ways and old. Let’s use the power of that love and comfort to be the best individuals we can be.