It’s resolution season again and if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably got some ideas about what you’d like to do differently as a parent as we head into a brand new year.
If you’ve tried to make resolutions in the past, only to watch your willpower and resolve fizzle out a couple of weeks later, you’re probably wondering what it takes to get New Year’s resolutions to stick.
If you think about it, resolutions are all about changing habits—a process that requires both planning and perseverance.
It’s all about setting yourself up for success: figuring out what new routines you need to put in place so that eating dinner as a family or going for an after-dinner walk becomes part of your daily routine, as opposed to a conscious decision you have to make day after day. (For more on the science of habit formation, you may want to check out Charles Duhigg’s thought-provoking book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.)
The good news is that it gets easier—new habits start to become automatic—over time.
The bad news is that the number of repetitions can be a bit daunting. While scientists used to believe that it took just 21 days for a new habit to become second nature, they’ve since realized that it actually takes more like 66 days. That means that the new habits you’re trying to put in place for your family right now won’t start feeling comfortable or automatic until it’s practically spring.
Until these new habits become automatic, you’ll have to rely on a fair bit of willpower to stay on course. And the thing you need to know about willpower is that it’s a finite resource. It can be depleted if you’re dealing with a lot of stress, if you’re feeling rundown, or if you’re running up a hefty sleep deficit. Trying to make too many changes at the same time can be stressful in and of itself, so try not to overdo it with the number of resolutions you’re tackling at once. Maybe once you’ve managed to make that after-dinner walk a part of your family’s regular routine, you’ll feel ready to tackle another one of your resolutions-in-waiting list.
The gift of self-compassion
There’s one more thing you need to know before you start making parenting resolutions. It is much easier to make change if you make a point of treating yourself with at least the same degree of kindness that you would extend to a friend attempting the same changes.
If, for example, your friend went through a busy week at work or had to deal with a sick family member and found herself unable to stick with her resolution to take an after-dinner walk with her kids, you wouldn’t berate her for having to put the walk on the back-burner temporarily; you’d offer her support and encouragement and express your confidence that she’d get back on track with the family walks soon.
Try to extend the same kindness to yourself when—not if—life tosses you curveballs that make it necessary for you to put your resolutions on hold. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best that you can in a difficult situation. And commit to getting back on track as soon as possible.
Think progress, not perfection. What more can you ask of yourself, after all? (For more on learning how to treat yourself with kindness and compassion, see Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.)
Tip: Tapping into support from people who are working hard at making the same changes as you can be a tremendous source of motivation. Why not share your parenting resolutions with other members of the Momstown community so you can swap strategies and encourage one another?
Ann Douglas is the author of the bestselling Mother of All series of parenting books. Her new book, Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between, comes out this month.