A wise parent once wrote: "No mom is full of more false hope than when she puts up a new chore chart."
Parents love new beginnings, those hopeful moments when we vow to be better. Our children are going to start being more responsible and respectful, and as parents, we will be more present and patient. This year's going to be different!
But change is difficult, particularly lasting change. Without steady, uphill determination, our resolutions are often neglected after a short time.
Yet sometimes we strike gold. We make a small change — an adjustment in communication or a modification in discipline strategy — and that change really seems to work, sticking around for the long haul and improving family life.
We asked some of our friends to share what small changes they've made that produced a lasting difference in parenting. We hope you find inspiration from their insights and perhaps discover some ideas that could impact your own parenting. But remember: It's often better to focus on one change at a time. You're more likely to make lasting changes when you limit your focus until that change eventually sticks.
Resolution No. 1: Have dinner as a family
Small change: When our children were young, we began to see that our captivity to activity was keeping us from eating meals together. We ate anywhere but together, often with the television blaring. My husband and I decided that having meals together as a family was one change worth fighting for.
This change required intentional planning. We had to turn down activities that would keep us away from home at dinnertime. Menu planning was essential. My Crock-Pot became my best friend. And we made it an absolute rule that the TV was turned off before we sat down.
Lasting difference: Most of my kids are now out on their own, but it always surprises me how they still look forward to lunch or dinner at home. I'm also amazed at all the old stories they still talk about, stories that happened around the family dinner table. It's the place Grace held her nose with one hand and shoved broccoli into her mouth with the other under the watchful eyes of her father. It's the place where arguments have erupted — and forgiveness has been extended. The place where we laughed and cried and celebrated all of life's little accomplishments.
—Joanne Kraft, author of The Mean Mom's Guide to Raising Great Kids
Resolution No. 2: Offer grace in frustrating moments
Small change: One change in my parenting came the day I started hugging my children when I really wanted to yell at them. My kids are only small for a short time, and I had to recognize that the little mishaps and careless decisions they make will not matter much in 10 years. So I look them in the eyes and hold them and give them all the love and grace they need in the moment. When the incident fades a bit, we talk a little about how we can learn from it.
Lasting difference: It's true that children need to learn from their mistakes and understand how to make better choices, but I became a better mother when I recognized that this goal is much bigger than the moment at hand. What truly matters in those times of frustration is how I treat and nurture their hearts. It takes just a few minutes to clean up spilled milk, but much longer to mend a broken spirit.
—Susan Allman Trevathan
Resolution No. 3: Pray for your kids
Small change: Coming to terms with my own inabilities has been a powerful difference maker in my parenting. I've always dreamed of having boys, but I had to recognize that I really have no idea how to raise men who will be respecters of women and lovers of God. I know nothing about raising protectors, promise keepers and peacemakers. But I do know how to cry out to God on their behalf.
About four years ago, I began praying Scripture over my children. Since then, it has become a passion of mine. I love to take the Word and substitute my boys' names when I can, asking God to bless their lives and their decisions. God's Word is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
Lasting difference: Like many parents, I've been overwhelmed and exhausted, seconds away from defeat. Prayer is the missing piece of the puzzle. I've learned that parents who pray for their children recognize their own inability to change their children's hearts, putting their faith and hope in the God who can.
—Brooke McGlothlin, author of Praying for Boys
Resolution No. 4: Let them own their behavior
Small change: My husband and I have learned to help our kids take more ownership of their behavior. For example, we ask them to imagine the type of person they want to be in the future — what type of father, mother, sister, brother or friend. Later, we bring them back to that conversation and remind them of what they had told us.
Lasting difference: Our kids have started to understand their own goals and reasons behind good decisions. They no longer see us as just Mom and Dad telling them what they have to do, but as parents helping them stay accountable to the picture of who they want to become.
Resolution No. 5: Build on the good
Small change: As a speech therapist, I found ways for patients to practice difficult sounds without knowing what they were practicing — so they couldn't rely on old, bad habits. One of my main beliefs about parenting developed from this work: The best way to unlearn ingrained habits is to bypass the obvious conflict. We just can't keep telling ourselves to stop doing something that we've become accustomed to doing. Our minds resist change. But when we construct a platform of success from what we do well, new habits come more naturally.
For years, I was a screaming mom. After all the wasted effort of telling myself to control my yelling, I recognized I needed a strategy that circumvented my weakness. I'd trained my kids to know that their tantrums were ineffective. I told them, "You know how Mommy doesn't do what you ask when you're screaming? Sometimes Mommy needs help with that rule, too. From now on, listen to Mommy when she uses a calm voice, but if Mommy screams, say, 'Excuse me,' and walk away."
Lasting difference: What a change! The kids loved it. When I yelled, my son would say, "Sorry, Mommy is screaming. Excuse me." He would then turn on his heel and walk off. Screaming no longer worked! That little trick permanently changed the entire culture in our home.
—Hettie Brittz, author of the (un)Natural Mom
Resolution No. 6: Set physical boundaries
Small change: A few years into parenting, I decided I needed to start establishing clear boundaries. I'm not talking about consequences for my kids' misbehavior. Those are good and necessary, too, but what I really needed were actual physical boundaries.
When our kids were young, they could go pretty much anywhere they wanted in the home. Their toys were everywhere. They were everywhere. So I started creating rules for places that were simply off-limits to my kids. No exceptions. Mom needs barriers. She needs drawers and cabinets and a bedroom door that kids cannot open without permission. She needs to have games and puzzles stored and kept in specific areas.
Lasting difference: That decision has stuck around for the long haul, greatly improving my job as a parent. Motherhood is a far more sane and enjoyable experience when Mom gets a little space to herself.
Resolution No. 7: Find someone to keep you accountable
Small change: One thing my friend Cheri and I have in common is our constant battle over clutter. We've both made huge improvements, but it is an issue we work on constantly. So whenever we make a new step in our journey — forward or backward — we discuss it with each other. We dissect it, determining how to not let a poor decision happen again, or at least not as often.
Lasting difference: It's been hard work, but accountability has brought lasting change. I've never made as much progress as when I have a friend to inspire me.
Sometimes you need someone to give you a vision for what your life can be. It doesn't matter if she is a phone friend, internet buddy or face-to-face friend you meet with over coffee. Real change comes when we have someone to help keep us accountable.
—Kathi Lipp, author of Clutter Free: Quick and easy steps to simplifying your space
Resolution No. 8: Create healthy surroundings
Small change: Environment is more important than willpower. I recognized how true that idea was years ago when I was adjusting to a healthier lifestyle. I can promise myself that I won't eat sweets for a day, but when the doorbell rings and I receive a tin of caramel popcorn, what happens? I promise myself that the next day I won't eat sweets. A tempting environment can drain a person's self-control.
This principle has impacted my husband's and my parenting, as well, particularly as we train our kids to have a healthy relationship with media and technology. If we instruct a child to limit her screen time to an hour a day but then give her a television in her bedroom and a tablet loaded with her favorite games, she will struggle. So we don't allow TVs or digital devices in our kids' bedrooms. But there is always convenient access to board games, art supplies and quality books. Mealtimes and commutes are no-screen times.
Lasting difference: We've boosted our kids' ability to make healthy choices by focusing on the environment that we're raising them in. Family life has potential for so many opportunities to connect with our children, and we don't want a world of digital distractions to rob our family of these powerful moments.
—Arlene Pellicane, author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Mom