In more than fifteen years of writing this column I’ve never suggested resolutions for the coming year, but I suppose I’ll give it a try. If you don’t have any ideas about what you would like to accomplish for your family in the coming year, here are some ideas for you.
1. Shut the television off. Television isn’t evil, but like any tool, it can be misused. The average family has the television turned on eight hours each day. That doesn’t leave much time for talking to each other. Resolve to pick just one day each month to be a TV-free day. Do something together as a family that day.
2. Put the telephone away. I hope I am wrong, but I am almost certain that fifty years from now, anthropologists will look back and say that the cellular phone did more to change our culture than any other invention in history. Much of that change won’t be looked upon in a positive light. Resolve that one evening each week your family will turn off their phones. No texting, no Twitter, no email, no calls. See what happens. You might even enjoy having a meaningful conversation with the people in your presence rather than meaningless chit chat with someone far away.
3. As a family, sometime this year, read the following books and discuss them: “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “The Kite Runner,” and “What’s So Amazing About Grace.” “Mockingbird” and “Kite Runner” will give you a perspective on our past, our present, hate, bigotry, equality, and important lessons of life – lessons that we all need to learn. Philip Yancey’s book on grace is a Christian work, but even if you are not a Christian, he presents a healing perspective on forgiveness that a post-9/11 culture needs to hear. Even if you have read these books already, do it again. The lessons we can learn from these books bear rehearsal.
4. Let your children pick an activity. As parents, we spend much of our time planning activities for our children. Pick one day a month and let your children decide what they want to do. While some of their ideas might be extravagant (i.e. “Let’s go to Disney!”), many of them will be simple – a day at the park, a bike ride, or maybe a game of kickball. I know this sounds provincial, but children don’t know that they aren’t supposed to enjoy simple things until we teach them otherwise.
5. Give your children responsibilities. Children of almost any age beyond age two are capable of contributing to the daily work of running a home. Some daily or weekly chores are important not only to get the work done, but because it teaches responsibility and the importance of a family working together. For example, one of my children had a habit of putting clothes that “might” be dirty in the laundry for me to wash until this child spent a couple of weeks doing laundry. My child quickly realized that washing, drying, folding, and sorting laundry was a lot of work and we saw some behavior change.
6. Work on your marriage. A lady who was trying to justify leaving her family once told me, “I’ll be a better mom if I’m happy, right?” While there is some truth to that, she would have been a much better mom if she could have learned to be happy in her situation. Her husband wasn’t cruel and most of their differences were relatively minor – typical problems most marriages face. She just didn’t want to work through them. Children from solid, two-parent homes are much less likely to drop out of high school, engage in drugs or alcohol, or end up in prison. An astounding 85 percent of all prisoners come from homes with no father. That should tell us something. Resolve to build a stronger, happier marriage, even if it takes a lot of work.
New Year’s resolutions often involve getting into shape (a good idea), losing weight (not always a bad idea, either), or changing spending habits (we could all use a regular review of our spending habits). But these resolutions are easily broken because they largely have no effect on anyone but us. My proposed resolutions affect the whole family and who knows, you might find you are happier if these ideas become family habits.