I recently overheard someone talking about her goals for herself and her children in 2014 and it reminded me how important it is to have clear intentions for our families.
At the beginning of a new year we are motivated to set goals related to what we are going to do more or less of to make ourselves a better or happier person.
The problem is that setting a goal can lead you down the path towards judgment of how things "should be," and with judgment comes stress, anxiety and even depression.
If we set goals, failure is unavoidable. We are NOT going to be perfect parents! But if instead we set intentions, we can focus more on the deliberateness of what we hope to achieve and how we want to be. Having intentions simply signifies a course of action that we propose to follow.
Why not sit down and lay out some clear intentions for yourself as a parent or family? This investment of time is invaluable and can make all the difference in the day-to-day choices we make as parents. When we set intentions for ourselves, it can make it easier to make choices we feel good about when confronted with our child's challenging behaviors, choices or emotions.
Most of the time as parents, we operate in survival mode and rarely create the space or dedicate the time or energy to think about how we influence the big picture of raising a family. Day-to-day chores and responsibilities of parenting can be so consuming and taxing that we demonstrate more reactive parenting than intentional parenting.
Setting intentions can actually be a fun, short and simple process, literally taking no more than 10 to 15 minutes. Ideally, you want to write your intentions or responses out individually and then share them with your partner in parenting, if you have one.
I encourage parents to do this together as an exercise in getting clear on what their long-term vision is for their family. Simply sit down with paper and pen and think about how you would like your family to be, feel and look five, ten or even 15 years from now.
During this process, really listen to your emotions. Your heart — not your mind — is your guide to what is right for yourself and family. If something feels right, you’ll know right away.
Finding a place to start this process might seem overwhelming, so I have three questions that can help guide you in formulating your intentions.
1) What are the qualities, characteristics, or life skills that you hope to instill or influence in your children?
We cannot make our kids be a certain way, we can only influence them. It sure would be great if we could just order up a few bottles of empathy, responsibility and self-confidence on Amazon and dispense them to our kids along with their vitamins, wouldn't it? It’s not that easy, unfortunately!
2) How do you want to be as a parent to your child?
What are the qualities or life skills that you want to bring to your parenting? How do you want your children to perceive you? Who do you want to be to your child?
3) What do you want your family to feel or be like?
How do you hope your child reflects back on what it was like growing up in your home or as a part of your family? If you can, imagine your child as a young adult in his or her first apartment getting to know a new roommate and sharing stories about what it was like back home. Imagine being a fly on the wall ... What would you hope to hear?
Once you have written your responses, you have your own personal guide to parenting.
These are your values and intentions. And your opportunity is to be that parent you want to be and model those qualities that you hope to impart to your child every day.
Sounds easy, doesn't it? It is not!
Unfortunately, our greatest opportunities to influence our children are when things are tough and our children are at their worst. Those toddler/teenage tantrums, the back talk, the dishonest answer, the ignoring-you moments — these are the occasions when we can exert the greatest influence.
I’m sure you have heard it said before that "Children need us the most when they are at their worst.” It's so true! These are the most challenging times to be patient, forgiving, tolerant, in control, respectful, etc.
But they are also the moments we get to embrace as gifts or opportunities. If our perception is that these are the moments we want to end or get away from, our opportunity is lost.
Most of the time when our children are at their worst, we try to reign back in the control or try to appease them to end our own discomfort because we are feeling out of control, embarrassed or scared. These are actually our moments to shine and be intentional!
This is where we can make the biggest difference in influencing who our child is, how we are perceived as a parent and create the family we want. If you choose to embrace those ugly, inconvenient and uncomfortable moments as moments of influence, teaching and modeling, you will be sure to raise the child into the adult you want them to be and have the family that you hoped for.
This column was originally posted on GROW Parenting.