A New Year's Resolution For The Family

The New Year is here. It's the final year of the decade and the doorway to the new millennium. It's a wonderful time to make resolutions, especially resolutions that have to do with your most valuable gift -- your family. Here are some suggestions that will infuse your family with health and send it into the millennium with joy:

* Spend time together. We live in a very busy world. Sometimes it's easy to bypass the things that are important to us and that we should be spending the most time on - like our family. After all, when we're done getting ourselves and our children dressed each morning, sending them off to school, going to work, making dinner, monitoring homework, ensuring that everyone brushes their teeth - it does seem as though the hours of each day are overflowing with the mundane, trivial, yet necessary "maintenance" of family life. Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families urges the following experiment: obtain four rocks, a jar into which the rocks will fit, and some sand. Name your four biggest priorities and let each rock represent one of them (hopefully one will represent spending time with your family). The sand represents the "maintenance" items in your day (brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.) Pour the sand into the jar first because it represents the things you have to do just to get through a day. Then try to fit the rocks in. You'll see that you may get two or three into the jar, but not all of them. Pour the sand and rocks back out. Then try the experiment a different way. Because the four big rocks represent your biggest priorities put them into the jar first. Then pour the sand in. If you shake the jar a little, you'll find that the sand - all of it - settles nicely around the big rocks. The moral: there's time for everything. And if we make our family one of our "big rocks", then the other responsibilities we have will fall into place around that.

* Value each other. We live in a world that values money, prestige and status. It's easy to fall into the trap of adopting those values and striving to achieve the accoutrements that accompany them. Shifting your mindset so that family becomes more valuable - not only in your mind, but also in the way that you behave requires insight, courage, and faith. Insight helps us know that if we shift our focus away from society's values and towards family life we will achieve a depth of character that is not attained otherwise. Courage enables us to "swim upstream" and put family first even though family is increasingly unsupported in our society. And getting through the bleak times when we feel overwhelmed by society's demands requires that we have faith in the institution of the family.

* Take time to encourage. There is probably no healthier relationship building skill that you can acquire than the skill of encouragement. We encourage other family members when we remember the things that we like most about them - and communicate that message to them. This can take the form of written notes in which you state how much you love them, or in which you specifically mention the things that you appreciate about them. It requires finding the positive points in each family member each day. When you do this, you'll find that the members of your family feel closer to you and that you feel more connected to them as well.

* Create and maintain traditions. The more traditions that you have in your family, the more grounded your family will be. To determine what traditions are currently in place in your family, ask yourself if you enjoy any of the following: Do you have a family meal together at least once a week? Do you take some kind of family vacation each year - if only for a weekend? What activities do you do together on a regular basis as a family? Do you cook together, put laundry away together, pitch in and clean the apartment once a week together? What kind of ritual surrounds the celebrations in your family? Are family members able to say "every birthday we do _____" or "on Thanksgiving we always _______"? Traditions establish consistency, and give family members a sense that they can count on the family to provide stability - an increasingly important commodity in our busy, rapidly changing society.

* Make a plan. Stephen R. Covey utilizes another wonderful analogy to give families a sense of direction: imagine that you see some construction workers building something. You approach the Foreman and ask what they're building and could you take a look at the blueprint? He looks puzzled and says, "What do you mean? I don't have a blueprint. I've got the best people in the country working on this job. I bought the finest tools and materials available and spared no expense. I've trained these workers in the use of their tools. We don't need a blueprint. When we're finished building, then we'll know what it is." Think about how ridiculous that statement is! Yet families operate this way all the time. We assume that just because we're good parents and we have techniques and tools for raising our children that our family will turn out healthy. But just like construction workers who attempt to build a structure without knowing what it's going to be, if the family doesn't have a unified plan or "blueprint" for what it wants to become, then we run the risk of having it turn out wrong. Working with your family to create a blueprint may be the most important thing you do in the New Year.