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Is It Even Possible for Parents to Keep Resolutions?

Photograph by Twenty20

I made a point to not make resolutions this year. They don't work. They make you feel bad. They set you up for failure. They inspire guilt. They make things worse. They focus on the outcome and not the journey. They are about "arrival" rather than "how you get there," and I believe real growth and integrity happen in the "how" moments.

Still, I secretly succumbed. Quietly. So quietly, I could barely hear them myself. Some time, maybe around January 2, a resolution-like voice wormed its way into my consciousness: "I'm not going to lose it on my kids from now on," "I'm going to practice non-reactivity from now on," "I'm going to put my cell phone down whenever I'm with my kids from now on."

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While everyone was succumbing to the New Year's flu, I came down with a vicious case of New Year's "from now on" fever. Tylenol did not help. Before I knew it, I was waking up to a brow-beating bitch who started every sentence with "Starting today..." The blank was filled in with a laundry list of sweeping gestures, all hinging on parenting perfection. Puke. And puke some more.

The parenting mistakes you make over and over again are not going away over night.

I mean, I wish both kids are in bed by 7:30 p.m. without a peep after reading quietly to themselves for 25 minutes (and at a level one grade ahead). I wish weekday breakfasts are now a bunch of recipes I pinned last month, like a hearty mix of brain pumping fuel in a mason jar, homemade gluten-free oats and chia seeds soaked overnight just for this moment. I wish I'm available to volunteer for carpool all week.

But just as soon as I'd make a solitary "from now on, I'm going to be totally present and stay off Instagram," statement, I'd get an email from a client asking me to post on their Facebook page. "Sorry, mommy's working. This isn't my Facebook, it's for a client."

"Yah, yah, whatever. You're married to your phone."

I promised myself not to lose it on my kids, again, ever. But before I knew it "Mrs. Hannigan"—as my kids call my unfriendly alter-ego—was out, loud and proud, with the dumbest threats ever. "I'm counting to five! If I have to ask you one more time to pick the towel off your floor…" The aftermath was an emotional bloodbath, mostly for me. Guilt, shame, failure—the big three.

That's when I stopped myself. I woke up and shook the virus. The more I made grand gestures to wipe clean the slate of all my parenting guffaws in one fell swoop, the shittier I felt when I (inevitably) failed.

And that's the point. You will fail.

The parenting mistakes you make over and over again are not going away over night. They are not magically disappearing because we wake up one day and say, "I'm not going to be triggered when my kids scream their heads off in the car." Why? Because a child screaming their head off in the car is triggering. I think this is the larger point.

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Kids need to be kids. And we need to be OK with being human and imperfect in our reactions. Should we strive for more patience? Obviously. Could we find an iota of more equanimity, even if it means a two-second pause before losing it? Of course.

The best parenting resolution this year just might be to surrender to the mess, the noise, the discomfort and the challenge. Because if you ask most parents, that's what real parenting looks like.

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