How parents can reimagine resolutions in 2021

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With 2020 in the rearview mirror, many of us are looking to the coming year with fresh eyes and a glimmer of hope for a better year — sometimes those hopes become motivational mantras known as resolutions. Those pesky goals that everyone loves to hate but that still seem to creep back into our consciousness every January may seem especially appealing in 2021 — after a year like 2020, it can be tempting to harness any bit of optimism and hope we can find. Parents may feel particularly inclined toward making 2021 bucket lists. After all, they’re not only managing their own lives but those of their little ones. With the persistent trial and error that comes with parenting, resolutions can seem to add some grounding to an otherwise chaotic world. 

However, if parents learned anything last year (and, if you’re like me, you learned a lot), it’s the importance of setting expectations. I went into the pandemic thinking I was Wonder Woman and could conquer at-home parenting, full-time working from home and freelance jobs at the same level I did previously, and I quickly had to readjust my expectations for myself, Jackson and the changing world around us. Likewise, hard and fast resolutions focused on high expectations will just be a letdown; in a year that will doubtlessly hold just as many challenges as the last, disappointment is one more obstacle we don’t need. 

So, in 2021, I’m instead resolving to lower my expectations. Sure, there are things I want to accomplish and behaviors I’d like to alter, but I’m trying to reimagine them in a way that embeds agility, flexibility and a bit of grace for myself. Here are a few of the parenting resolutions I’m rethinking: 

Fitness is great. Wellness is better: Diet and exercise are usually at the top of most people’s New Year’s resolution list, myself included. In years past, I would have started the year telling myself I needed to go to the gym X number of days per week, could only have one “cheat” day of high-calorie food and would avoid alcohol and other diet busters. But, let’s be serious: How many of us really can sustain that throughout the year with the many distractions and responsibilities we all have? As a parent, those have grown tenfold. Between my and Ashlee’s work schedules, her nursing school, Jackson’s nap and bedtimes, mealtimes and more, finding time to go for a run on a regular basis or meal plan healthy foods for the week is improbable.

So, this year, I’m trying to reshape how I think about fitness. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long, sweat-inducing visit to the gym or six straight days of salads. That pressure may make my body look great, but my mind would suffer. Smaller, healthy decisions built into the chaos of a parent’s routine can instead provide the balance that is at the core of wellness. Walks with Jackson and even kid-friendly exercise videos every now and then are great ways to keep the little one occupied while also getting some exercise and time together. And, when time allows, I’m looking forward to a jog through the neighborhood or a virtual yoga class. But otherwise, I’m heading into the year embracing my Quarantine 15 and spending the energy I previously would have on staying fit to instead stay well. 

Patience is truly a virtue: Today, Jackson screamed the word “sidewalk” on repeat for a solid 25 minutes on our walk through the neighborhood, barely taking a breath other than to gear up for his next bout of hysterics. This is all because he wanted to walk on a sidewalk (which we don’t have) instead of in the street. Yesterday, I conducted my morning call with my boss on a walk with him while he screamed “Turn right, turn right!” because he wanted to go see a truck that drove past — leading my boss to think we were lost and my eye to twitch. I love Jackson to death but, to be honest, toddlers can be tiny, annoying monsters. 

I wish I could commit that in 2021 I will dole out patience when he’s in a nonsensical tantrum and just smile and shush him, but, realistically, he’s going to frustrate me and annoy me and I’m probably going to yell at some point. And that’s OK. But, when I find my temper rising alongside the height of his tantrum, I am hoping to better learn my limits and disengage instead of holding myself to an unrealistic expectation of unrelenting patience. 

Make memories, not mess: In working to keep anxiety at bay in the last year, I’ve seen the value of perspective. A different vantage point can be calming, centering and quite a good dose of reality. That’s how I’m hoping to approach the ubiquitous parental goal of keeping a neat and organized house. We don’t have a ton of space, so our living room is generally Jackson’s play space. After Christmas, it truly looked like a ransacked toy store, which made me antsy to clear out old toys, get organized, and get my rug back.

But, a 2-year-old has a brilliant capacity for making a mess; within five minutes of being awake, Jackson has usually filled that rug with dozens of toy cars, stuffed animals, race tracks, toy food, an entire jungle of tiny plastic animals and just about anything else he can get his hands on. I’m trying to quell that futile desire to clean up by making the mess right alongside him, and thinking about it instead as making memories. 

I would love a clean house, but Jackson loves when his moms get on the floor and help him build a zoo with his animals or race his cars through the living room. And, frankly, the latter is a lot more fun to do! 

Integrate, not balance, work and life: The eternal search for the “balance” between work and life was completely shattered in 2020, and I don’t think it can, nor should, be repaired. Balancing suggests the two could ever be separate and equal. As we’ve all seen, that’s just impossible. Instead, I’m planning to strive for better integration. It’ll be messy and authentic, but it’ll be real. 

For instance, at the beginning of my work-from-home experiment, I used to spend a few minutes before each day’s Zoom call with my colleagues clearing the foreground of Jackson’s mess, setting him up neatly with a few toys and muting myself and ducking out of view whenever he went off the rails. This week, in the middle of my call, he revved up the new Power Wheels monster truck Santa Claus brought him and literally ran me over, knocking me on the floor and screaming into the camera, “Crash, sorry!” My co-workers got a kick out of it and a glimpse into the daily mayhem that is working from home with a kid — and I got a little relief out of being able to show how my work and home lives have fused together. While I’m not looking forward to more motor vehicle accidents, I am eager to continue being authentic about how these worlds have collided, mess and all.