[NOTE: This letter originally went out to the members of Joyful Toddlers‘ teleclass in 2013.]
by Faith Collins:
Most of the people I know are not very interested in New Year’s Resolutions; they either laugh a bit cynically, or they’re against them altogether.
Last year at New Year’s I participated in a lovely day-long dance workshop and at the end we all sat down with dozens of colors of markers and wrote down our visions for the new year. I remember feeling very inspired and very grounded. Then the paper got lost in the hundreds of papers that seem to be an inevitable part of life in this age, and I only re-discovered it about four weeks ago. What a depressing discovery it was. The list was filled with thoughts of putting down roots, of creating a home that I love, of starting a family with my husband, of gardening and doing more artwork. Instead, my husband and I are living on different continents, both of us still in temporary living arrangements. The little touch of nature that I had was a family of pigeons living on my 8th floor balcony, and I ended up evicting them because their poop was destroying the decking. Instead of doing artwork, I’ve been spending up to 15 hours each week on the Underground, commuting to and from classes. I get nauseous if I try to read on the train, so I end up staring into space or playing silly games on my phone. Nothing like the life I had imagined in that day of dancing.
the view of the over-ground part of my commute to class
I found that I was dreading writing this article for you guys. How could I write authentically about setting intentions for the New Year, when I have been so unsuccessful in my own efforts? And I don’t even have kids in my life yet, with parents and husband and in-laws giving their differing advice, and children coming into the world with their own very definite ideas of how they do -and don’t- want things to go. The more people who are invested, the harder it gets to set your own intentions.
In the early years of parenting, I think time speeds up and slows down at the same time. It speeds up in that there’s never enough time to do everything you want or plan (or had imagined you would do, before you had kids), and it slows down in that each hour can last forever. A week can easily feel like it takes a month to get through. Your child’s development is so dense that every six weeks or so you have to reinvent the wheel in terms of figuring what works and what doesn’t. You may be exhausted. If so, don’t feel like you’re ‘doing it wrong;’ if you had a paying job where the parameters changed every month, and you had to work 80 or 100 hours per week, you’d feel justified in being exhausted!
So what good can Resolutions be, if they seem like they probably won’t happen anyhow, and will only lead to guilt or depression that you have ‘failed’? As the parents of young children, how can you possibly come up with Resolutions for a year, when you don’t even know what will work, three months from now? For those of you with Play-groups, how can you plan when economic downturns can affect enrollment, or you have a child who is making you question your abilities?
After sitting with these questions for a few weeks, my optimistic nature reasserted itself. I believe that having times for reflection built into the year can be really beneficial, but in order for that to happen, we’ll need to do them a little differently. Here are my new ideas for ending the old year, and beginning the new.
My first thought was to alter the way I look back on the year. Even though I didn’t do the things on my list, this past year was actually very rich and full, and has certainly been a time of growth for me. I just couldn’t have anticipated the challenges that arose, which changed the course of how I thought things would go. So instead of looking at last year’s list and seeing how little I did that was on it, I’d like to look at this past year on its own merits. And I invite you to do the same. What happened that you were proud of? What were your greatest challenges? If you could do it over again, what would you do differently? What was better than you could have imagined, at this time a year ago? I will set up a topic for this in the Discussion group, and I would love to hear how this past year has been for each of you. I will share, too. Let’s celebrate our growth and our successes, and reflect on those things we wish we could have done differently.
I’d also like to change the way I look towards the year ahead. Instead of coming up with things that I want to accomplish, to check off of my list, I’d like to think of ways I want to BE. Realizing, of course, that this is a path rather than a goal, something I’ll probably be working on for a long time to come. I invite you to do this with me. Let’s think of the coming year and look at things that we know will stretch us, and set intentions for how we will ask for -and get- help during those times.
For me, one of the qualities I’ve been working on is being Gracious In the Face of Unknowing. I love making plans, and I don’t mind changing plans (that’s just making new plans!), but I have a really hard time dealing with the type of uncertainty that prevents me from making plans at all. Life seems determined to help me work on this quality, with the continued and draw-out uncertainty around my husband’s work visa. With the email that we just got this week, I can feel myself getting anxious and feeling constricted all over again. I need to figure out a better way of dealing with this, instead of just hoping it will be over soon. How can I move towards my aspiration of being Gracious In the Face of Unknowing? I’ll start a second topic in the Discussion group where we can each share a quality that we are striving for, and what concrete steps we can take when the going gets hard. I’ll use it for my own explorations in this area, too.
The vast majority of you will be facing unknown situations this coming year, too. Some of you will be facing developmental milestones with your own children. Some will be welcoming a new child into the family. At least one of you is starting a new Home Daycare, and at least one of you is wondering whether you should close yours down. What are your aspirations for how to be, as you go through these changes? Are you striving to be Simultaneously Kind and Firm? Or perhaps you strive to be Flexible To New Input. Or maybe it’s to be Calm and Centered While Others Express Their Emotions. Or to Recognize and Express Your Own Emotions in Healthy Ways (what might that look like?). Invent your own quality that is exactly what you’re striving for, and brainstorm for ideas on how to get support for it, from others or from yourself.
This time of the New Year is a built-in time for reflection. Let’s celebrate our successes over the past year, and work on setting ourselves up for success for the year to come, realizing that it’s always a process and not something that we can ‘check off the list.’ But the more we think of these Resolutions of how to be, each month, each day, each hour of the day, the more we’ll be able to look back on December 31st of 2013 and count our blessings. Thank you all for being a part of this group.
Love to you all,
Faith Collins is a LifeWays graduate and founder of Joyful Toddlers, providing support for parents and professionals who live or work with children from 1-5 years of age. See www.joyfultoddlers.com. She currently divides her time between Colorado and London.