THE BLOG
12/31/2012 04:55 pm ET | Updated Mar 02, 2013

New Year's Renewal of Vows: 5 Daily Parenting Resolutions

I don't set New Year's resolutions. They never seem to work for me. Instead of kick-starting a new healthy habit or quitting an old one, New Year's resolutions are just one more act of procrastination that I later feel guilty about failing in a few short days or weeks. Instead, I try to use each day as a new chance to do better, to be better, to live better.

With that said, however, I love the contemplative aura that comes at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. I enjoy filling up my new calendar book with important dates - loved one's birthdays, friend's anniversaries, weddings, and major celebrations for the year to come. I enjoy the opportunity to pause, reflect, and refocus. The New Year is the beginning of a new chapter in a well-loved, oft-read book. For me, the New Year is less about new resolutions, and more about a renewal of personal vows that I have made to myself. Vows to be kind, to be gentle, to be merciful - including to myself. Commitments to assume best intentions and practice radical empathy. Pledges to talk less and listen more.

This year (like those in year's past) I am not setting new resolutions, new promises, new agendas or goals; instead, I am reminding myself of all the little improvements, minor changes, and endless opportunities that can arise every day.

5 Daily Parenting Resolutions That I Am Renewing This Year

1. To stop feeling guilty. As a former Catholic, I have guilt down to a science. I can brainwash myself to feel guilty about almost anything - eating too many cookies, sleeping 10 minutes too late, working on the computer while my kids make a mess in the other room, taking a few blissful minutes to just stand in the shower, leaving the lights on in the other room after I've left.

Parenting does nothing to help assuage the guilt. In fact, parenting exacerbates guilt like nothing else. Maybe you work long hours. Maybe you are a stay-at-home parent. Maybe you hate playing hide-and-go-seek. Maybe you bottle fed your children. Maybe your kids ate leftover Christmas cookies and candy canes for breakfast. Maybe you think you are too hard on your oldest child or that you don't spend enough alone time with your younger children. Maybe you yell too much. Maybe you feed your kids McDonald's too often or let them spend entire afternoons in front of the television. Maybe you lock yourself in the bathroom every now and then just to take a time-out. Or maybe your two-year-old has taken to dropping the "F Bomb" in public like my little one has.

Guilt is only useful when it acts a catalyst for change. Guilt without action is useless; it only fosters negative energy, resentment, and self-doubt. But guilt that is surrendered to action can be an incredibly powerful tool. So unless guilt is accompanied by change - however small - it is a worthless and detrimental emotion that should be banished.

2. To talk to my children about faith. Children are our ambassadors for a positive spiritual future. They are the key to fostering interfaith acceptance and building religious tolerance, and the only way to give them the tools to facilitate religious compassion and cooperation is to talk to them about these sticky and confusing issues. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Wicca, Muslim, Sikh, Hindi, Unitarian Universalist, atheist, agonistic, none of these things, or some mixture thereof, there are many things that we can do to prepare our children to develop an authentic and independent faith. We can talk to our children about our beliefs in God or our lack thereof. We can explain to them the purpose behind various religious customs. We can expose them to several other faith traditions. And we can pray with them.

It can be difficult to discuss these confusing, uncertain, no-answer issues with our children, particularly when we have our own doubts and questions, but that does not mean that the topics should be avoided. Sometimes it is enough to just say "I don't know."

3. To let go of failed expectations and disappointments. Nothing about the birth of my firstborn son went according to plan. The labor was long and painful, the delivery was even longer and even more painful, and the recovery was absolutely devastating. And then there was the dull ache of postpartum depression that settled in like a soft morning fog and clouded his first year with sadness, confusion, and detachment. The emotional and physical scars are deep and lasting.

I will never get that time back. I will never again have that one precious newborn to swaddle and cuddle and love with every fiber of my being. That time is gone and it haunts me to this day. Nothing will bring back that time with my firstborn son, not even regret and shame. So I must let it go.

4. To stop hiding my emotions from my children. I will let them see me
giddy. I will let them see me cry. I will let them see me run into my husband's arms and bury my head in his neck. I will let them hear me laugh. In short, I will welcome them into my world and let them see me live.

5. To focus less on teaching my children to master the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and focus more on teaching them to master the fine arts of empathy, patience, and mercy. This is tough, grueling work, this parenting business. But it is also awesome and awe-inspiring. Children can break your heart in one instant, then cause your heart to swell to near-bursting the next. But through it all - through the tantrums, homework battles, doctor visits, after-school sporting events, curfew fights and struggles over keys to the car - we need to take a step back and think about what we really want our children to know and to learn.

Not necessarily what they need to know to earn placement in the school's "gifted" program or what they need to learn to get accepted into the college of their choice, but what they need to know deep down in their core, in their essence, in their soul so that they can be the happiest, most fulfilled, and most joyful person that they can be.

They need to know just how much they were loved and wanted, even before they were born. They need to learn that possibilities are endless as long as you ask for help and trust your instincts.They need to understand that faith, hope and love are all action verbs, not nouns. They need to be confident in their strength, beauty, and capabilities, but humble enough to forgive and ask for forgiveness easily.

How do we make sure that every child knows these things? It's simple, really. We tell them. Often. And we show them. Always.

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These are lifelong commitments, day-in-day-out struggles. It is difficult and grueling work to practice radical empathy when another person's behavior is so abhorrent that the only seemingly logical conclusion is insanity. It is hard - so hard - to be kind and merciful when I have been hurt so bad that I think I might die of heartbreak. And it can be nearly impossible to be gentle with myself when I am disgustingly ashamed of my thoughts or behavior. These are not New Year's resolutions, as much as they are daily resolutions. They are a renewal of vows to treat every day as an unopened miracle, as a new chance to do better and be better.