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Starting the New Year Right With a Family Mission Statement

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Our family has had a very difficult year, including the loss of a grandparent and a move from our hometown. I have been stressed and my kids have been fighting and uncooperative. I would love to have a fresh start but I have never had much luck with New Year's resolutions. Any advice?

If you embark on a sailing trip and your destination is a thousand miles Southeast from where you begin, it won't be a problem if you sail directly South for a while. You may even be able to get away with sailing Southwest for a bit. But if you don't course correct and eventually start sailing Southeast, you'll end up somewhere entirely different from where you intended to go.

Much of the work of parenting is course correction. We nag too much, siblings fight constantly or we realize we haven't had a relaxed family get-together for months, and we wonder how things deteriorated.

It's called life.

While I agree that New Year's resolutions can be futile, I am a great believer in envisioning what we want our lives to look like -- creating a road map, if you will, for the life we want to live. And what better way to start anew than creating a Family Mission Statement that defines what your family stands for and describes your collective intentions for the coming year?

Here are some guidelines for doing some course correction that will provide your family with a chance to create a fresh start in 2013.

Explain to your kids that you're going to come up with a Family Mission Statement that will describe your family's values, priorities and ways of addressing conflict. On a white board or poster board, record each family member's answers to the following questions:

•We are at our best when...
We're being helpful to one another; we do what we say we'll do; we accept each other as we are; we listen to each other with respect; we take care of our house so it's clean and comfortable

• If our walls could talk about our family life, they would say..
Our family loves good food; we like animals; there's a lot of arguing; we're kind of messy

• Things about our daily life that we would like to improve:
Getting out the door in the morning without shouting; having family dinners at the table instead of in front of the TV; fewer arguments about turning off electronic devices

• How our family life would be different if those problem areas were addressed
We would start our mornings feeling happy and stress-free; we would look forward to dinner-time; we would spend more time doing fun things together; we would feel more understood

• Three adjectives we would like people to use to describe our home environment.
Peaceful, loving, comfortable

• If we could name one principle or value from which we want our family to operate, what would it be?
Examples: Honesty, acceptance, kindness, safety, cooperation, friendliness, integrity

• Discuss ideas for handling disagreements and conflict
We agree to take a break if we're getting upset; no hitting or saying mean things, even if we're really mad; we will write down agreements about things we usually argue about so we remember what we promised

• Talk about how your family wants to handle stress, anxiety, sadness
When we're stressed, we'll come to Mom or Dad for help instead of taking our upsets out on each other; Mom and Dad commit to listening without interrupting when one of the kids is sad or anxious; we agree to be gentle with each other when we know someone is having a hard time.

• Ways our family can improve the lives of others
Once a month, we volunteer as a family; when we get new clothes or toys, we choose something we don't use or wear anymore to add to our giveaway pile; we commit to sending care packages to soldiers overseas

Once you have answers that reflect your family's input, begin writing your Family Mission Statement.

Here is an example:

The Johnsons are committed to creating a family life that is loving, respectful and happy. We recognize that each member of our family is unique, and commit to supporting each person in manifesting our dreams.

We handle disagreements in ways that make sure each person feels heard, agreements are honored, and no one is hurt. When we are upset, we ask for help with big feelings, and agree to listen to each other politely so each person knows that his or her feelings are respected.

We take responsibility for our actions, and look for solutions that will help us be the best version of ourselves that we can be. This includes being honest, caring and friendly toward ourselves and each other.

We recognize how much we have to be grateful for and acknowledge the good things in our life each day. We offer appreciation toward one another, rather than criticism. We help others, volunteering at the animal shelter once a month and sending care packages to soldiers overseas.

We have family dinners that help us stay connected and up to date with one another. When people come to our home they feel relaxed and welcome. We keep our house tidy and make sure it is comfortable for us all to enjoy.

We are glad to be part of this family, and are committed to making it better and better.

You will of course modify this to make it your own, but I urge you to give it a try. I understand that some of these behaviors may seem impossible to implement in real life, but don't let that limit you. Reach for the stars, even if you stumble and fall on your way there.

Simply sitting together to work toward writing a Family Mission Statement that reflects what you want your family to look and feel like will make a positive difference in your lives. Best of luck, and Happy New Year!

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