A Group Effort to Improve Relationships and Well-being
By Myrna Beth Haskell December 2018
Have you decided on a New Year’s resolution yet? How many times have you started planning to exercise more, eat healthier, or go to that special place on your bucket list only to find that—three weeks in—you’ve lost your enthusiasm?
Some folks swear that exercising with a partner helps them stay motivated, or that joining a reading group keeps them focused on finishing a novel. So why not try a family resolution this year? This would be a resolution that the entire family signs on to in order to build better bonds, live a healthier lifestyle, or just focus on a group goal, such as raising money for a desired big ticket item everyone can enjoy.
Family resolutions are not only more fun, but they also help to strengthen bonds.
Stacy Kaiser, a licensed psychotherapist, relationship expert, and Live Happy (livehappy.com) editor at large, explains, “Any time a group of people unites to do something together that they all agree upon, it helps to build a bond. Sharing common interests and ideas while working together helps us to connect with one another.” In general, group activities foster togetherness. “When we think of activities, we tend to think of hobbies and sports, but resolutions are activities as well and are all about improving ourselves and making our families better.”
Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., a leading expert on the dynamics of family culture and bonding and author of several award-winning books (including the bestselling Becoming a Happy Family: Pathways to the Family Soul) shares, “We did New Year’s resolutions within our family when our three sons were young. Our youngest son was only ten. I believe you can start early with this exercise, and, when they become teens, they relish this opportunity. It gives them a chance to focus on something that is meaningful and familiar.”
Kuczmarski stresses that spending time with each other should be a priority. “If family togetherness is nurtured, there is a deep, fulfilling sense of belonging. The family that plays together, stays together. For many time-crunched families, that variation on a familiar saying rings true. In fact, these days, as the hustle and bustle of the holidays continues, carve out time to spend together doing activities that everyone enjoys. Make spending time with each other a priority and strengthening family bonds a concentrated focus.”
Develop a Plan Together
It’s imperative that all members of the family are invested in the resolution, so Mom and Dad should be sure to involve everyone in the planning.
Kuczmarski advises, “Have each family member do their own list of strengths and needs and share them in order to get input from other family members.” Knowing what everyone’s individual strengths and needs are helps the family to choose activities for both personal and family growth. “Next, pick one family resolution. This is the one you’ll all do together. The trick is to let differences within the family flourish. There must also be room for each child’s unique and personal ideas and contributions.”
Sticking To It
Now the hard part. It’s hard enough for one person to stick to a resolution. How does a whole family do it?
Kaiser suggests the following for ways families can stick to resolutions:
Make goals small and reachable.
Be sure that all family members are in agreement with the resolution.
Encourage each other daily. Encouragement provides motivation and serves as another way to bond with one another.
“Family members are ideally set up to remind each other about the resolution,”
says Kuczmarski. “This is one benefit of a group situation. Reminders should be gentle, not forceful in any way.”
Make it fun and be sure that everyone is involved. If a family’s resolution is to do one healthy activity together each weekend, family members can take turns choosing the activity.
Resolution Ideas for Families
Start a Weekly or Bi-Monthly Ritual
Perhaps your family wants to plan a family “date” once per week or twice per month. This could be a family night out, such as a night out bowling, going to a restaurant, or attending a group painting class. Perhaps an occasional tech-free day will work. Instead, of everyone’s attention focused on their phones or other tech devices, choose to have a family reading night. Have the chosen reader rotate each time. Family members could read from something they’ve written for school, from a journal, or from their favorite book. Then, everyone discusses it.
Family Conference Day
You might consider committing to a family meeting once per week. It keeps communication flowing and is a great way for members to support each other and resolve internal issues as well.
Michelle Maidenberg, Ph.D., LCSW-R, a psychotherapist whose specialties include marital and family issues and the author of Free Your Child From Overeating: 53 Mind-Body Strategies For Lifelong Health (The Experiment, LLC), suggests, “Invest in facilitating and improving family communication. My family (our children are ages 17, 14, 11 and 9) has a Sunday evening family meeting where we each share things that went well for us during the week and things and people that also disappointed us. This is a time to share and to work through selective issues with family members.”
Reevaluate Dinner Time
“It’s extremely important to eat meals together,” Maidenberg stresses. “According to research, 59% of families report eating dinner together at least five times a week (CASA at Columbia University).” The positives are endless, including, “an increased chance of having healthful meals, more opportunity for dialogue and connection, and, according to research, it decreases the chances that teens will smoke, drink and use substances.” Maidenberg advises that families instill mealtime as part of the family culture, set a specific schedule for the meals, and ensure that meals are enjoyable and engaging.
If schedules simply won’t allow for daily family meals, schedule meals on weekends or rework schedules so that regular weekly meals become a given. Perhaps a family breakfast would work.
Make Health a Priority
“Integrate ongoing family self-care,” says Maidenberg. “This can be an agreement among family members to include exercising (biking, hiking, etc.), meditation, or yoga as regular family activities.” She reminds that individual family members need to regenerate or else they won’t have the energy to give to each other.
Collect vegetable recipes that everyone would actually like to eat.
Build an obstacle course together to use throughout the warm months.
Stay active in the winter: Find indoor activities that facilitate cardio exercise (e.g. indoor rock climbing, roller skating, swimming).
Kuczmarski shares, “Community service is an outlet for families to experience renewal or a sense of restoration.”
Maidenberg agrees that when families volunteer together it creates better bonds. “When the family engages collectively toward a mission and purpose that is meaningful to the family system, it provides them with something to talk about, bond over, and work toward. Families naturally bond when they feel purposeful and united.”
“Hold a monthly, family financial discussion night,” suggests Pamela Yellen, a financial investigator and author of two New York Times bestselling books, including The Bank on Yourself Revolution: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future. She recommends focusing on the family budget. “Even children as young as four or five can get involved. Create your family’s ‘Personal Spending Rules’ together to work toward family goals. Your children will not only learn good financial skills through this process, but they’ll take pride in being part of it.”