With the New Year just around the corner, there is a buzz in the air as people anticipate their New Year’s resolutions and begin to set goals for 2016. With the New Year comes an opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months and contemplate what we want different (or the same) in the next twelve months. For me personally, I’ve always looked forward to the time between Christmas and New Year’s as a time to imagine, dream, and excitedly anticipate the possibility of great things happening in the following year.
When Young Children Remind Us We Can’t Have it All
What I’ve realize more recently however, or more accurately what I’ve realized since becoming a parent nearly three years ago, is the fact that as parents of young children, there are just simply limitations on what we could hope to achieve regarding on our personal goals and dreams. This reality of necessary losses can be frustrating, disappointing, and difficult to accept. For parents with young children, there is a certain and necessary relenting process that unfolds as we sit with the reality that we just can’t do it all, and during a time of being surrounded by New Year resolutions and goal setting, this can be particularly tough to contend with. Some might argue this view is pessimistic, and that in fact, we can dream big. But what has become increasingly clear for me is that life goes through a radical adjustment when you are parenting young children, and sometimes our dreams come crashing into the reality of very limited time and resources.
So, what should goal setting look like for parents of young children? How do we reconcile our desires to learn a new language, take music lessons, write a book, start a blog, get that promotion, join that Mom group, with the unrelenting demands of parenting young children and sleep-deprived nights? There can be a sense of disappointment that comes when we realize that being parents to insistent and demanding toddlers turns the message of “you can do anything!” on its head.
I’m finding this idea more important than ever to talk about with my couples therapy clients, because with the ever increasing prominence of the internet and social media, we’re increasingly bombarded with messages that we can “have it all”, “be greater”, “create a new you”, and “create the life we want”. But for many parents, just being a decent parent and a loving spouse is all they can muster, and many doubt if that is enough. And just to be clear, I think it’s wonderful that others are encouraging us to dream big and set powerful goals, but I swear none of these people have young children.
So why is this important? For starters, I want to give parents permission to go easy on themselves and let themselves off the hook for feeling as if they’re “falling behind” in the rat race of personal achievements. As parents to young children, we often put pressure on ourselves to “keep up” and to not fall behind. We hear about others doing this, and doing that, and we feel as though we must do the same to be worthy. We fear being perceived as failures or that somehow life is going to pass us by if we don’t “accomplish more” and “do more with our lives”. As if being great parents and fostering a loving family environment wasn’t the most incredible accomplishment EVER. I want to remind you that simply being a good-enough parent to your young children and keeping your connection alive with your partner is the most profound, and unfortunately, underrated goal any of us could set for 2016.
You’re Already Doing So Much
So whether it’s that promotion you think you should pursue, but requires you to put in a lot more hours, or whether it’s that DIY craft project you think you should do because you believe that’s what “good Mom’s” do, Stop! Take a deep breath. And remember you’re already doing so much. Your toddler is alive and smiling because of you, and there is food for everyone to eat, and that is more than enough.
No, despite pop culture’s ever optimistic messages, we simply can’t have it all. I’m sorry to report the gloomy weather. But maybe there is an incredible gift that we can give ourselves to remember that “having it all”, or “dreaming big”, are things we’re already doing as parents with budding families. So this year, when you’re goal setting and planning for 2016, try and remember the pressure to “do more” can be a lie that sometimes robs our joy and distracts us from the real joy that lies right in front of us – those close to us that we love. Let’s help remind each other to reorient our focus on what’s truly important anyway – things like the vitality of thriving family relationships.
Quentin Hafner, LMFTCheck Out My Marriage Workshop for Couples with Young Children
**If you, or a Dad you know would like to meet with other like-minded Dad’s and Husbands in an extremely life-changing and powerful way, please shoot me an email! I am currently forming a new group therapy in my Mission Viejo office called “Better Dad’s and Better Husband’s.”
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