Scattered thoughts and the search for new year’s clarity

I told Kristin today that I’m feeling just a tiny bit panicky about my lack of clarity for 2020. I generally give myself until my birthday (which buys me an extra two weeks) to think about any intentions I’d like to set for my year. Last year a friend suggested choosing just a few distinct words to focus on rather than traditional resolutions, and I settled on just one: open. It turned out to be a surprisingly lovely approach. While I didn’t begin each day reminding myself to be more open there were many instances and decision points in which I leaned on that intention to guide my actions. When I think about some of the things I’m proud of from 2019 many of them were driven (or somehow connected to) that intention: presenting at Pecha Kucha, adopting our first-ever pet (Ivy), and starting Karate (which might be the most humbling thing I’ve ever done).

I started 2019 with perhaps more intentionality than I have in any year past, and I think some of that had to do with it being the year I turned 40. This year though, I’m struggling to gain clarity on what my focus or intention ought to be. Kristin wisely pointed out that trying to force clarity is probably the opposite of what’s needed. So instead of insisting that inspiration strike, I thought that I might have more success writing out some things that have been floating around lately.

I’ve been reading a parenting book on and off for awhile now and while I wouldn’t endorse the first third (super alarmist; lots of, “never do this!” without much, “try this instead”) the rest is resonating with me. It focuses on the apprenticeship model of parenting, assuming that if a child isn’t doing what they’re supposed to that it’s because they haven’t developed those skills yet (in many instances that includes self-regulation) and developing ways to build those skills rather than punishing or controlling. The entire model is about how if we want to raise independent, successful humans, we need to stop controlling them and help them build the skills to control themselves: giving them more responsibility, freedom to do things themselves (and make mistakes, even when it would be quicker and easier to do it for them), allowing natural consequences to teach lessons rather than lecturing and directing, and including our kids in decisions about how the day should go, what the responsibilities should be, and what the consequences should be when things aren’t done as planned. Lewis makes a distinction between punishments (to be avoided) and consequences (lesson-teaching). She says that consequences should follow the four Rs: revealed in advance, respectful, related to the decision the child made, and reasonable in scope.

We haven’t done a very good job of giving our kids responsibilities, and I think that (in some respects) they’re hungry for it. Recently Vivienne has been asking to chop things when we make dinner, making salads from a random assortment of things we happen to have in the refrigerator. She takes great pride in it and seems to be more than trustworthy with a sharp knife. All three kids ask to crack eggs when we’re baking. I can’t say that any of them are eager to pick up their toys, but I am thinking that this is the year that we finally create a chart of responsibilities and work towards the intrinsic rewards that come when you know that you are an integral part of a team. I have no idea where allowance factors in (the book doesn’t go there) so if you have any wisdom to share I’d love to hear it.

The book also talks about the importance of connection, because when we have a strong connection with our children we are much more likely to gain their cooperation. Lewis says that we should ask ourselves in a heated moment, “is this likely to increase our connection or damage it?” and choose wisely.

I’ve been thinking about focusing on the word “connection” this year, for that and other reasons.

Unrelated to all of that, I’ve been doing a little reflecting on what brought me joy in 2019 so that I can be conscious about how I spend my time. There have been moments when I’ve wondered if, in trying new things (openness!) I’m spreading myself thin in ways that pull me away from some of the things I truly enjoy (or ought to be doing). For example, in 2019 I did a lot more yoga than ever before. It was lovely and fulfilling and it felt like a boon to discover something I could do each morning before work and school drop off to start the day with movement and wellness. That said, I all but stopped going to the gym because I had an easier alternative (that really isn’t a cardio alternative at all), and now that I’ve begun Karate I find myself even less likely to do those things. I also think that I did more sewing this year, which was wonderful, but I think that I may have taken fewer photos (maybe not, but I noticed a lack of them over the past 10 days or so) and did less writing. Am I better served by trying lots of things to see what has a spark for me, or would it be more fulfilling to spend time on fewer things in a deeper way?

I also think that this is an important year for us to be more intentional about our finances. In June the twins will finish preschool (which for financial purposes is really full-day child care) which means we’ll have the chance to recoup some funds each month. I want to start saving in new ways (their poor suffering 529s, perhaps?) and think carefully about where our money goes since it’s so easy to incrementally increase one’s standard of living in almost invisible ways rather than be thoughtful and intentional about financial goals. This is a year that we (previously) decided would be the start of “real” vacations, which isn’t to say that our annual road trips up north and to Charleston aren’t vacations, but if we’re thoughtful we may finally be able to afford trips that require a bit more of an investment. We also talk sometimes about a dream of raising kids in the country, on a farm, out in nature. What would it look like to set a goal of having a little cabin somewhere to get away from time to time? That said, we also need a new minivan and will need a new roof before too long, so strategy is going to be essential.

Lastly, I’ve spent time this year thinking about the friendships that feed me and compliment what can sometimes be an all-consuming focus on my immediate family. We had the loveliest New Year’s Eve with another family whom we consider to be good friends, and one more family we know less well (but truly enjoyed), and the collective investment in intentionally driving thoughtful, intelligent conversation, and the frequency of raucous laughter was a beautiful reminder of what I love to surround myself with. This year I want to invest in those connections, push myself to host more (because it’s a gargantuan task, the load of which really ought to be shared), and work to deepen those bonds in mutually beneficial ways.

Now to find the ties between all of those disparate thoughts and seek clarity for my year. Wishing you clarity and inspiration this January. Happy new year!

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