The New Year is traditionally a time for resolutions. In years past I have repeatedly resolved to spend more time with my children; to exercise more and eat better; to have a clean house. I have always struggled with these resolutions and this year I finally stumbled on the reason why. It is the word resolution. Defined as “a firm decision to do or not do something,” it does not leave much wiggle room. Resolute sounds strong and determined – and final.
In my case it also seemed to be about the act of re-solving – trying to solve the same problem again, and again, and again. I lived my life for many years resolving, every Monday, to eat better; by Wednesday my resolve disappeared and I had to wait until Monday to start the cycle again. If I broke the rule, I had to start over from scratch – and over and over. But I never got anywhere. Resolving never worked for me. Perhaps because when it becomes about doing it right, it paralyzes me with the threat of doing it wrong. It becomes black and white, all or nothing. What happens if I slip up? What if I fail? There is no freedom of movement.
It turns out the key is in the movement. An intention is such a movement. We aim in a direction and we move towards it. But how do we stay on track? Is it sheer will, or is there something else that helps us stay the course?
There is something else! What changes the dance is when the movement is within a bounded space – a space that protects from outside influences and pressures and “shoulds” and even good things that threaten to take away time from the important things. The bounded space becomes a buffer to all that moves in, pushes in or constricts; to the attractive and the uninvited; to the temptations and the easy answers; to all the things that keep us from keeping our loved ones close.
If I spend time and energy focused on the “should have’s” and how I couldn’t manage to do it right, I find myself stuck again, going in circles or paralyzed yet again. What I need to do in those times is start asking the kinds of questions that will allow for movement again: What could I do now to make a difference? What obstacles seem to be constantly in my way? What structures and routines do I need to put in place to make it easier to get there?
We have many structures, routines, and rituals in our household that we have developed to protect our family time and preserve the things that are important to us. Sitting down at dinner together is one of those rituals that we have worked hard to put in place – it is not always easy and it doesn’t always work, but the intention is there to carve out the time. Reading to my girls before bed is another ritual that I have greatly enjoyed over the years. This, too, takes work to preserve, as there are so many things that could get in the way. When my girls became teenagers, I started a tradition where I took each one away for a weekend – just the two of us. I carve out space to spend time away from our regular schedules and routines, away from our digital devices. Again, not easy when we are all involved in so many things – but if it’s important to me, if it is what I yearn towards, I will find a way.
One of the most impacting and helpful structures I have put in place in my life is to set aside each week a day of rest – a day without agendas, without “shoulds,” without email, without anything that feels like work… a day for family. This has been one of the hardest things to do and felt like an impossibility for many years. As all things do, it began as an intention. I wanted, and needed, a space in time where the pressures of the world were kept at bay. A bounded space where I had freedom within to move, to rest, to play, to create, to be present with my family. The paradox of the bounded space is that it creates freedom within the structure. It allows me to be present in the now because I have physically and mentally blocked off the time, and my energy is not pulled in different directions. And so the intention was born, and I moved towards it for at least a year, if not more, before it was realized. I was very careful not to make this day a rigid rule that could be broken, but rather an intention to be honoured.
In returning now to my resolutions, what if I were to replace the word resolution with intention? Suddenly that changes everything. My resolutions are replaced with: I intend to spend more time with my children; I intend to exercise more and eat better; I intend to have a clean house. I yearn in those directions. I have something to aim for, and something to move towards. I may not always hit the mark. I may mess up when I get tired, or alarmed, or frustrated. In fact, I can anticipate that there will be times when it will be harder to realize my intentions. I will need to make room for the frustration that comes when I fall short. And I will need to create structures and routines to make it easier to realize my intentions – whether with family, health, or a clean house.
Intentions allow us to come alongside, to make room for the emotion that is stirred up, and to find a way through. We can do this with ourselves, and even more importantly, we can do this with our children. We can draw out their intentions, help them find their steering wheel, and aim in the right direction. We can come alongside when they mess up, make room for the frustration, and honour their intentions. We can look and see where the obstacles are, realizing that some obstacles will need to be faced, while others just need to be moved out of the way. We can create a bounded space for them – a place where they feel loved and where they are free to move, to play, to grow, and where their intentions can be realized… eventually!