“What is your resolution for this year?” asked my husband at our New Year’s family dinner. It was my turn as we went around the table, and for once, this year I didn’t hesitate. “This year I’m going to finish what I start!”
Yes! I was motivated to make a change! I was tired of the endless to-dos that never got done; the projects started, interrupted, and never resumed; the piles half-sorted and unfiled; the rips, breaks, and glitches unrepaired; the correspondence unreturned; the great ideas never put into action. This year I will ACT. I will stop thinking, contemplating, complaining, and just DO. I will GET THINGS DONE.
I was charged up. I could do this. This was a solid plan. It even qualified as a “SMART” goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely), making it all professional and trendy-like.
So after dinner, I took the first step toward realizing my goal by writing it down. I found my 2016 Christmas gift, a “Mom’s question-a-day” journal that asks a different question every day of the year, repeated for five years. It is supposed to help you track changes in your children and yourself over time. Of course, it is also something I didn’t finish last year. As with most resolutions, I participated daily for two weeks, forgot about it for a few months, scrambled to make up for four months in one day, then returned to semi-consistent daily entries until some time late summer when I put it down among the beach bags and never picked it up again — until THIS Jan. 1.
Not surprisingly, the first question in the first question-a-day page, dated Jan. 1, is, “What is your resolution for this year?” I opened up the journal to proudly enter my “finish up” resolution in bold, capital letters right on the line under last year’s resolution, which read: “This year, I’m going to finish what I start!!”
Argh! My current resolution was the SAME AS LAST YEAR, and not only did I not complete it, I didn’t even remember making it! It appeared that not only do I not finish things, I hardly even start them.
After this disappointing journaling experience, I sank into a bit of a funk. Why did I spend another year behind? How did another year that was so full of motion show no movement?
With the weather keeping things at pretty much of a standstill for the first week of the new year, it seemed fruitless even to consider trying to start anything greater than a Netflix binge. My house was full of people and cluttered with post-holiday chaos. I sank deep into my blankets —
As I sulked, I thought about the construct of my days. Prep kids for school, myself for work, manage after-school activities, then dinner, homework, housework, bedtime and repeat. I considered how rarely I ever make a straight path from one task to another, instead winding through bits of other tasks along the way. Make a meal while unloading/loading the dishwasher, sorting through papers, filling out forms. Help with homework while checking email, setting tables, tidying up. Leave items on the stairs to piggyback onto whatever task eventually takes me all the way up, extending a quick run upstairs into a 40-minute sequence that ends only because the oven timer beeps or someone yells “Mooomm!!” So many things “done” but nothing completed.
That’s just how it is during the active parenting years. The day-to-day is never ending. Household tasks begin again right after they are finished. Families can’t be fed without dirtying the kitchen. Children can’t play while their toys are put away. People can’t lead a productive life without changing clothes. Papers come in as fast as they are thrown out. There is literally NO end.
But I realized that my “reactive” approach is making it worse. I’m running back and forth plugging holes in the dam instead of moving forward over the bridge.
Somewhere in the middle of all this contemplation, one of my big nagging projects was begging to be done. It had been deferred for months and now there was a deadline looming. Ignoring the chaos around me, I sat down to do it, and step by step I plugged through. I was interrupted six times in an hour, but I just kept returning to my desk until it was done. Whew.
At dinner that night, I received the following message in my fortune cookie: “Only you can decide what is important to you.”
I realized that the unending tasks of parenthood create a lot of noise and distract me from the big projects that actually make a difference in how I see myself, my family, and my home. So I’ve adjusted my resolution a bit. I will not just “get things done,” I will mindfully choose what I want to do and do it. I will direct my energy towards the big, impactful projects and give less importance to those never-ending tasks. If I break them down into a series of smaller steps, with a goal of one step a week, I think I can finish. And with any luck, my 2019 resolution will read, “Keep on getting things done.”
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.