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My last New Year's resolution was never to make one again. But my son asked to start making them, and I said yes.

Tonilyn Hornung   

My last New Year's resolution was never to make one again. But my son asked to start making them, and I said yes.
  • Making New Year's resolutions stressed me out when I was growing up.
  • I decided to focus on intentions instead of hard-set goals.

We don't do New Year's resolutions. This was my established family rule from long ago. But then, when my 9-year-old climbed into the car last year after school, I knew something was up.

He waited a minute and then said quietly, "Mom, my friends were talking about their New Year's resolutions, and I didn't know what to say."

My son's fidgety fingers said it all — he felt left out. My heart sank, and pausing in the heavy space, I wondered how best to support him. Had I done him a disservice — parenting him according to the holiday tradition I'd created on my own?

I didn't like resolutions growing up

Growing up, my family didn't have a lot of holiday customs specific to us. We picked out trees along with the crowds and watched the same popular television specials as everyone else.

As grade school went on, I noticed one of these traditional traditions didn't leave me feeling cozy like the others: New Year's Resolutions. Those statements made my stomach turn flip-flops, and my mouth go dry. I watched everyone around me get a huge burst of positive energy, thinking up ways to be a better person, but I felt my insides grow smaller.

"I'm going to get all A's next semester," my seventh-grade BFF whispered across our desks. The determination and excitement in her voice rang loud in my ears as I tried to come up with a resolution that was even half as good. I shot back, "I'm going to eat all my vegetables," knowing I'd totally vomit before I ate an entire Brussels sprout.

Resolutions stressed me

The making and the keeping of resolutions added massive stress to my holidays. But this seasonal routine seemed as immovable as Santa's present-filled sleigh on Christmas Eve. These were traditions, right? What choice did I have?

As I grew older, each new year brought with it new feelings of shame and embarrassment. Why couldn't I eat all my vegetables, work out every day, or read every Jane Austin novel? This thought rolled around in my mind during dinner with a friend when I heard her say that she was excited to start new traditions with her new husband for the holidays. My brain froze. Was that a thing? I didn't have a new husband, but maybe what I did have was a choice.

I chose never to make another resolution again

Beginning in my early 30s, I resolved never to make another resolution. Instead, I chose to set intentions. This was a way for me to choose an emotionally based theme instead of a rigid goal. One year, I chose to concentrate on kindness, and then another year on thankfulness. This allowed me the space and flexibility to fail and redirect if needed. I finally had a New Year's tradition I felt good about — until my son got into the car as confused and claustrophobic as I'd felt in my childhood.

The plan had been to free myself from the pressure of participating in a custom that didn't work for me — not trap my kid in a place of icky feels. Wanting to help, I explained to him what it took me years to figure out — he had a choice. He could make resolutions with his friends, set intentions with us, or do both. I watched his eyes widen, and his fidgety fingers settle as he considered this information.

So, we created a new New Year's tradition. My son made his first New Year's Resolution last year, and to keep it old school, he also set an intention.

He tells me he may eventually pick one favorite way to start the year or do both. He's not sure yet, but he assures me he knows he has a choice.