The delicate art of ‘meaning it’

Published 4:24 pm Friday, January 18, 2019


Life with a Smile

My new year’s resolutions don’t usually take the form of promises to exercise more or eat fewer sweets. I’m too realistic for those lofty, amorphous goals that usually end in guilt and chocolate. Instead, for the last few years, the start of the New Year has brought with it a theme — almost a catchphrase that seems to set the tone for the coming months.

Email newsletter signup

Two years ago, my words were “be brave” as I embarked on a year of new beginnings following my divorce. There followed a year of “living gently,” as I promised to give myself space to grow, learn and make mistakes. It’s taken a few weeks for my 2019 words to bubble to the surface, but they arrived in due course and it seems like they’re going to stay.

This year, I resolve to “mean it.”

I first felt this idea nudging at my psyche after a particularly trying day with my kids towards the end of December. We were all run ragged by the holidays, but it occurred to me that our collective exhaustion was being made worse by my well-meaning attempts to accommodate everyone’s divergent whims. One child wanted to go to art camp. No, wait. She wanted to hang out with her grandparents. No, with friends. Another child was demanding alterations to the dinner menu, while the third seemed inclined to resist anything the others suggested.

I reordered and shuffled, cajoled and bribed, threatened and growled and ultimately came to the realization that I couldn’t win. There was no winning in this scenario, only arguments, power-struggles, and uncertainty. I was trying too hard to please everyone, with the inevitable result being that no one was happy. Least of all me.

So I vowed to “mean it” when I spoke with my children, which is certainly easier said than done. Consistent boundaries are not my strong suit. The single hardest adjustment for me when I started parenting solo was the realization that I couldn’t always play the good cop anymore. Meaning it requires saying no. Repeatedly.

As the days have passed, this concept of “meaning it” has continued to resonate and to evolve, beyond the initial goal of not be used as a doormat by three loving but willful children. In order to mean what you say, you have to think before you say it. It requires an intentionality of response that is hard for my impulsive spirit. But that challenge feels like growth.

In an era characterized by over-commitment and busy schedules, “meaning it” challenges me to think about our activities and about how we spend our time. Are we being intentional in those decisions? Is this extra-curricular something my child is truly committed to or something we’re doing out of habit or obligation?

And what about my own activities? When I say yes to a new project or a new responsibility, I want to mean it. Whether it’s a volunteer opportunity or a social engagement with friends, I want to think through the request and only accept with full investment. If I don’t mean it, I don’t want to do it.

So perhaps another way to express this notion of “meaning it” is to say that I want to approach 2019 with care, reflection, and purpose. And yes, I also hope that my children will start to whine less as it becomes clear that my word really does carry some weight.

There are always exceptions, of course. My New Year’s resolutions are cumulative. I don’t abandon one just because I’ve added another. And sometimes you have to balance firm lines with gentleness.

One night last week, my youngest daughter pushed back against bedtime because she was afraid of a buzzing sound in her room. Upon investigation, it turned out that it was just the sound of my parents playing a “name that tune by humming it” game with the big kids — the sounds of their hilarity distorted by the heating vents. The whole thing was utterly ridiculous, but she played her puppy eyes to full effect and the next thing I knew she was tucked into my bed.

I didn’t mind. There’s always tomorrow for iron-clad bedtimes. In that moment, what I told my baby was that she was loved and she was safe.

And she could tell that I meant it.