I never cared much for New Year’s resolutions. While the premise behind them is positive, the timing never seemed to make sense. If I’m planning on making productive changes to my life, why wait until a certain date to begin? Even if you do, why assign a strict year-long time period to achieve them?
It seems counterproductive to add additional time requirements to already difficult goals that you’re struggling with already. Losing weight, quitting smoking, or learning to parasail are hard enough on their own. Giving yourself preset starting and ending dates make them just that much tougher.
For that reason, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for myself and I definitely don’t make them as it relates to both of my kids. That includes my nine-year-old daughter, who is not on the autism spectrum, or my six-year-old non-verbal son, who is.
It’s easy to want to, though. I sit there watching the ball drop at midnight and try to flash forward to the next year’s festivities. What will our lives be like by then? Could my son be reaching all the heights I know he can? Can I finally check “yes” on some of those yearly progress surveys at his school?
Questions like that exist all year and not just on December 31st. They become a part of my internal dialogue as Lucas’s dad. They don’t overwhelm or consume me, but they’re there. Watching another father with his grown son—whether on or off the spectrum—will make me wonder where my son will be when he’s the same age.
Many times, my son’s advancements pop up without ever being on the radar. Things like bringing me a toy that I pointed to or understanding when I tell him it’s time for bed are actions I didn’t even consider before they happened. They occurred in a natural way and never even entered my mind as possible goals. One day he didn’t do them. Another day he did. He figured it out all in due time.
In other words, I couldn’t fathom telling myself on New Year’s Eve, “This will be the year that Lucas brings me his empty cup when I gesture to it.”
Why would I do that? People don’t project goals like that. They seem miniscule when talking about “new year, new us.” Grandiose plans at the start of the year are supposed to be, well, grandiose. They involve major moments and changes that, deep down, we know are extremely difficult. In many cases, those bigger goals are built upon the smaller ones that we don’t even consider as the calendar turns to January.
The biggest issue, though? New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be about will power. Your pledges to eat better or take a ventriloquism class are more about overcoming fears or pushing yourself to the next level. When it comes to advancements in your child’s life, the obstacles aren’t simply matters of “pushing through.” They’re issues that, in many cases, run much deeper than that and aren’t as easy as overcoming a mental roadblock. They may eventually be reached, but if you haven’t, it doesn’t mean that you just haven’t tried hard enough. It just means you have to wait a bit longer to see if they do.
For some, the doomed resolutions are the same, but more self-directed. “This will be the year I teach him to speak.” It’s the same flawed scenario, only now it’s directed inward and does so much damage for no reason. It was never a matter of needing to buckle down and just teach them better. It’s not about holding yourself accountable for something you’ve had no control over. It’s natural growth and, for that, there’s no set timeline.
There’s an inherent need to approach things that way though. I think we all silently hope that we can just look in the mirror and say, “OK. That’s it. No more playing around. A year from now, my child will catch up to everyone. This is the year.” In the moment, it feels like a positive step in a positive direction. As the next 365 days tick down, though, the story dips each time the sun does. It’s the main reason we ask for the wisdom to know what you can and can’t change.
Even if you can change certain aspects of your child’s progress, whether they’re on or off the spectrum, assigning a time frame to it only sets you up for disappointment. It will lead to missing the actual advances that are happening right under your nose, while you wring your hands with regret over the one that you’ve convinced yourself has to happen before the ball drops the following year.
Being a parent is hard. Whether your child has autism or doesn’t, it takes work, time, and dedication to push on day after day. Most mornings you drag yourself out of bed to make breakfast and most nights you collapse to the floor underneath a pile of dirty clothes and bedtime stories. Why add unneeded stress and potentially unattainable goals on an unrealistic timeline to the equation?
If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution this year, why not pledge to cut yourself some slack? Whatever will be will be and as long as you’re doing your best, all year long, you’ll see the fruits of your labor. There’s no reason for a new you in a new year if the old you is already working as hard as possible.
James Guttman has been writing for 15 years and introduced his blog earlier this year. James writes about parenting both of his children (one nonverbal and one nonstop verbal), self-reflection, and all that comes with fatherhood. His mix of humor and honesty aims to normalize the way people view raising a child with special needs and shows that we, as parents, are all basically the same, regardless of the children we’re raising. You can like his page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
This article was featured in Issue 71 – Navigating A New Year