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Written by:  Kathleen M. Reilly
Date: January 1, 2012

A new year always brings in a whiff of fresh starts, do-overs and the ever-present New Year's resolution. Most of the time, our goals are solo endeavors. ("I'm going to stop smoking," or "I'm going to write a novel.")

Why not change things up this year? For 2012, get the whole family on board and set your sights on goals that will bring your family closer together and keep everyone healthy, too. By setting a few fun goals together this year, you'll ring in 2013 as a stronger family unit.

Ready to set your family goals? Gather everyone together and toss around ideas. "Make sure the goal-setting meeting is kept fun and open," says Sarah DeNome, a licensed therapist and owner of DeNome Alliances, a family counseling center in Holly Springs. "Goals will really stick if everyone feels like they're invested in them. If the parents are just setting goals for everyone, chances are the kids will probably feel like it's just another rule the parents are establishing. It won't be fun for them, and it won't be something they'll want to stick with."

Why set goals as opposed to throwing out a general idea of what you want? "Setting goals keeps you focused, rather than just rushing through daily life, putting off what's important," DeNome says. "A lot of times we get so caught up in things like running to the grocery store after soccer practice that we miss what we're really working for — being close to your family."

So put on some music, pass around the snacks and encourage each person in your family to speak up and contribute. Here are some family-centered ideas to get you started.

1. Escape together

Who's going to say "no" to this goal? It's the "family who plays together, stays together" idea. Plan on one mini-escape or fun adventure every month. This helps you explore different areas, focus on each other and slow down the speeding train of time.

Escaping doesn't have to cost a lot of time or money. Look on the Carolina Parent website for day trip ideas (go to www.carolinaparent.com and click on Travel), or plan a quick overnight camping excursion to Jordan Lake, for example.

You can also take "mini dates" with different family members. "It's important to play as a family, but individual attention is great, too," DeNome says. "Parents can have date night or kids can take turns going out with one parent once a month, for instance." Whatever escape your family picks, you'll come back from your adventure with solid family memories and a closer bond.

2. Learn together

Most of the time, parents are teachers for their kids. But when you shake that up once in a while and your kids see you in a different light, it helps strengthen family unity. That's because when you learn something new as a family, you all start out at the same entry level.

"This is great for kids' self-esteem," DeNome says. "They think, 'I might not be good at this, but look at Mom or Dad starting out. They're not good at it, either.'" Parents show they can learn, make mistakes and recover from them.

Talk about what each family member enjoys, then plan to learn something new in each of those areas. For example, you might take a cooking class together, learn a new family sport, or pick up Web design or programming skills and create a family website or blog.

3. Hang out together

Sure, you're technically together in carpool or when you're all home but in different rooms. But this goal is about really being with each other — focusing on one another. And you know what that means: Turn off those electronics. Everyone. No texts, no "I'm just going to check email really quick," no urgent phone calls from BFFs or "I gotta call the office." Ban electronics once a week for a couple hours of devoted family time and pull out those dusty board games, or just talk over a cup of hot chocolate and plate of gingersnaps.

Let different family members pick the activities, DeNome says. "Rather than the parents saying, 'We're playing this game,' being in charge as always, let a kid decide," she says.

If one child really, really wants to pick a video game? Make a concession on the "no electronics" rule — as long as everyone in the family is engaged and playing together. Establish a Wii Olympics, for example, or let your teen teach you that epic game he's hooked on.

4. Get tough together

You know those traditional New Year's goals? The ones that show up on everyone's list: eating better, exercising more? Why not do it as a family? Just be sure to focus on the positive. Rather than saying, "We're all going to lose weight," say, "We're going to make some new dietary changes together." Think of it as the Jones Family 2.0.

Look through cookbooks or food websites together to come up with healthful food changes everyone will embrace. Then shop and cook together. Kick fried or fast food to the curb. Develop your own family specialty drink, maybe a mix of fruit and veggies blended in a juicer. Initiate a nightly family walk around the neighborhood or a weekly hike at a state or local park.

After your family has decided on a few realistic goals, determine how you'll stay on track. DeNome suggests establishing a check-in as part of your regular routine. "Maybe once a week, everyone just touches base quickly about the goals and talks about how they're coming, or talks about something to do the next day," she says.

Post goals in a visible place (like the refrigerator) and make action items to stay on track. The key is to keep it fun. Everyone will bail quickly if it seems like a burdensome "one more thing" to put on the to-do list.

And don't be afraid to revise. If you learn, come March, no one is on board anymore, find out why. Then decide, as a group, on new family goals. You'll discover next December that, you've reached your "closer family" goal together after all.  n

Kathleen M. Reilly is a Triangle-area freelance writer and mother.





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