Why you and your family should look back to look forward together
Most years we’ve tried to do some sort of reflective activity with the kids as New Years Eve approached. For many years we had a tradition of writing letters to everyone in our family of 5. When they were super little it was a drawing, as they got older it would be a gorgeous set of misspelled words jumbled into an heartfelt sentence or two. The idea for those letters was simply to encourage the writer to remember some of their favourite times with their brother/sister/mom/dad. It was meant to encourage our kids to encourage each other, a ‘what I love about you is...’ sort of message. Honestly, I think Abby, Lauren and Lucas were just as excited to give out their letters on New Years Eve (or sometimes on New Year’s Day depending on the previous night’s events) as they were to receive presents on Christmas morning. These letters are such treasures now. Every once and awhile we pull them out and laugh and cry and are astounded that so much time has gone by.
That tradition faded once the kids were super proficient at writing. Their birthday cards to each other became the place where kind sentiments (and sarcastic digs) took over and it seemed redundant to do it again at New Years. But birthday cards didn't fulfill the ‘looking back’ part of our New Years letters.
There are very few New Year’s Eves that we spend all together as a family anymore, Lauren was in Australia last year, Abby in Hawaii the 2 years before that. They have their own parties to go to and so do Tony and I (moms with little ones, you really will get to go out on your own again - without paying for a babysitter! It’s coming sooooon!). But we always make a point to gather at some point early in January to talk about the highlights and lowlights of the previous year and to set goals and add to our individual and team bucket lists for the year to come.
On this past New Year’s Day, a friend sent me this link to Year Compass - have you heard of it? Its a ‘free booklet that helps you reflect on the year and plan the next one’ through a series of questions and exercises. You can complete it yourself (it’ll take about 3 hours) or do it with a group. What a thorough way to really evaluate, dig deep and strategize. Tony and I gathered the kids one morning last weekend, lattes at the ready, and went through a few pages together. They were all happy to participate and then happy to share.
We discovered new things about our kids that morning - what they identified as their biggest struggles from last year, what they want/need to move into in 2021 spiritually, relationally, career-wise. With all of us in such close quarters these days (believe me, over here we are in VERY close quarters) we spend a lot of time chatting, dreaming, nagging, eating, debating and laughing with our kids but we might not think to ask them questions like, Who are the 3 people that you would go to during a rough time? or What was the most important thing you did for others? or Who do you think you influenced the most? It doesn’t matter if you use a booklet like Year Compass (no I don’t get anything from them, I’m a tiny little nobody in the internet kingdom) or if you come up with your own questions but make it a tradition to look back to look ahead.
Why this is time well spent:
The kids realize how much they accomplished/did/grew over the last 12 months.
It spurs them on to keep goal-setting because they’re proud to have achieved some (not all!) of the more lofty goals that they’d written down the year before.
We find out what the hardest thing was that they went through this year (one of the questions we asked eachother). What we assume was the hardest thing as parents may not be theirs at all. Its a great springboard toward helping, praying and listening.
Each of us remembers different events and so one memory becomes a reminiscence for all five of us.
As we look towards the coming year, they end up cheering each other on towards the goals, adventures and personal growth each of them decides to go for. It becomes a ‘I’ll help you with that goal’ and a ‘You can totally do that!’ high-fiving love fest (ok, not quite that extreme…).
This is one of the best Hall team building activities of the year. And I know it won’t be long until one or two, then all three of these kids will have moved out permanently and this tradition will be laid to rest just like those sweet New Year’s letters. I’m good with that.
Don’t wait until next January 1 to look back and then look ahead at the new year with your fam. Every day is the start to a whole new year anyway. Through these crazy days, that’s kind of comforting, isn’t it? Today starts a brand new year. Next January 8 will look a whole lot different. I’m good with that too.
Enjoy the letters below. Funny how spelling mistakes get less and less cute the older you get, LOL. But these ones, they're cute.