A funny thing happened the other day.
Well, let me back up and share this news with you: with a little effort and prayer, my daughter is finally sleeping through the night. It has brought consistency and relief to our entire household, including her. She is bubbly and amiable and thriving. Mom and Dad feel a little more peppy, too
After about a week of this newfound shut-eye, my husband and I were offhandedly having a discussion about the upcoming weeks, including holiday plans and related responsibilities. One of us mentioned that we should take a moment to write down some family goals for the next year, and we started spitballing what could be on that list.
Suddenly, I couldn’t stop laughing. “Amazing what a few nights of sleep will do to you, right?” I said. “Here we are making long-term goals instead of rocks-paper-scissoring who will take the 4 am shift.”
We laughed it off and moved on with our discussion, but the irony stuck with me.
As you read through this article, I suggest that, firstly, you make sure that this is an appropriate time to be setting goals. You and your spouse both need to be in a place in which envisioning new areas of growth is practical and timely.
If one of you is already knee-deep in a season of other projects and responsibilities, adding new ones may not be the best idea right now (see previous blog, Faithful over a Few). “Survival mode” is not the time to start big ole, brand new goals.
Instead, consider shooting for small-scale goals.
Maybe you are one of those parents still living on very little sleep. You want to keep your house clean, but it seems insurmountable. Maybe your goal could be to clean up the main living spaces for 15 minutes at night with your spouse. Set a timer, do what you can in that 15 minutes together, then rest. You may feel better in the mornings if you can start with a cleared space. There is no need for overhauling your cabinet organization right now. You are in sleepy survival mode, after all. But you can still create some areas in which you can feel victorious and motivated to keep moving forward on this goal when you logistically can.
Maybe your family is in a season of grief, or financial hardship, or illness.
Hear me loudly: this is not your time to flip the tables on everything. This is your time to nurture each other in the ways that you best can. Your family goals should support you, not create chaos, bitterness, or frustration. Tend to each other with your goals. Try ideas such as:
A family game night once a month.
Each person takes turns choosing their favorite dinner to eat once a week.
Read 3 pages of a book together at night.
Most importantly, be creative in seeking goals that fulfill your hearts and minds. Goals are meant to support your family, not make a difficult season scarier.
And with that lengthy caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at family and marriage goal setting.
Setting goals with your spouse
One of the best questions someone asked my husband and I before we were married was What is the theme of your marriage? Plenty of other individuals asked us the theme of our wedding, of course, but this was the first time someone had asked me the theme of our marriage.
Naturally, we had to think for a moment. But we quickly agreed on the message we wanted to send to the world about what we as people, and a couple, stood for.
It was an exercise that ultimately gave us some time to consider what life would be like after the wedding day.
I think this is a fantastic question through which to begin goal-setting with your spouse. What is the theme of your marriage, and what needs to occur to better embody that theme?
Dr. Ellyn Bader with The Couples’ Institute suggests breaking down goal setting for couples into three kinds of goals :
Each of these three work together. Dr. Bader suggests that a couple should begin with asking each person in a relationship what they want to “have” or “get.” Next, what do you have to “be” to achieve that thing you’d like to have? Then, what do you “do” to “be” that way?
Let’s look at an example.
What do you want to have or get?
I’d like to have more time together.
What do you have to be to achieve that?
I’d have to be more intentional, be organized with my time, and be aware of my spouse’s needs What do you have to do to “be” that way?
I can commit to scheduling 2 dates a month and put my phone away while we are eating dinner together.
See how the questions eventually lead to specific steps that a person can take to lead toward the overall vision? This is how visions of your goals can be turned into a plan for change or growth.
And remember: Goal setting does not have to be boring, either! One year my individual New Year’s Resolution was to perfect my family’s cornbread recipe. It was a blast feeding friends on each attempt and feeling more and more accomplished each time. Plus, my husband ate a whole lot of cornbread.
So ask yourself: what is the cornbread recipe your marriage really needs? I can’t wait to hear what you decide!
Setting Goals with your Family/ children
Family goals are just that: goals that a family pursues together. And while it is important to make sure your children have some input in this endeavor, you and your spouse will need to lay some groundwork before having a whole-family discussion.
Before inviting your children into the goal-setting round-table, make sure that you have answered the question above about the theme of your marriage. From that, then ask yourselves,
What are my family’s core values?
How can we better embody these together?
What are some activities that we can pursue as a family to help our children learn these values?
After finding some direction on what kind of goals you think are important for your family, bring your children in on the conversation. Make it fun with a whiteboard or sticky notes! You could even have a “talking stick” or a toy gavel.
It could be helpful to share with your children some of the specific ideas you and your spouse have discussed, to see which they feel most excited about. Maybe you already have a goal chosen, and use the family session to make decisions about “when do we start?” and “what color should we use?”
Kelly Holmes, Certified Parent Educator, speaks honestly about overcoming her own reservations regarding family goal setting . Like many parents, her fear was that setting family goals would just add more mental clutter and administrative tasks for her management of the family routines.
However, after finally getting her children involved in a family goal of planting a new garden, Kelly shares that,
Setting family goals transcends the daily slog of family life that can make us feel run-down and overwhelmed. Because when you’re working together towards a common goal, your connection with your family will be stronger .
Setting new family goals may on the surface feel like another task to weigh a parent down. But goal setting can actually serve as an enriching way to alleviate the pressure parents feel in other areas.
Connecting with your children through shared goals is about so much more than the goal at hand. It is about building communication skills, nurturing independence and autonomy, instilling value systems, and creating a sense of social interest . These are all skills and attributes that, once your children have begun to master, your family life could begin to run more smoothly overall.
Kelly also shares her belief that “Connection breeds cooperation” . Connecting over goal setting brings buy-in from your children and spouse and helps each member of the family feel ownership over the goal.
When children feel connected to you, their caregiver, they will feel more connected to the task at hand, and thus be more likely to cooperate. But honestly, cooperation is not even the end goal. The feeling of connectedness your child experiences with you is. This connectedness will feed into positive experiences and communication in other areas of life, as well.
I like to think about the example of decorating a family Christmas tree—a task most of us have recently tackled.
If you as the parent ask for help from your family, but then commandeer the entire design, move around every ornament someone places on the tree, and then become upset when your children don’t want to participate anymore, you have missed a vital opportunity for connection and discouraged your children from wanting to take on projects with you in the future. But what if, instead of taking complete creative control, you used the task of decorating the tree to open communication about your child’s favorite ornament, favorite Christmas memory, or even preferred kind of decorating style? A shared task, when done with intentionality and openness, builds a foundation of positive attachment that a child will benefit from for years to come.
When we invite our children into our tasks, they often rise to the occasion and find great joy in using our support to build a skillset of their own.
Even better, children with positive and secure attachment in childhood often go on to have more successful, communicative, and fulfilling relationships in adulthood .
So while setting goals may sound like a boring endeavor on the surface, know that the fruitfulness of it can bring long-term fulfillment and benefits to your family and children.
Brainstorm with your spouse to determine what family goal could fit your family!
These goals can be large or small, or even silly. The following article that I found has a list of common goals, but I encourage you to use your creativity and your children’s excitement to guide you.
Ideas for family goals: https://www.wholefamilyliving.com/examples-of-family-goals/
1. Bader, E. (n.d.). Three types of goals and their use in couples therapy. Couples Institute. Retrieved December 11, 2022, from https://www.couplesinstitute.com/three-types-of-goals-and-their-use-in-couples-therapy/
2. Holmes, K. (n.d.). Want your family to share the load? here’s the best way to get them onboard. Happy You, Happy Family. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://happyyouhappyfamily.com/family-goal-setting/%C2%A0
3. Huang, S. (2022, August 26). The different types of attachment styles. Attachment Styles | Simply Psychology. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment-styles.html
4. Hyatte, A. (2021, October 6). 17 examples of family goals to work on this year. Whole Family Living. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.wholefamilyliving.com/examples-of-family-goals/%C2%A0
5. Lauren. (2022, February 21). 50 family goal setting ideas [examples and how-to guide]. Simply Well Balanced. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://simply-well-balanced.com/family-goals-how-to-guide/