Family Reflections: Cheers to a purposeful 2016

By Kathryn Whitaker
Columnist

For more years than I can count, when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, all I can think is, “Man, I should’ve gone to bed earlier. The kids are going to be up at the crack of dawn.”
They rarely disappoint.
Some people adopt a “word of the year” to help them focus on a particular goal or life change. Perhaps mine should be “sleep” or “Dr Pepper.” Oh wait, that’s two words. This year, however, I think I’ll go with “purpose.”
For too many years, I just survived as a mom. We survived the newborn stage, the tantrum stage, the first-day-of-school stage, the tween stage, and now, the high school stage. When our fifth child was born premature, I learned what it meant to survive. In fact, I stopped surviving and I started living.
That seems like the perfect motto to begin 2016: living with purpose.
Our 2015 was full of joy (hooray for first birthdays and first Communions), challenges, broken bones, profound sorrow, more joy, lots of family, community and gratitude. Perhaps yours was filled with the same. However the year played out, we get a brand new start in 2016. It’s a bit like confession, I tell my kids. They walk out of the confessional with a clean slate. It’s likely the slate gets a tiny mark before we make it back to the minivan, but that’s what we call job security for our priests.
We’re striving for purpose in our prayer life. Yes, we do the requisite prayers before meals and road trips, bedtime and snack time. But we’re actually sitting down as a family to pray the rosary once a week. The toddler has a chewable rosary and I noticed a few elbow jabs among the boys, but overall we can make it through five decades in less than a half hour with only one stank eye from me. Not a stellar performance, but there’s grace in the effort, I believe.
The household needs purpose in its function. The honey-do projects are all written down, much to my husband’s chagrin, and we’ve started chipping away at the list. More important than the to-dos, however, are the how-tos. How are we structuring homework time? How are we working together as a family to prepare meals? How are we showing kindness and respect to one another? Right now, I don’t have the answers, but over the course of the year, I have no doubt we will figure them out.
Kid extracurricular activities demand purpose in our efforts. “I can’t, I’m just too busy,” has escaped my lips far too many times. Last spring, we put a moratorium on all activities, minus altar serving and 4-H. No sports, no choir, no piano, no academic competitions, no volunteering. And what happened changed our family. We walked away from the very things others said must be done. Somehow, we survived. And thrived. If saying “no” means a “yes” to something with greater purpose, do it and don’t apologize. That spring from no obligations allowed us to escape from the hamster wheel and assess the crazy. It is highly recommended.
Most importantly, we’ve put heightened purpose on our primary vocations as husband and wife and mother and father. I see date nights on the couch with my husband watching Downton Abbey in my future. My husband may not be as thrilled about that viewing choice as I am, but fingers crossed. If we get really crazy, we might write that family mission statement or take a bike ride to the ice cream shop. Either way, we won’t be taking our marriage vows, or our role as parents, for granted.
At the end of the year, when I scroll through the digital family album, it won’t be the big things that stand out, but the little ones. And of those, it’s the memories in between the photos I’ll remember the most. How much purpose am I putting into the people I love? How much purpose am I putting into my relationship with God? Those small daily choices make all the difference. 

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