Goal setting for working parents: 3 questions to ask

It’s a new year and with it comes plenty of talk about goal setting. In the same vein, there’s much being said about intention setting, resolution setting, defining your word of the year and more.

Not only can you choose your preferred terminology, you then have a bounty of options of what kind of goals you’d like to set: SMART ones (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) or HARD goals (heartfelt, animated, required and difficult). You can make lists and set targets. You can look inward for your goals or ask others for input. You can write them out on a plain piece of paper, picture them onto a vision board, or calendar them into a journal of your preferences — bullet, productivity.

If that’s not enough to overwhelm you, once you set your goals you’ll be left on your own to achieve them. Sure, there are a number of tactics from delegating to meditating that are said to help you achieve your goals. But, success is very much a personal endeavor. It fully depends on your motivation, your focus and your willingness to put in the hours.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite true if you’re a parent.

Once you become a parent, your life comes to orbit around the lives of your children. So any unplanned illnesses or injuries, unexpected behaviors that need extra attention, new life stages that demand a shift in parenting tactics can pull you off course from achieving your goals no matter how great your motivation.

It can seem, then, that setting and striving for goals is a futile effort for parents?

Not completely.

That is, if you first consider these key questions.

What is our family’s current life stage?

Before setting down any goals, consider your life stage. Are you parents of babies, toddlers or school-age kids. Each life stage brings with it opportunities and challenges. Consider what these are for you.

For example, if you have a toddler in your home, there may be several milestones coming your way this year. Perhaps it’ll be time to transfer her to a big kid bed, maybe you’ll need to contend with more difficult behaviors or it may be time for potty training. Each of these will require concerted energy and effort – time that you won’t be able to dedicate to your own pursuits.

So be sure to consider your family’s life stage. Working with your partner, discuss the potential impacts it may have to your lives and how you may want to tackle them.

Where do we want to go next as a family?

Just as important as it is acknowledge your life as it is today, you’ll want to be clear on any important milestones that may be coming up for your family in the next few years. These milestones aren’t goals. Instead, they are significant changes that can alter your lives.

Some of these may be obvious for you, but others may need deeper conversations with your partner on where you want to go next as a family. Maybe you’re ready to try for another baby? Or maybe it’s time for a move to a new house, a new neighborhood or a new city? Or perhaps one of you is thinking of going back to school or shifting careers. Talk these through as a family, so together, you can work toward them.

What adjustments can we make to our life?

As parents, it can feel like your lives are held hostage by your children. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams and goals. It does mean you have to be strategic and resourceful to make your goals a reality.

That starts by going back to the first two questions, and strategically planning out how you can manage the impact of this change. Going back to our earlier example of parenting a toddler that’s will move to a big bed later this year. Think through the potential impacts this change will bring. Perhaps it will alter your bedtime routine. If that’s the case, consider how you can gradually introduce small changes while she’s still in her crib, so you can minimize the pain she — and you will feel when the transition finally happens.

You’ll also need to find innovative ways to create more time in your days. Take a close look at everything you do. Then, consider innovative solutions to get the most important things done, while foregoing anything that is otherwise inessential. You may also need to rethink how you spend your free time, when you perform certain activities, and possibly, how you budget your spending.

Such an audit of your life can be tedious task, but for parents with jam-packed lives, it may be the only way to stay on track. To make it easier, I’ve created this worksheet for you.

Even by taking time to consider each of these three questions, the year ahead may still hold surprises that skew you away from your intended goals. Life has a way of happening, as the song lyrics go, when we are busy making other plans. That means you’ll need to stay flexible, so you can easily shift gears or move into new directions. 


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