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It’s the start of a new year, and with that comes the traditional New Year’s Resolutions.  It’s sad, really, that we need something as simple as a calendar change to do the things we should have been doing the whole year before (or whole life before).  Yet every year people worldwide set goals to better their lives.  I’m guilty of it too.  And just like many others, I’m guilty of breaking them after a few months.  You get busy, you fall back into routine, and, well, life happens.

It got me wondering, though, what the most common resolutions are.  What do Americans think matter the most?  You can probably guess most of them.  Like I just said, it’s the things we should all be doing anyway.  And I really wonder why it’s so hard to follow through with them…

Losing weight, eating better and working out always top the list.  As does quitting smoking or drinking.  It’s easy to understand the reasons behind these.  Especially after the calorie laden crap we all eat and drink around the holidays.  Overindulgence is what the holidays are all about.  I’ll admit, working out was one of mine.  For a few years in a row.  (One week in and I can now run on my elliptical machine for a good 15 minutes without passing out!)  But why is this one so hard to accomplish?  Mr. T made a good point about this today.  He was trying to find a healthy fast food lunch option and spent almost an hour researching nutritional information of fast food chains.  Many of the “healthy options” like salads have just as many calories and as much fat as a cheeseburger.  “It’s easy to see how so many people just say F-it when it comes to eating right,” he said. And he’s right.  It’s a pain in the ass.  It takes time and effort, and let’s face it, most of us are too damn lazy.  Hopefully it won’t take a heart attack or another new year for people to accomplish this goal…

Next on the usual suspect list is making more money, getting out of debt, and getting a new job.  Again, really sad we need to wait until a year begins to work on our budget.  This one too comes after a season of maxing out credit cards to get friends and family “that perfect gift.”  I wonder what would happen if we all took the money we were going to spend on gifts and instead opened a savings account.  With regard to making more money, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “no one has ever been on their deathbed wishing they spent more time at the office.”

Also on the top list – stress less and volunteer.  Well, perhaps if we all worked out, ate better and actually went though the effort to save more money we wouldn’t have so much to stress out about.  As for volunteering; again, we’re lazy.  We don’t have time to do things for us, so where would we find the time to volunteer?  But perhaps if we saw what those with less lived like, we would stress less about our own lives and the things we didn’t own.

Now for my personal favorite – spending more time with family.  Come on people, this one’s free!  Not only is it free, I can provide ways to keep the other resolutions listed by simply doing this last one.  First of all, cook dinner and eat together.  There have been numerous studies linking better overall health and diet when a family eats a meal together. [i] Go hiking, take walks or even play active video games together.   My brother brought his X-Box with Kinect to our last family get together and we all got quite a work out (and perhaps even burned off dessert…or at least we told ourselves that).  Smoking and drinking?  That’s an obvious one to quit when you have kids…  Getting out of debt and saving money may be a little tougher, but it’s attainable with support from a close family.  Establish a family budget with your partner and get your kids involved.  We didn’t have a lot of toys and games when we were kids but we did have imaginations (they are free, by the way) and parents who enjoyed spending time with us.  Besides, my daughter’s favorite toys are the ones lying around the house (boxes, kitchen utensils, plastic bowls, etc.).  And if you’re spending your free time being active with your kids you won’t have time to spend money on things like cable TV, magazines, and other non-essential items.  Now for the last two – stress and volunteering.  Looking for something to do with your kids that’s free?  Der, take them with you to volunteer.  Show them how other people less fortunate live and perhaps it will teach them to be thankful for the toys they do have.  With regard to stress, well, look inside yourself.    If you are fortunate to have a close family (whether blood relation or friends so close they might as well be), are in good health (or at least working on it) and have a dollar to your name, you’ve got it pretty good.

So this year, let’s all try a little harder to actually follow through with our goals.  Like I just demonstrated, many can be attained with just accomplishing one.  And if you find yourself back to the old routine in March, don’t say “maybe next year.”  In the words of George Eliot, “it’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

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As a new mom, eating out at a restaurant sans baby is almost as exciting and priceless as taking a long hot shower and getting to shave your legs.  It generally turns into quite an ordeal: finding a suitable babysitter, breaking from baby’s nightly routine (and risking the detriment caused from doing so), deciding on where to go and what to do, finding an outfit that says “sexy” rather than “mommy” and well, taking a shower and shaving your legs.  Since it may be months before the next date night, there is a lot of pressure to make it a spectacular evening.  Is it really worth all that effort?

With over half of all marriages ending in divorce the obvious answer is yes.  When both parents work and the nightly routine is all about baby, it’s tough to find couple time.  My husband and I used to find ourselves crawling into bed once our daughter is down for the night, channel surfing until one of us falls asleep.

“How was your day?” I’d ask my husband.

“Same, you?” he replies.

“Good…so, anything new with you?”

“Not really” (mashing the page down button on the remote…)

Sigh…

That’s when we realized how far we were drifting away from each other.  We had become like roommates.  And we weren’t alone.

Many of our “couple friends” who have children are already divorced, their kids not even two years old.  It is heartbreaking, and I often wonder if we would have ended up there too had we not made an effort to get out of our rut.   However, we’ve only been on one date night and it was during the rut.  It did nothing but take that same conversation to a new location with a price tag.  Where you are doesn’t matter if the underlying problem(s) are not addressed.

When we were dating our ideal night was spent cooking a gourmet meal together and polishing off a bottle (or two) of wine.  Our love of food, both cooking and eating it, was and still is an important commonality between us.  Our first few years of marriage contained many nights of cooking together and bonding over a great meal.  Weekends were often spent perusing the isles of a Vietnamese or Mediterranean grocery store.   But with both of us working and needing to put our baby to bed at a respectable hour there was no time to linger in the kitchen.  With the day divided into “nap time” and “play time” it was difficult to spend hours at an ethnic grocery store on the other side of town.  We no longer had time for us.  Well, let me clarify.  We no longer MADE time for us.  We focused only on our daughter, her schedule and the everyday chores we previously had more time to accomplish.

After this epiphany, we stayed up late one night and discussed how we could set aside time for us and complete our seemingly endless list of responsibilities.  What we realized is that our lives were forever changed and that “us” now meant three people.   Yes, couples with kids still need time alone, but they also need to accept that their life will never be like it was pre-baby.  Raising children is one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs known to man.  It can be a strain on even the strongest of marriages.  With our daughter not even a year old, it had already become a strain on ours.  We then planned out how we could spend more time together in the evenings through the magical art of teamwork and how we could fit in time for us as a family on the weekends.

The next evening as I was preparing dinner, my husband tidied the kitchen, set the table and got our daughter in her highchair.  After we ate and I began the bath time ritual, he washed the dishes and packed our lunches for the next day at work.  Once she was asleep, we checked off all the everyday tasks and neither one of us had to be asked to do a thing.  We then had “our” time, and celebrated our accomplishments with a bottle of wine.  The following weekend we planned a trip to our favorite ethnic grocery store and Thai restaurant with the understanding that nap time was at 3:00 PM.  Our daughter had a blast and we were able to spend time as a family, doing the things we loved.

With the new meaning of “us” in mind our marriage is back on track.  Thanks to a lot of communication, teamwork and a renewed pledge to make time for the truly important things in life, we no longer feel like roommates.  We make even the shortest moments alone together count regardless of where they are spent and are more appreciative of each other for working hard to get those moments.  Weekends are spent as a family in the kitchen or exploring a new restaurant or grocery store and our daughter has now experienced new sights, smells and flavors because of it.  The bottom line is this: every marriage is tried by the stress of life’s new challenges.  Communicate, first of all.  Second, realize that life is all about change.  Work with that change, together, and life will be much happier.  Last, make time to spend together, both as a couple and family.  Do the things that brought you together in the first place, even if that something is no longer the same due to life’s changes.

Oh, and by the way…we still haven’t had another date night…

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