This year, Marva Brown’s home in Brooklyn was a little quieter. “We've always been a family that welcomed people into our home, but with COVID you can't really do that,” says the mother of three. Instead, the park across the street became her family’s de facto living room. They attended organized events, and the kids learned how to ride two-wheel bikes. Brown even joined the nonprofit that maintains the park.
So it’s no surprise that one of Brown’s resolutions for 2021 is to get even more involved in the park. "We are going to be out raking leaves. We're going to be caring for the butterfly habitat," she says. "This is a wy for us to help our environment, learn, and get outside and be active."
For many families like Brown’s, 2020 has been a strange mix of disappointments and new discoveries. And as the year comes to a close—and the reality of vaccines moves closer—families are looking at 2021 as an opportunity to figure out how to use what they’ve learned this year to impact their lives in meaningful ways—for next year and beyond.
"Crises can be opportunities," says Jim Taylor, psychologist and author of How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen. "This crisis has provided an interesting opportunity to step back to reflect and possibly reset individual as well as family lives."
So instead of traditional New Year's resolutions this year, Taylor suggests drilling down on your family's values, especially ones that have become clear during the pandemic—whether that's being with friends, protecting the environment, or something else—and figuring out how to keep those going into the new year. Here’s how to get your family started.
How to set family goals
First, Taylor suggests examining your family's values. Start by asking: "What's important to us? What are our priorities? Is it family time, education, faith, philanthropy?" Then ask, "Are we living a life consistent with our values?" If not, 2021 is a great time to make changes, he says.
Putting plans into place for the future can be reassuring to kids after a stressful year, says Ashley Zucker, a child, adolescent, and general psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, California. “Setting goals can bring that sense of control when things feel so chaotic,” she says. “And it can bring a sense of normalcy.”
Plus, the experience of setting a goal and then achieving it can feel really good. “That can be really empowering for children,” Zucker says. And, she adds, the process can offer children a blueprint for how to be successful in the future.
How to make goals stick
For anyone who's set a resolution to drop 20 pounds only to give up by February, you know sticking to a new goal can be tricky. The solution? Taylor advises keeping goals simple and breaking them down into smaller parts so you don’t lose sight of an overwhelming goal.
"Keep goals in the forefront of everyone's mind, whether it's putting something on the refrigerator or just keeping it visible,” he says. Otherwise, “it will fall off the plate when the plate gets full."
Another idea is to create a sticker chart or marble jar to keep track of how much progress kids have made on their goals. “Having something visible so they can see their achievement along the way is really powerful,” Zucker says.
To get kids on board, Taylor suggests involving them in the process. "There needs to be buy-in,” he says. “There needs to be participation. And there needs to be engagement in it.”
For tweens and teens, discuss goals in the context of their own aspirations, Taylor says. For example, if they want to make the basketball team once the pandemic is over, they can set a goal of practicing dribbling for 30 minutes a day. “Kids are egocentric little beings,” he says. “So if you couch a goal as being in their best interest, they’re more likely to go along with it.”
Coming up with goals
So what do families want in 2021 besides an effective vaccine and open schools? Mostly they want things to get back to normal, but some new goals have emerged from 2020:
Staying connected at home. Though all the forced together-time could sometimes be stifling, parents agree that being able to spend more time together as a family is something they want to continue in 2021. “It's taking advantage of the time you have together, and not having to be so busy all the time,” says Kim Wilson, a mother of three from Normal, Illinois. “Just enjoying being together."
That could mean setting goals to work from home more or spend less time running errands. "The kids got used to not wanting or needing to go to the grocery store," says Adrienne Scherschel, who lives with her husband and two kids in Ellettsville, Indiana. "So hopefully that will continue and we'll be home more together."
Learning more about diversity. After a year of racial strife, the desire to make the world a better place is motivating some families to educate themselves in 2021, too. For Cara Cekosh that's meant having tough conversations with her family about racism, including explaining the idea of slavery to five-year-old Luna. "It was a very uncomfortable conversation to have," she says. "I'm glad we did it." Once the libraries open again, Cekosh will pick up age-appropriate books to continue the conversations. (Read about diversifying your home library.)
Getting organized. Some parents want to get their families better organized before the world goes back to normal. “I feel like I have the time now I need to make that happen.” Wilson says. For her that means having regular mealtimes, a weekly family meeting, and finally getting chores under control. “I would hate to look back on this time and feel like I wasted it,” she says.
Making home-time fun-time. With movie theaters, restaurants, and sports venues closed, lots of families have found ways to entertain themselves at home this year—and they want to keep that going. Cekosh and her family have enjoyed cooking more and doing art projects.
"I'm now the mom with containers full of pom-poms, googly eyes, feathers, and pipe cleaners," she says. "Keeping this all up seems like it will be very natural and easy since these changes are baked into our everyday life now."
Staying healthy. Even though one of Brown's goals for 2021 is a typical New Year's resolution—eating healthier and being more active—it's for a wholly 2020 reason. Two of her family members died this year from COVID-related illnesses. "It has really made me think about my mortality and how I'm taking care of myself," she says. Her goal is to join in with her kids when they're playing at the park instead of sitting on the bench.
"That's a major thing that I'm looking forward to keeping up in 2021," she says. "My daughter said, 'Are you going to be here when I get married?' And yes, I want to be here when she's married."