Family Life 2021—in Photos

The past year wasn’t perfect, but we’re getting closer to something that seems halfway familiar. Here’s a look at how families navigated the special challenges of 2021.

Families bond after a Thanksgiving meal in Houston on November 25, 2021.
Photograph by Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Family life in 2021 wasn’t exactly back to normal. But compared to 2020? We’ll take it. And though families faced multitudes of new challenges, they tackled them with the same resiliency and perseverance they’ve had throughout the pandemic.

As many adults started the year with news that COVID-19 vaccinations would soon be available, families adapted to the challenges this presented. Kids hugged their vaxxed grandparents—but only while wearing masks. Children had playdates—but only with other kids whose parents were also vaccinated. And though the day was coming when most children could get their own shot, that event would bring its own set of issues to overcome. What if the thought of yet another needle prick terrified your child? What if kids unable to be vaxxed were worried about spreading COVID-19—or catching it?

“Modeling calm responses and having open conversations about what’s happening … can be really helpful,” says Rutgers University’s Vanessa LoBue, associate professor of psychology.

The world opened back up for kids once vaccines were authorized for them, especially during the summer. Kids even looked forward to going back to school in person.

“When virtual learning came along, I wouldn’t do everything like I used to,” says Maison Smith, a high school freshman in New Rochelle, New York. “It was a challenge, but I’m excited now to go back.”

But who would’ve thought parents would face the challenge of showing kids how to communicate in a classroom while wearing a mask? Or figuring out if their child had lost important social skills during lockdowns? Or helping their children support friends and teachers who might have lost a loved one?

“It’s not a regular school year,” says Linda McNeiley, a middle school counselor in Hammond, Indiana, who—like many educators—dealt with surprising challenges as well. “I don’t know what a regular year will look like in the future, but we’re not there now.”

The pandemic wasn’t the only event that challenged parents this year. They had to explain to children why a mob of insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol, and make sure their kids were OK after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd. And a deadly, record-breaking heat wave forced parents to think about what future summers would look like for their kids.

But 2021 still provided families much to celebrate. Kamala Harris inspired children—especially girls and kids of color—by becoming the country’s first female, Black, and Asian American vice president. Kids went back to summer camps, and family vacations were a thing again. And of course, the holidays became the holidays after vaccinated families started celebrating together once again.

As far as 2022 goes? Challenge accepted.

“There are good things to be learned from struggling through mild adversity,” says Jessie Borelli, a clinical psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, in this article about forgiveness. “Like recognizing that we are resilient—and recognizing the value of the important things in life."

Read This Next

Talking to kids about advertising
When that must-have gift just isn’t going to happen