In life, we have a way of assuming things will go as we planned. We have traditions we try to maintain and sometimes life gets in the way. That can happen in a variety of ways, but in 2020 it’s happening to us all collectively at the same time. Today I wanted to talk about what happens when you don’t have the usual things to look forward to.

usual things to look forward to

Family & traditions

Growing up, traditions were really important to our family. We lived simply on my dad’s income as a teacher and we focused more on making memories than having extra stuff.

Our two biggest traditions were taking a family vacation every summer and a few different activities we did every year during the holidays. As an adult, we have continued many of these same traditions with our own kids.

I have a tight-knit family….so much so that when my sister and her family relocated to the Pacific Northwest almost ten years ago, we all followed. Within five years we each relocated our own families (as did my parents, grandma, and aunt) so that we could live near each other.

In recent years we have reignited our childhood traditions. We take family vacations together. We go together to cut our Christmas trees down each year. There are a variety of things we all enjoy doing together.

Every season there is something we look forward to doing with the family. When work gets tough or school has become tiresome for the girls, we look forward to those traditions.

But then came 2020. The year that we don’t have the usual things to look forward to. We weren’t able to do our yearly family vacation and we won’t be able to maintain our holiday traditions this year. Here’s what I’m learning in the process.

usual things to look forward to

What to do when you don’t have the usual things to look forward to

I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve been learning. I want to share some practical tips that have worked for me when you don’t have the usual things to look forward to. I hope that they’re helpful to you.

Here is what you can do when you don’t have the usual things to look forward to.

1. Adjust expectations

This past year I have learned a lot about adjusting my expectations. I’ve needed to adjust how I work from home with having kids and my husband at home with me since March. We’ve learned new ways of doing simple things like grocery shopping.

Through needing to change my expectations, I also realized how much of life I had been taking for granted simply because it had always been that way. Learning flexibility has been a process.

It’s something I’ve had to work on quite a bit with my kids. I have one child who goes with the flow. The other daughter has a really hard time when things don’t go as expected or planned.

This year has brought discomfort in trying to help her (and let’s be honest, also me) accept that we can’t make firm plans weeks or months in advance. As someone who likes planning and enjoys having the normal things to look forward to, it’s tough.

As you work to adjust your expectations, don’t lose hope. I firmly believe things will not always be this way and we can find things to look forward to. It just may look a bit different right now.

usual things to look forward to

2. Focus on cans instead of cant’s

When you don’t have the usual things to look forward to, it’s easy to focus on all of the things you can’t do. And this year, we’ve had to deal with a lot more can’ts than normal.

Instead, focus on what you can do. Be creative. Think outside of the box. Take this as an opportunity to create new memories and experiences that you likely would not otherwise have done.

Here are a couple of examples of the creative things our family has done and will be doing. While we didn’t go on our usually large family vacation this summer, we did surprise our girls and take a fun weekend trip with just our little family.

For Thanksgiving we will join the family for a nature scavenger hunt outside. We will eat our meal at home with just our family. Since I don’t enjoy creating big meals, we decided to make brunch for Thanksgiving.

We will take out our card table and enjoy it next to a fire in our fireplace. Will it be a fancy meal? No. But are our kids totally looking forward to it anyway? Yes, they are.

We’ll also be spending some time on Facetime connecting with family. The holidays will be different than what we normally do, but we are focusing on our cans and looking forward to enjoying our time together.

As you focus on what you can do, you get excited about what you’re doing, even if it’s different, and your kids will catch your enthusiasm.

usual things to look forward to

3. Create healthy coping mechanisms

It’s ok to be disappointed and sad in things not being normal this year. It’s ok to mourn not having the usual things to look forward to.

Being real with your feelings is healthy. Talking about how you’re doing with a trusted friend or family member can be therapeutic.

During a time where it is easy to isolate and turn inward, check in with yourself and make sure you’re creating healthy coping mechanisms. There have been so many stressors and challenges this year and trying to stuff those things isn’t good for you.

Try taking a walk. Getting our in nature and breathing fresh air can help quite a bit.

Self-care looks different for each person. Just make sure that you’re not ignoring your needs and you’re doing what you can to take a breather and care for yourself.

4. Focus on what’s meaningful to you

As you think about how you celebrate the holidays or whatever the normal things you look forward to are, consider what is most meaningful to you. At its core, what are those traditions about?

Most often it’s about spending quality time enjoying an experience with people that you love. Look for ways to you still focus on the meaningful even if it’s different this year.

While I know many of us are tired of Zoom, Facetime, and Skype, I am thankful to have these options where we can see family members and interact with them.

Is it the same through a screen? Absolutely not, but for me what is meaningful is connecting with people and I’ll work to do that any way I can.

5. Think about what you’re grateful for

If life is going great, or if it isn’t, you can never go wrong creating a gratitude practice and thinking about what you’re thankful for.

When you focus on gratitude, it doesn’t usually immediately change your circumstances, but it does shift your perspective as you recenter on what you do have.

While making the best of the rest of this year may not be easy, you won’t regret trying to make the best of it and reflect on what you can be thankful for.

I don’t have the usual things to look forward to this year, but I am looking forward to continuing to find ways to spend this unusual time with my husband and my kids. I have a lot to be grateful for.

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