For many of us, the past year didn’t allow for much planning ahead. Most, if not all, of us, had no idea what the next month would hold. Could we visit with family or friends, eat in restaurants, or shop in-person in a grocery store? Would our loved ones even be safe?
In a year where time both flew by and stood still, it’s easy to continue the pattern of simply getting through whatever the next months bring. However, 2021 offers a unique opportunity to do far more. After all, 2020 forced us to think differently, adapt, and reprioritize our lives—all things that can help us create our most intentional path yet in the year ahead.
How can we embrace 2021 with intention? These tips can help.
Cultivate your inner development
Think back to the biggest challenges you faced last year. Was it managing your child’s change in routine? Did you have to do your job, on top of the job of an impromptu teacher? Did you find yourself putting your own goals and those of your children on pause?
In addition to acknowledging everything you navigated, take time to look inward as you plan ahead. With the absence of many external events in our lives, now is the perfect time to create goals that focus on inner development, or the parts of ourselves the outward world may not see but we can feel and experience internally, such as our awareness and sense of well-being.
While “inner development” may sound like a wishy-washy endeavor, you can actually take concrete steps to nurture your inner self. Try, for example, taking part in a hobby you enjoy, learning something new (just for the fun of it), taking a leisurely stroll, or spending quiet time reflecting on, or even jotting down, your thoughts and feelings. This sort of development differs from the outer development that tends to consume us in normal times—acing a test, reaching the next level of a fitness program, landing a promotion. While outer development is important, it can overshadow our inner development—and leave us harried, stressed, and overwhelmed by our day-to-day obligations.
As you look inward, help your child cultivate his or her inner self, too. Children are naturally curious—and love things like looking up at the stars at night and inspecting an acorn or leaf. Follow your child’s curiosity, and see where it takes you. It may be more difficult, during the pandemic, to monitor your child’s progress or test new skills outside of home, but you can still work on personal development objectives—and even track them. These incremental steps can go a long way in helping us stay positive and move forward, when things seem to be standing still.
Create new routines and traditions
Another way to make use of the irregular year is to develop new traditions, especially ones that relate to personal goals—or to your child’s specific objectives. To work on teamwork and social skills, for instance, try planning a movie night with a discussion afterward or a regular fort-making session, indoors or out. Likewise, to get more exercise, try learning a new dance skill (like Salsa!) and designating an evening each week to practice. (YouTube, by the way, is a great source for free dance videos.)
To expand your child’s palette, add international cooking days to your weekly or monthly routine. If possible, involve your child in selecting the country or culture, preparing the food, and even creating culturally-themed decorations. While your kids may not be ready to eat the new cuisine you make, creating an international cooking day is a great way to expose them to new foods, textures, and smells—and to diverse cultures and lifestyles.
Creating regular virtual events with friends and family you can’t see in-person gives your child a chance to practice social and communication objectives. You can simply chit-chat and catch up—or plan something special like sharing a picture book, singing a song, or playing a game on a platform like Kahoot. For ideas on games to play virtually with friends, see this list from USA Today. And remember: even if you child can’t play the game independently, he or she can team up with you or another family member—and contribute in some way.
Heed your needs and limitations
It’s easy to play the parental martyr by doing everything for your children, especially when they require more accommodations than others. But if you stop managing your own boundaries, you can reach a point where you begin to model behavior based on the emotions of stress, anger, frustration, and fatigue. And that doesn’t benefit anyone.
To all parents and caregivers: consider creating your own goals for 2021. How are you going to prioritize yourself so you can be a supportive, loving parent? Often, this requires incorporating self-care, like a morning routine just for you or time for something as simple as reading a good book, reaching out to friends on a more regular basis, or getting more involved in a parental support group. Arranging play dates for parental time off may not be possible during COVID, making it more crucial than ever to carve out time for yourself.
Whatever you decide to incorporate, keep these three things in mind to help you succeed: don’t overlook inner development as a worthwhile use of time; heed and accommodate your own limitations; and involve your child in the creation of new goals. Keeping your children involved in the planning process gives them autonomy, while enabling you to create a realistic plan that you can sustain over time—and that prevents your own burnout.
Although we don’t know what next year will bring, we do know we’ve already been tested and have shown immense strength and resilience. We now have the experience and tools to handle what comes our way—and move into 2021 with intention and a positive mindset for a nourishing, growth-oriented year ahead.