While running errands last weekend I heard on the radio that in 2019, 55 million Americans traveled on Thanksgiving weekend and over 155 million traveled between December 21-January 1st. My family accounted for five of those travelers last year. My little family left New England and gathered with my extended relatives in Maryland to see my siblings, father, nieces and nephews—people I love dearly and only get to see once each year. My heart sank, thinking of how the holiday whirlwind will be here in just weeks and due to the pandemic, we will not be traveling beyond our own back yard this year.
Our decision not to travel is a no-brainer. While we all take precautions, we are also well aware that at any moment our families may be carrying COVID-19. We will not risk exposing each other (or people at rest stops up and down the east coast) to our germs. So how will we navigate the upcoming November and December holidays when we cannot physically be together?
Most holidays are celebrated over one of life’s greatest joys: good food. Even if you aren’t sitting at table with the same 20 people as usual, you can all decide to share the same meal from afar. This is the year to finally ask your brother for his corn bread recipe, or ask your mom to walk you through how she makes the turkey each year. While I don’t recommend putting a pie in the mail, there are other baked goods you and your kids can make together and ship in an airtight container to family members. Then get on a video call and enjoy the same dessert together to celebrate your holiday!
We all spend a LOT of time on our screens each week for work and school. But how often do you play on a video call? This year our small family Thanksgiving celebration will be punctuated by a huge, multi-family, live video scavenger hunt. There are a number of other family games that can be played via video call, such as Bingo, Freeze Dance, and Pictionary. A shared activity will buoy spirits and make it (almost) feel like you’re all together.
Give Back, Together
Another way to connect with family while apart is to agree to perform a community service project together. Perhaps you can all agree to buy a set of groceries to donate to your respective community food banks. Or you can all decide that each of you will write a letter to an elder to help make someone else feel less alone and isolated during the holidays. Small children can contribute by helping pick out groceries or adding a colorful drawing to a letter. By sharing acts of service as an extended family, you are strengthening your connection while also teaching your children about your family’s values.
Make Room for Feelings
Listen, I know how hard it is to stay upbeat and positive about yet another event that COVID-19 has ostensibly ruined for your family this year. But research shows that your kids look to you for emotional cues about how to handle unfamiliar situations. Remind and reassure your kids that the holidays are not canceled—we are just doing things differently this year. Staying upbeat is important, but this is also a great teachable moment for how to handle negative emotions. Especially if your children are old enough to associate certain holidays with extended family members who will not be present, it is OK to acknowledge and model labeling your feelings by saying, “I feel disappointed and sad we can’t see Grandpa this year!” This teaches your child that your family is a safe place to express feelings honestly.
Here’s to making some joyous, positive memories that your family will recall years from now. Happy Holidays!
More on Staying Connected from Afar
- Here are 10 ways kids can stay connected with friends during the pandemic.
- Help babies bond with long-distance grandparents with these 4 ideas.
- Wondering how to keep far-away family updated on your pregnancy milestones? We’ve got you covered.
I’m Claire, a Bright Horizons employee and a mom of three school-aged kids. I have spent years as an early childhood educator and researcher, and also as a writer, chronicling the ups and downs of being a mom. I believe that writing honestly about parenthood is the best way to celebrate the joys and normalize the challenges we all encounter. I live in MA and in my spare time I enjoy hiking with my dog and reading.