Believe me, you are not going to find me saying that COVID-19 has a blessing in disguise or that the last year has in any way been anything but heartbreaking and extremely challenging.

COVID has shattered families, ravaged jobs, created long-term health issues for many, and destroyed normal U.S. life. As a world-class worrier and self-diagnosed germaphobe, staying home (for the most part) has been a sad reality, especially in the colder, darker time of year.

I will say that it has forced many families into finding new and creative ways to not drive each other crazy, uh, I mean stay connected. For the nuclear family unit, that means maybe a new meaning to the family dinner or new traditions being forged based on the circumstances. Some have turned to Zoom, others to drive-by encounters.

Here are some new and creative family traditions our family has adopted due to the pandemic — these are sure to persist way beyond the point where we all get vaccines and can get back to a semblance of normalcy.

Family meals

We have started a few new rituals, games, and habits during our time in lockdown. We decided it was time we started talking about current events and the news of the day since our kids are now 10, 13, and 15. Each of us is charged with reading a current article in the news one day a week, and that person generates a discussion around it that evening. We have gotten into conversations about elections, COVID, foreign policy, and local politics and how we can get involved. It’s honing our kids’ critical thinking skills, and we really look forward to our discussions at dinner.

We have also started having family brunch on Saturdays. My little one makes fresh-squeezed OJ, and I make eggs or waffles or whatever. At first, we marveled at the idea that pre-COVID, we NEVER ate a weekend meal together. Now it’s part of our weekend ritual, which we love.

We have started Zooming in my mom on certain nights to “have dinner” with her as well.

And we have all started to play a role in meal planning. I will come up with a wireframe plan for the week, and the girls help me with creating the shopping list and making sure everyone will be happy with at least one component of every meal. We order takeout once a week, and each week one of us gets to decide where we order from while the rest of us suck it up.  

Extended family connections

We have also found fun and creative ways to include extended family and to “see” people even when far away.

For example, my 81-year old mother, who has been mostly isolated in a NYC studio apartment for the last 10 months, has become an active member of our new family traditions.

Before COVID, we would see her every three months or so; now my kids get to see her every week as she gives them virtual cooking lessons on Sundays plus other regular “visits” where she teaches them to quilt, knit, and sew. As mentioned earlier, she also joins us for meals. We see her and connect with her now more than we ever did before, and for that I am grateful, despite not being able to see her in person for almost a year.

Similarly, my father-in-law, who is local, comes over to the backyard on non-frigid Sundays for a firepit out back and a cup of tea and some munchies.

And those cooking lessons on Sundays? My brother’s five kids join from New Jersey, so the cousins get to interact as well. Normally we see them maybe once or twice a year.

Games, movies, and lots of downtime

Pre-COVID, we were all overscheduled. We rushed around every minute of the day, and it was hard to find us all in the same house at the same time (let alone many hours of the day together at the same time, day in and day out). Now, we play Pictionary after dinner, we play Jackbox virtually with friends and family, and we actually watch movies together (replete with hot chocolate and salty snacks). My youngest and I play cards almost every single day. New traditions.

Once again, I’m not saying all of this as some way of finding a silver lining to this horrifying mass casualty event and national crisis. I say it as evidence of our resilience and ability to adapt to even the hardest circumstances. And my hope is that long after the COVID crisis ends, these new rituals and family connections can live on.

I hope we usher in a new era of slowing down, of simple joys, and of mindful living.

Jenny Berk
Jenny is a crass and pushy (read = sweet) native New Yorker who has always had a penchant for New England, after attending Brandeis for 4 years, but especially so after meeting her husband Barry, who also happened to live in Boston. After marrying, and creating 3 awesome daughters - ages, 11, 8 and 6 - she and her husband moved to Needham and love it there! Jenny is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, Mindful Eating Instructor and Wellness blogger. She loves writing about how Mom's can navigate and prioritize their health and positive body image after having children. When she's not trying to figure out how the heck to parent a tween, She can be found blogging at the Huffington Post, (healthy living section) and on her site Heck yes! - mindfulness, kettlebells, body acceptance, yoga, traveling the word and eating decadent and unctuous (vegetarian) food. No way, man! - arthritis at 40, allergies to anything, animal cruelty, waiting in line.