By Kristen Kenney, MSW, LICSW

“Worst year ever” and “Year from hell” are some of the nicer descriptions I’ve heard of 2020.

Australian bushfires. Presidential impeachment. Global pandemic. Political unrest. Social and racial injustice. California wildfires. Economic devastation. By the time the murder hornets arrived, I could only laugh deliriously. 2020 was a horrible, terrifying, overwhelming year and I’m glad it’s over. However, I’d like to highlight some of the unexpected positives.

 

Education
Many parents, educators and experts fear lost academic learning due to the pandemic, changed learning environments and the exacerbation of educational inequities. These are serious and valid concerns that need to be addressed. However, our children are learning other things, not necessarily the items listed in grade-level benchmarks, but important things. For instance, many elementary school children have a basic understanding of how
Messenger RNA (mRNA) and the first COVID-19 vaccines work. (Science!) Then there’s the electoral college. How many of us really understood what it was all about before 2020? That uniquely American process is finally getting it’s time in the spotlight and, as a result, children have a more comprehensive understanding of our Federal Government. (Civics!) Also, although I had never heard the word “asynchronous” used in a sentence before 2020, I now hear 7 year olds throwing it around as frequently as 7 year olds used the word “cupcake” in 2019. (ELA!)

Family
For those of us that have been quarantined with family, we have gotten to know each other well, extremely well, so, so well. You know what I mean. But, what an opportunity! Despite the annoyances and challenges that come with spending so much time together, I believe most of us will look back on this time together fondly. Some kids discovered that their parents are front line heroes. We developed a new understanding of the vulnerabilities of certain family members and what we are willing to sacrifice to protect them. And we all realized how much we value our loved ones when we couldn’t see them in
person or hug them.

Self-knowledge
2020 forced us to prioritize what is important to us, what we needed, and what we could live without. (For example: Don’t need: new clothes, Do need: dogs). Which brings us to-

Rescue Dogs
Adoptions and fostering of animals rose and those new pets provided comfort and companionship to their humans.

Black Lives Matter
2020 reminded all of us that there is more, intentional work to be done to create racial and economic justice in this country. Conversations started with the Black Lives Matter movement and continue in earnest in businesses, schools, families, book groups, religious institutions and between friends and colleagues.

Self-compassion
We couldn’t do it all. Really, truly, no matter how hard we tried. The 2020 reality forced us to acknowledge our limitations and accept them. That’s a gift.

Mental health
The fear of illness, social isolation, economic hardship, and general unrest contributed to the rise of mental health struggles across all populations. Health care pivoted to allow increased access to services via telehealth and providers learned to connect and provide support from a distance. As a result, more individuals and families were able to access care and the stigma of receiving support has diminished.

Resilience
You can do, and have done, hard things. If you’re reading this, you’ve survived 2020 – most likely the most challenging year of your life – and that’s not a little thing.

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