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Finding Bright Spots in the Midst of Uncertainty

By Nicole M. Young, MSW

2020 started off promising. The California legislature passed the first-ever statewide resolution declaring January as Positive Parenting Awareness Month. Go parents! I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia in February to present at an international conference for Triple P providers and researchers. My kids had enjoyed a long break from their rigorous high school and college classes and were gearing up for their spring semesters. Life was busy but good. And then came COVID-19…and racial unrest…and the wildfires…and repeated disruptions to our daily lives. This year has been filled with one challenge after another, and at times it’s almost too much to handle. And yet I find it helpful to remind myself and my family of the bright spots, or little moments of happiness, that give us a reason to be grateful, even in the midst of uncertainty.

This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email me at

Dear Nicole,
I normally love the holidays but can’t get excited this year because so many of our usual traditions will be changed or impossible to do. My kids are only interested in how many presents they’ll get, which makes me even less interested in celebrating. I’m usually the “cheerleader” that gets everyone else into the holiday mood, but I’m just not feeling it this year. I’m worried that my sour attitude will rub off on the rest of my family and make the holidays unbearable for everyone. What can I do to get out of this slump? Caterina

Dear Caterina,
I’ll bet you’re not the only person who feels this way. Although many people understand the reason for the continued physical distancing and limitations on travel and other typical holiday activities, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Here are some tips to try:

Let yourself experience all your emotions
Sometimes, the hardest part about the holidays is feeling the pressure to always be upbeat, cheerful, and create happy memories for everyone. That can be extremely stressful in any year, and even more so when we’re still living through a pandemic that has turned many families’ lives upside down. Before you try to get out of your slump, give yourself “permission” to feel whatever you’re feeling – frustration, exhaustion, sadness, anger, grief, or any other emotions.

Make time for self-care
This might seem impossible to do if your usual, favorite places (salon, spa, restaurant, movie theater, gym) are closed or have limited capacity – or if your family is around you 24/7. But self-care is even more important now, when so many parents are experiencing physical and emotional fatigue and restlessness after months of adapting their daily routines. Do your best to find “bright spots” each day – those little things that make you smile, make you feel content, help you feel ready to face the next day (or minute). Perhaps it’s drinking a cup of coffee or tea before anyone else wakes up, or listening to calming music, going outside for a walk, eating your favorite comfort food, or putting up your favorite holiday decorations or adding a new one to your family’s collection. Whatever you do, take a moment to notice the feeling of joy or contentment – even if it’s brief. Those small moments start to add up and can help shift your overall outlook.

Talk as a family about adjusting expectations and making new traditions.
Your family might already know and be prepared for a different kind of holiday season this year, but it’s still worth having the conversation. Talk about what traditions the family wants to try to maintain – such as eating specific foods – and what traditions need to be adapted this year – such as attending virtual religious services or other community activities instead of attending in person. Ask family members if they would like to try anything new this year that might become a new tradition – such as organizing a virtual cookie swap or gift exchange with friends, neighbors, and family members.

Final Thoughts
There’s no doubt that the holidays will look and feel different in 2020. Allow yourself to feel all your emotions, and look for any “bright spots” or small moments of happiness. If you need more assistance than what these tips have to offer, reach out to a trusted friend, family members, counselor, pastor, or other person who can offer support during these difficult times.

Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 17 and 20, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit, or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or

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