In many places starting this week, people will be celebrating graduations and other big events COVID-19 style. Some are coming up with elaborate plans, drive-by honkings, stadium lights, parades, and hiring photographers to capture the moments. I have fretted over how to celebrate my family members’ accomplishments, especially since I’m not usually the one to throw big elaborate parties, and I’m always the one who pinches the pennies.

I have one starting preschool in the fall, a preschooler who will move up to kindergarten, a 2nd grader celebrating his First Communion at church, a fifth-grader moving up to middle school, and a husband retiring from the military after 20+ years. All in the next few weeks.

However, none of them will get the big milestone celebrations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m learning to be OK with that.

I approached my fifth-grade daughter tonight and asked her how she wanted to celebrate her fifth-grade graduation. She gave me a blank stare, so I explained that she is missing out on her big class field trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo (it’s a big deal, driving four hours one-way for this event) and she wouldn’t get to do the fifth-grade send-off.

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She laughed and said, “It would have been fun, Mom, but seriously? I don’t need that stuff. I do miss my friends and wish I could see them again, but I really don’t care about all that other stuff.”

I received a similar answer from my preschooler, who expressed that, more than anything, she misses her teachers and friends, and really just wants to give them a big hug. My son said all he wants is to get to receive the sacrament at church. My husband is disappointed he doesn’t get closure on such a large part of his life but wants to be back home with his family, and that matters more to him than a party.

I know many people who are trying to plan something special, and something BIG, for their child or spouse who is surpassing a milestone such as graduation.

I get it. I do. It’s a big deal.

There are days I feel guilty for putting a Pre-K and fifth-grade graduation celebration on the backburner and guilty because I’m thankful I don’t have a senior in high school. I’ve pushed aside the idea of elaborate cakes and gifts. We’ve postponed my husband’s retirement party in hopes of one in the future. We canceled a four-day family reunion we were set to host.

There are days I feel the weight of the world, and I feel selfish because I am choosing simplicity over stress. But I’m choosing to let go. I’m learning to be OK with simplicity.

I let go of the party idea. I let go of the everyone-else-is-doing-something idea. I let go of the finances required for a big celebration. I let go of the comparisons.

But, mostly I let go of the guilt and the idea that my lack of celebration makes me a terrible, selfish mother.

The most difficult part of letting go and being OK is getting over myself. While I want to do these celebrations for my children, I also want to do them so I can show the world I’m a good mom. I compare myself, and I often find myself lacking some quality or amazingly positive characteristic other mothers seem to have in spades.

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I set high expectations, and then I’m devastated when the expectations are not met, and I usually get frustrated and angry. I want to be a great mother, and there are times where I believe that means I have to out-perform other parents.

Except I don’t.

I can be a great mother without comparing myself to other mothers. In fact, I will likely be better off for it. I have so much on my plate right now, I don’t need to add guilt to it. What if all my anxiety and guilt is because I’m making a bigger issue out of these milestones than is necessary? We can have a small family celebration to mark the events, but I don’t have to have elaborate plans, gifts, or even fancy decorations.

I simply need to be there for my loved one. With love. With kindness and empathy. With a hug and smile. With an “I’m proud of you.”

During this pandemic and all the side effects that are being handed out in our economy, many of us are being forced to focus on what is most important. We have to shift our focus away from our wants and toward our needs, and we are teaching our children to do the same.

We’re helping them understand that life WILL throw challenges at you. Life WILL mess up your plans. Life WILL disappoint you. But through it all, there are positives and reasons to celebrate. The celebrations may look different than originally planned, and some may even get canceled, but life continues to move forward. Life has positives in every day. Life is beautiful.

I’m choosing to bypass all the planning, stress, and trying to do big celebrations for these milestones.

If others, like their teachers, plan something, we will participate, but I don’t want my kids to think they are missing out, when in reality, they have been flourishing, growing, and learning so many new things. Why should I add stress and negative feelings to the mix?

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To summarize Dr. Seuss, these milestones will still occur but they’ll come without ribbons, without tags, without packages, boxes, or bags. The events will happen, even without all the glamourand who knows, maybe the milestones will mean more. Perhaps with simplicity, we’ll recognize that love, caring, and relationships are what we most desire.

Sure, the milestones are important in our life journey, but it’s the people around us who make those moments special and worth seeking. So I’m not going to plan any big celebrations, and I’m going to let go of the guilt and comparisons so I can remain in the moment(s) with my loved ones.

Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.