Ask Scary Mommy: My Family Is Hosting Holiday Gatherings Despite Rising COVID Cases

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week … Are you having a hard time navigating the already fraught family dynamics of the holidays with COVID complications? Are you worried about disappointing your Nana or Pop-Pop if you cancel your annual Thanksgiving tradition? You aren’t alone.

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Dear Scary Mommy,

My family is stressing me out with holiday plans. Every day I field a call from my mom asking if we’ll show up to Thanksgiving. My kids are worried they won’t be able to see their cousins. I’m sad and lonely and desperate for some of my Nana’s sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie, and I really miss my family, but COVID numbers are rising everywhere. The numbers in my immediate area are surging. Am I hurting my family if I suggest we cancel our holiday gatherings, or if I don’t attend?

Repeat after me: there are no good options right now. None. There are only terrible and less terrible options.

Choices that used to be simple, like sending your kids to school or going to a restaurant or gathering for Thanksgiving, are now daunting and confusing and terrible. No matter what you choose, it can feel risky and sad and scary. That is the nature of living with an uncontained deadly virus, I suppose – something none of us have had to do before.

Instead of trying to find a good option, it might help to find the least terrible one. And for most of us, that will mean putting the kibosh on typical holiday gatherings with folks outside of your household, including Nana and Pop-Pop. Especially Nana and Pop-Pop.

Look, here are the facts: coronavirus cases are exploding. Everywhere. We are now above 100,000 cases A DAY. Just a few weeks ago, when we were at 40-50,000 cases a day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was warning about the risks of gathering in small groups for the holidays.

“But if you are in a situation where you have people who are vulnerable and you really want to be safe with them, you might want to not bring them together into a big dinner, or a big gathering where you have the possibility of a high risk of infection,” Fauci said in a livestreamed interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

And we are now in a much worse situation.

Since Nana, Pop-Pop, and folks with underlying health conditions are especially at risk, the more loving thing to do is to stay away.

“You want to take a couple of steps back and say, ‘Is it worth it for this year to bring those people together when you don’t know what the status of everybody in that pod that you’ve created is?'” Fauci said.

There are ways you can celebrate the holidays safely. If you’re able to get together outside with masks and spread out, you definitely reduce the risks. But for many of us, the weather makes outdoor gatherings uncomfortable at best. If this is the case, a virtual celebration is definitely the way to go.

There are ways to make a virtual party fun too. You could do a virtual murder mystery or escape room with your extended family. Or maybe the kids can do a talent show with their cousins.

Sure, it’s not ideal. But isn’t waiting a few more months to see Nana and Pop-Pop without the risk that you could send them to the hospital (or worse) worth the wait? Yes, it is.

It doesn’t make these conversations with family easy or less sad. But I think that acknowledging that you aren’t happy about the situation either can connect, if only in their shared disappointment. Remind each other that our socially distanced or virtual gatherings won’t always be the case. It will eventually be safe to gather in person again. And it is far better to wait a few months so that everyone can be there – alive and healthy – when that time comes.

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