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: If you’re the family “bad guy” because you’re taking COVID-19 precautions and no one else is, you’re not alone. Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My family of four is really hunkering down this winter since the pandemic is at an all-time high with positive cases and, you know, every public health expert is warning us to stay away from people not in our households. Well, I recently had the “Sorry, we’re not coming for Christmas” talk with my mom and dad who were none too pleased about not seeing their grandkids for Christmas. Which is totally understandable — I’m bummed to not see them, too. But my parents, sister, and brother-in-law all give me endless sh*t for staying home so much. They’re always out shopping, going to restaurants, and even traveling — BY AIRPLANE — as if nothing is going on. I’m constantly blamed for the family “not being together” during family gatherings. Everyone thinks I’m like, thrilled to be quarantining as if my family isn’t suffering from the stress of it like everyone else is. I’m so exhausted. I don’t want to fight, but I refuse to let them bully me about my pandemic precautions.
If you asked anyone, absolutely anyone you know, if they’ve experienced a shift in relationship dynamics with someone in their life since the onset of the pandemic March, I’d bet my life savings everyone you asked would say “yes.”
Once the economy opened back up, people were mostly left to their own devices on navigating the next steps in regard to safety. With zero federal guidance, a Trump-intimidated CDC, and Dr. Fauci on the backburner, state and local leaders across the country have been left to basically flounder on issuing mandates and general guidance for COVID precautions. Many people see stores and restaurants that are open and think, “Well, they must be safe then!” and without any government leadership to tell them otherwise, or heck, I don’t know, a government that pays people to stay home, we were all pretty much doomed because absolutely no one is capable of policing themselves effectively in America.
These places and activities are not “safe.” They just make money, and as long as something is profitable, the U.S. government will always value that above human lives.
That is not, however, an excuse to be an asshole to people playing it safe. If you are being scapegoated as the “ruiner” of family gatherings — gatherings that, mind you, are not at all supposed to be occurring — then you’re related to a bunch of assholes. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.
If shaming people worked, we’d have this thing eradicated by now. Unfortunately, shaming just makes people double down on their stubborn, stupid, careless, selfish, “I don’t care unless it happens to me personally” way of life. So if your go-to response is to match your family’s manipulative tactics with indignant shaming, you would be totally valid in doing so — it just won’t be effective in any way, and you’ll probably feel bad about it later (though you shouldn’t).
You’ve already identified your boundaries by telling everyone you’re not coming for COVID Christmas. Don’t feel the need to constantly explain why you’re staying away — this will just invite your family to continuously question you. All they need to know is that you’re not coming because it’s simply not advised to do so and the risk isn’t worth it. Tell them it makes you sad, too, to be missing out, but you’re just doing what you and your family believe is right. Many people feel like “do what’s right for you” is the mantra of 2020, but in reality, when people are careless it affects everyone, not just their household. “Do what’s best for you” people live in a bubble of privilege.
None of us have had an easy time navigating the guidelines. Not introverts, not anxiety-ridden hunker-downers, not kids who are at home instead of school, not ANYONE. Your family likely knows that by being careless (AN AIRPORT RIGHT NOW?? REALLY??) they are increasing their risk of potential exposure exponentially. They just don’t care. Nothing you say will make them care, unfortunately, so all you can do is tell them you love them, you want them to be safe, and you’re not comfortable gathering because it’s too risky. The end. Share information if you think it’ll be beneficial (data, infographics, anything from scientists like Jessica Rivera Malaty or Laurel Bristow, for example, is a good place to start).
Finally, know when to walk away from the conversation. If they’re getting overly defensive, or name-calling, or shaming you for being careful, that’s where the discussion ends. They’re projecting their own guilt onto you rather than deal with it like adults or live outside the comfiness of denial. It’s not worth it to engage at that point, and you don’t deserve to endure it. I hope your family is able to remain respectful. It’s okay to be sad about missing this Christmas. It’s not okay to be an asshole about it.