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… What do you do when your family is already putting the pressure on about gathering together for the upcoming holidays, pandemic be damned? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My parents live about a two-hour car ride away, and we typically always spend Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve there. My parents are wonderful grandparents, but they’re “apolitical” and don’t really believe in the severity of the pandemic. They’re not deniers or hoaxers, and they’re not Trumpers, but they most definitely live in their own little bubble. And because they’re in a more rural area, they haven’t really known anyone who’s gotten sick. We live in the city, we’re very political, we’re actively engaged citizens, and we are a work-from-home, virtual-school, no-playdates-unless-they’re-outdoors-and-very-distanced, mask-wearing, people. I don’t mean for this to sound stereotypical on either side, but it is what it is. My family is laying the guilt on thick about gathering for the holidays, indoors, with extended family as well, and I just don’t know how to say no. I’m going to say no, it’s just really hard to do that. How can I have this conversation?
You’re probably one of a million people wondering how to navigate through the holidays this year, at least. It’s going to be hard for a lot of us, I’m afraid. Partly because it’s really hard not spending the holidays in the same way with the same people we always do, and partly because a lot of people aren’t going to give a shit, gather anyway, post photos of it, and then we’ll feel like crap for not gathering in holiday revelry.
It’s going to suck.
Living in a bubble of ignorance sounds like pure bliss right now, doesn’t it? Damn. It must be so nice to be able to do that. And I don’t mean that snidely; I’m genuinely envious. But who does that help? Certainly not you and your family, who are likely all agonizing over how to confront them about not seeing them for the holidays.
My go-to answer — both for myself and for dishing out advice to people who aren’t as okay with confrontation as I am — is simply this: It’s not personal. It’s a pandemic.
You aren’t avoiding a gathering because you think your parents are careless idiots who are festering incubi for the viral plague; you’re avoiding a gathering because the risk that anyone could possibly become a festering incubus for the viral plague is not worth a few hours of breathing and laughing and eating indoors during a highly contagious respiratory pandemic where 40% of cases are asymptomatic.
Remember, you’re not doing this to hurt anyone’s feelings here or make some sort of passive-aggressive point. If someone winds up feeling personally affronted, and PLENTY of people have been personalizing this since the onset of the coronavirus, you can’t control that. And that sucks. But you’re doing this to keep your nuclear family safe, and your extended family safe.
Gently explain this to your mom and dad, who will likely still feel upset at the prospect of not seeing you. Try to come up with a safer alternative; an outdoor visit and a two-hour drive may not be ideal for either party, but it’s something. I don’t know if you’re all able to quarantine and get tested prior to visiting one another when it’s just you guys and not your extended family, but that’s a possibility too. Mitigating risk and assessing safety is possible for these situations, it’ll just rely on cooperation and compromise from both parties. FaceTiming during present-opening can make them feel like they’re not missing out. Will it be the same? No. But again, it’s something.
The holidays will look different for many, many families this year. But speaking from experience (from one year when I was a new mom and tired and just wanted to stay the hell home with a fire, food, and movies), a cozy little holiday where no one has to be anywhere and you can just enjoy your little family? It can be pretty perfect.