Lifestyle

I'm Getting A Ton Of Pandemic Peer Pressure ... From My Own Family

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It feels like Americans live in one of two camps (shocking…I know). Camp #1: where you believe the pandemic is real and that it is a threat to American lives, so you adjust your life accordingly. And camp #2: where you either think it is a hoax or you recognize it might be real, but not as real as the fake news media says it is, so you’re going to go about your life normally because you refuse to live in fear goddamnit!

I’m in camp #1. The camp where people are taking this seriously and doing everything they can to mitigate the spread of the virus. I’m going to be honest. I hate being in this camp. This camp sucks for many reasons. I haven’t seen most of my friends or any of my extended family in over 8 months. My 7-month-old son, who is the first grandchild on both my and my husband’s side of the family, has barely had any interaction with his grandparents, aunts, and uncles. (If you’re doing the math, yes, I did give birth at the beginning of this pandemic, and that experience fuels this one, but it is a topic for another day). I hate wearing masks, but I still do it for over eight hours every weekday so that I can do my job teaching literature to high school students, because if there ever was a time in our history when increased literacy was needed, it’s now. More than anything else about this camp, though, the worst part is how alone all of us in it feel.

When you’re in camp #1, your interactions with the outside world are limited. I don’t have much to post on my social media feeds lately because I’m not going out often. But my feed is full of people going to bars with groups of friends, having house parties and baby showers, going to the gym, and eating at restaurants. It’s easy to feel alone when all you see are people who aren’t. The feeling of isolation gets even worse if the people closest to you are in the other camp. The emotional burden from loved ones who live in camp #2 and don’t understand those of us in camp #1 can be a lot harder to deal with than the pandemic itself.

My family is pretty large. I’m one of four siblings, three of whom have spouses or partners. So, when we all get together there are 10 of us, assuming no one brings along an extra, which we often do. We skate the line of the recommendations for the number of people at a “small gathering.” And even then, most of those recommendations suggest that the gathering be outdoors and socially distanced. Also, when we all get together, we are combining five different households. One of which is an apartment with four twenty-somethings. There’s a big risk for exponential spread. This risk is made even worse by the fact that everyone in my family is in camp #2. The one where people are living their lives as if there isn’t an airborne virus out there that’s killed over a quarter of a million Americans. So, while the rest of my family spends a lot of time together, I haven’t seen them in weeks.

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This shouldn’t be a problem. Families are supposed to love and respect each other regardless of differing views. And while my family certainly loves me — I would never question that — they seem to be struggling with the “respect” part. My dad and my siblings have all pressured me to join in on some familial event or other. They say they miss me, which is sweet, and they want to spend time with their grandson/nephew, which I would love more than anything. But they’re always just coming from a church community group meeting, or a dinner party, or some other indoor event with 8-10 people and I’m just not willing to take on their risk as my own. While I would love to tell you that their response is to be understanding, that’s often not the case. And the longer this pandemic lasts, the worse it gets. My mother accuses me of “punishing” her by not allowing her to see her grandson, even though during the time in question a member of her household was in mandatory quarantine for being in close contact with someone who tested positive. I’ve been accused of using the pandemic as an excuse to avoid my family. Some of them actually believe I’m happy for an “excuse” not to see them, even though I’ve never given them any reason to believe that I don’t love spending time with them. They’ve used it to question the strength of my faith, and love to tell me that I need to stop “living in fear” and to allow my faith to be “bigger” than my fear. They say I’m doing my son a disservice by keeping him away from his family.

Worst of all, not a single member of my family has once told me that they think I’m doing a good job or that I am a good mother. As a new mom in the middle of a global pandemic, this breaks my heart more than I’m willing to admit. All of that is highlighted by the fact that my husband’s family is very understanding, and my mother-in-law texts me at least every other week to tell me how much she loves watching me be a mother and what a fantastic job I’m doing. The contrast is jarring and it’s causing me a ton of anxiety.

Growing up, everyone tells you that peer pressure is bad, and they try to teach you how to withstand it. But no one could have foreseen a point in time where the worst peer pressure, gaslighting, and bullying would come from the people who are supposed to love and support you the most. My family relationships, particularly my relationship with my mom, are disintegrating because I am not allowing myself to be guilted into spending time with people who have clearly chosen their social lives over seeing me, my husband, and our son.

If your relationships are falling apart because, like me, you won’t be bullied into doing anything but what you believe is right for your family, then know you are not alone. I struggle every day with the fact that I might come out on the other end of this pandemic with fewer friends. The truth is, I understand where my family is coming from. None of them are at risk, and they are all very extroverted people. I try not to judge them for their choices, but it’s hard. Every time I see the graphs trending upward I think that people making the same choices my family is making are the reason why we cannot get this virus under control. And while I would never blame them directly, it’s frustrating that they still insist on blaming me for refusing to be around them. It hurts because I miss them, and I can’t even tell them that without them scoffing at me. Because, in their eyes, if I truly missed them, I would just come see them. But those of us in camp #1 know it’s not that simple.

There’s no solution to this problem, unfortunately. At least not one that I’ve found. So for those of you hanging out with me in camp #1, I hope you know that you are not alone, as much as it might feel like you are. I’m sitting here with you around that campfire, lamenting about how frustrating it is to be stuck in the camp where no one seems to be having any fun. Stay strong, and don’t let anyone pressure you into anything you’re uncomfortable with. If they really love you, then they’ll still be there when this is all over.