The holidays are usually a time of celebration and family togetherness but things are a little more tricky during COVID. Read on for some helpful tips to navigate this tricky territory from Amelia Peck, LMFT.
What Do I Tell My Family?
With the holidays coming up, I’m not sure how to handle who is "allowed" to come to our holiday meals and gatherings. I am always the “host” for my parents, siblings, and their families. Some of our family follow mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines, but others don’t. I feel like I’ll be criticized if I tell people who don’t follow those guidelines that I’m not comfortable with them coming into our home. Do I invite some family and not others? Do I tell them all we aren’t hosting anything this year? It all feels a bit overwhelming and depressing.
-- Mask-Wearing Mom
Dear Mask-Wearing Mom,
No doubt about it, 2020 is ongoing stress. Going into the holiday season, many states are seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases. In addition, several communities are seeing changes in restrictions with regards to restaurants and schools similar to spring 2020. You know, back when we thought this was all going to be over in just a few months.
People who run marathons will say that usually between miles 18 and 23 you experience your hardest mile to push through. I think this holiday season is going to be that mile 18 to 23 stretch. We are all looking for relief. We are all tired and feel a little worn down. At the beginning of everything, many of us were looking forward to the holidays as a reunification with those we haven’t been able to spend much time with. Sadly, with COVID cases up, this holiday season is not going to be that relief for many.
Over the summer, many expanded their social circles slightly. We danced a bit with the slight feeling of freedom we had in the summers. People began to travel a bit and there seemed to be the slightest tinge of normalcy in the air. However, now we are on the track that feels familiar to that of March and April where the whole ordeal felt unknown, anxious, and scary.
However, in everything that feels so out of control, I tell my clients every day to take a moment and reflect on what we can control. We can control our actions and the precautions we take. We can control the amount of news and media we consume during this polarizing time, and we can control who comes into our homes. Even if we don’t want to.
I empathize with the challenges of putting down boundaries with family. It is the hardest boundary on many fronts. It is also the most important. So first, choose what path you’re going to take with your family. Talk to them about this dilemma. Are you going to throw your hands in the air and say, “oh well, we’ll risk it a bit and just set our hand sanitizer so we can all see each other?” Do you only invite family members who follow similar precautions that your family follows? Or do you call it all off and celebrate with only the people who live under your roof?
If you choose to pick and choose who you invite, do it wisely. You will have to have clear boundaries and why you are including who you do and will have to possibly deal with hurt feelings on the other side.
If you choose the path of no one coming over outside of the family you live with, I understand that is a challenging call to make. It feels lonely in an already lonely time. We are all longing for connection. But if your gut is telling you that is the best choice for your family, you are not alone in making that tough decision. Look at the big picture. You know why you are making this decision. Remember that the discomfort a choice leaves you feeling does not mean you have made the wrong choice. Often, the choices that are best for our families are the most uncomfortable.
These are times when we can lead by example. We can state our case and aim to influence others towards habits that hopefully prevent the spread of COVID-19. We can't control anything anyone else does. And while you may find yourself sitting in the uncomfortable space of being that person this holiday, sit at your table with confidence. Sit at your table knowing that you made a choice that helps keep your family safe. If you let everyone come over, will someone get sick? Who knows. It’s more about the fact that it's not worth taking the risk to find out.
The key is to answer this question with your partner and your immediate family before you answer any of the pressing questions from your extended family. This gives you foundational confidence that will help you stick to the boundary you have chosen.