Dear Dr. Michelle:
My extended family decided not to celebrate Thanksgiving together because of COVID, but now they want to get together for Christmas and the New Year. When I talked to my brother and told him that I wasn’t sure it was such a great idea, he started to make me feel guilty. I want to spend the holidays with my family, and I want my children to participate in my family traditions, but I am very nervous about COVID. Any advice about how to think through this situation?
There are a lot of people struggling with this question right now. It is good that you are trying to be thoughtful about your decision. This is not the time to make decisions based on feeling pressure by others, nor should you let yourself fall into the trap of feeling guilty. As a parent with your own immediate family, you have a lot to consider. And remember, if you have a spouse or partner, this is not your decision to make alone. Your partner should have equal say since it could affect their health and the health of the children involved.
Spend some time asking yourself the following questions:
- Can you gather in other ways, like via zoom?
- Can your family pick a different day to celebrate the holidays after the pandemic calms?
- What new ways of celebrating or new traditions can you create to make this holiday special in place of being with family.
If these options don’t cut it for you, you might want to start by reviewing or revisiting some of the data and the information the top medical professionals are sharing, as well as the information contained on the Center for Disease Control website. Let your research guide your decision-making.
It comes down to the level of risk we are all willing to take. The risk goes up anytime we choose to gather in groups of people, even if those people are family. There is a risk because we have no control over what others have been doing, who they have seen, or where they have been.
If you are contemplating gathering, make sure you talk with family members and have a plan that everybody has agreed to follow in order to mitigate risk. If there is no plan, and there is resistance to making a plan, let that inform your decision. Here are a few things to consider when developing a plan to gather:
- How has your family decided who can gather and who cannot? For example, is everybody required to have quarantined for the 14-days leading up to gathering? or taken a COVID test? What if someone in your family tested positive within the last month?
- Will everybody be wearing masks except when eating and has everybody agreed to maintain social distancing?
- Will the space in the house be able to accommodate immediate family members sitting together while socially distancing from other families?
- Will you be able to exert authority over the rules being followed?
- Has your family agreed to not allow drop-by visitors who have not prepared themselves based on the family plan?
- If you do not like the behavior of others at the gathering and you become concerned for your own health or the health of your family, do you have an exit plan and will you have the strength to possibly go against the grain and act on your exit plan?
If you decide to not gather even if the rest of your family does, make sure when you communicate your decision you take care to not make others feel guilty about getting together without you. Do not be judgmental about their decision. Everybody has a different level of tolerance for risk, and your tolerance should not be the measuring stick for what others should do. In order to avoid judgement, own your choice as the decision for you and your family, not something you expect of other family members.
In the end, you need to do what is best for you and your family. Once you make the decision you will know it is the right one if you feel a sense of peace and calm. If you chose to go, but continue to feel anxious and worried, this could be an indication that you are feeling unrest about the decision you have made. If this is the case, choose to stay home instead of spending your holiday feeling fearful and concerned about getting sick.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.