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How to Handle the Holidays (COVID-style) with Your Family

How to Handle the Holidays (COVID-style) with Your Family

Posted on November 19th, 2020 by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C

The holidays this year will be different than ever before. COVID considerations will have to play into every decision we make about our plans. Are you willing to get into an airplane, or will you have to drive instead? Can you manage social distancing at grandma’s house? Can you visit family at all?

There are no easy answers, and everyone has their own unique set of circumstances to think through. Here are some things you can do to make the process a little easier.

family Thanksgiving

Plan Ahead

Don’t wait until you show up at mom’s door to have a conversation about what precautions you want to be taking. Think through what lines you need to draw for yourself and your family.

Does everyone need to wear masks? What about when eating? Or maybe you want to skip the eating? Social distancing – 6 feet? Or is 3 feet enough? Does it make a difference if you’re indoors or outdoors? (Note that I certainly encourage following CDC guidelines; it’s just that they don’t cover every possible circumstance you might encounter.)

Once you have a sense of what your comfort zone is, communicate that ahead of time. Let your folks and family know what your preferences are (in a gentle and nonaggressive way, of course). This will allow you to iron out any differences of opinion that come up before you find yourself in a family mess (and it is guaranteed that they will come up).


Keep it Subjective

People usually think that objective proofs are the best way to get someone else to go along with your requests. The truth is that this rarely works in relationships. If you are trying to get a significant other or family member to accept your position, you are far better off taking a subjective approach.

This means that, rather than trying to convince your dad that masks really work and then sending him a litany of the latest studies, you drop the scientific line of reasoning and say something like, “you know, we seem to have different points of view about this issue, but it just makes me too uncomfortable to be there if you guys won’t be wearing masks. I’d really like to come. I’m not saying you’re right or wrong about the mask thing, I just wonder if you’d be willing to wear them so that we can feel comfortable being there and not anxious.”

When you make it a discussion about which side is right, you make it into a battle. Who wants to accept being wrong? When you explicitly take out the right and wrong and just ask for consideration (while accepting the possibility that maybe you are wrong, even if you think you’re not), you have much better odds of success.

(For those of you that are balking at the thought that I am suggesting putting feelings before facts, I can totally understand that, and I remind you that I am not speaking about creating public policy here. I am speaking about your family. So let me ask you this – have you ever resolved any of your arguments with your spouse by showing them the facts, and then they turned around, acknowledged you were right, and everything was hunky dory? I didn’t think so.)

family Christmas

Expect the Expected

If you already know that Uncle Leo isn’t going to respect your 6-foot rule, then don’t go in hoping it will be different and get upset when that happens. Decide in advance how you’re going to navigate the situation (which may simply be not going this year), and then put your plan into action when the moment comes.

If you need to vent to your spouse later on, go for it. But don’t get bent out of shape when the inevitable happens. Uncle Leo is going to get too close. Mom is going to praise the wrong candidate. Dad will flip on that awful news network. Be prepared to hold your tongue as needed and know that you can’t change other people – you can only change how you’re going to react.

This year will definitely have a different feel to it, whether it’s masks around the table or a family gathering via Zoom. Whatever your holidays look like, do your best to make the choices that will contribute to family peace and togetherness. Isn’t that what the holidays are about after all?.

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