During this holiday season, many of us are discussing topics with loved ones that were unimaginable a year ago. “What do you mean, you don’t come to your cousin’s Christmas party? We have been there for 20 years!” “Tell me why I should wear a mask at home!”
If you’re expecting challenging conversations about travel plans (or no travel) and pandemic-related safety precautions for all types of gatherings, here are some tips that can help you communicate your own needs while showing family and friends that you are are important.
How to open the door to discussion – and when
Success comes from the how and what of communication.
First, decide what type of communication is best for this topic and which person is loved. Does email allow space and time to process and then reply, or is it too impersonal? Would a zoom be more of a connection and an opportunity to share questions and thoughts in the moment? Or does it add an undesirable level of seeing and being seen vulnerability? What about a phone call or, if possible, a personal interview? Deciding who to talk to can make a huge difference.
Second, think about the timing. While many of us find that local restrictions and safety recommendations change weekly or even daily, the sooner you can make a decision about vacation plans, the better. A holiday dinner or family get-together is not an easy endeavor even in the best of times. So early communication saves unnecessary stress everywhere. Waiting for the logout until the last minute will likely not only disappoint the host, but also induce feelings of anger or bitterness.
Agree on basic rules for COVID security
If you plan to attend a gathering, even a simple walk or a face-to-face meeting, it is advisable to negotiate safety norms in advance that are acceptable to all. Trying to sort out how to wear masks and how far apart to stay after you arrive, the casseroles (and warm feelings) are likely freezing cold by the time you reach an agreement. How long you stay, what food safety rules apply, and how comfortable other people’s bladders and COVID safety are, is also important.
People seldom see everything at eye level; They just need to be comfortable with the basic rules that they can respectfully agree on. If you are in the minority during the pre-event negotiations, it is your decision whether to put yourself in a situation that may feel overly stressful or unsafe to you.
These can be difficult conversations, and it’s important to be clear beforehand about the messages you want to convey. One challenge of these times is that “I’m staying away” or “I’m staying six feet away” may be intended as clear messages of love and care, but may not be received in the same spirit.
Start with love – “I really wish we could be together this vacation” or “I really wish I could hug you” – and share your reasons for your decisions as simply, clearly, and safely as possible. A less personal and more objective approach can help minimize the other person’s disappointment, pain, or anger: “As a front-line worker, I’m sure I’m not ready to take the risk of you getting infected.” “I’m exhausted from my hospital work and don’t have the energy to deal with our family dynamics when we all get together. “
Recognize other perspectives and views on personal risk
It is also important to consider other perspectives in these conversations. None of us have perfect information to guide our daily decisions about risks in the COVID era. Everyone has different needs, desires and risk tolerances. It’s not about changing other people’s beliefs, it’s about creating a space that invites curiosity and healthy conversation that can lead to a greater sense of mutual respect and understanding when you’re done. (“I would feel safer being outside than inside. Do you think there is some way to do that?” Or “Since testing is free in town, I wonder if we can all meet up right before we meet What do you think? ”) Sometimes this can lead to creative results that work for everyone. And sometimes it’s okay to agree, not to agree.
One final thought: nothing lasts forever. If we can hold the long view that these difficult collecting decisions and conversations are only for the moment, that awareness can help us be more gentle with ourselves and one another. There will be other holidays and gatherings and reasons to be in closer fellowship again. Until that happens, gratitude for the good in our life, acceptance of what is not, and the ability to deal with one another with the best of intentions will prevail.