Dear Annie: What advice would you share for families who are grappling with members who have differing opinions about what is considered safe behavior for COVID-19 and protocols for how to interact over the holidays?
Since the start of the pandemic, my older sister and her husband have had a very laissez-faire approach to their safety, refusing to wear masks, limiting time with others indoors and in public places, and to socially distance, saying the virus is here and we all just have to learn to live with it.
Although it is their prerogative how they choose to behave within their bubble, as my sister continues to participate in high-risk activities, she also demands that other people in our family disregard their own level of comfort and safety to interact with them and their young daughter in person, including our mother, who is nearly 70.
When we ask her to limit activities or enforce basic guidelines like delaying scheduling family time after they participate in high-risk activities — such as attending a large wedding or planning to host visitors from overseas in their home — my sister lashes out at my mother for making such requests. She demeans her for attempting to limit her interaction with them, saying it is showing favoritism to my family, which does not participate in high-risk activities. She says that my mother is intentionally ruining her relationship with her own granddaughter.
Of course, my mother wants to see both my sister and her granddaughter, so she is incredibly hurt by these accusations, but she also wants to stay healthy and follow recommended safeguards and guidelines, especially given her age and risk level.
Over the past several months, my mom has maintained her level of comfort and safety most of the time, but she’ll eventually get worn down by my sister’s guilt trips and silent treatment and will see them in person anyway. This is usually as a demand to babysit. By doing this, without any expectation or give from my sister’s side, or her showing empathy for my mom’s reasoning for wanting to follow the recommended COVID-19 guidelines, the situation has grown progressively worse.
As my mom tried to make a schedule to alternate between families to show fair and equal time around the holidays, my sister reacted and has somehow positioned herself as the victim in the situation. She says she is wronged by the fact that it includes no contact periods so my mother can quarantine between our scheduled activities.
Besides dropping our own level of safety and comfort to align with her high-risk lifestyle, which we will not do because of my older son’s health risks, how would you suggest families like ours navigate this situation? Please help. — Frustrated Brother
Dear Frustrated Brother: Families like yours all across the world have to remind themselves that this is temporary. If you don’t feel comfortable seeing your sister and her family, or if your mother’s behavior — forced by your sister — makes you nervous, then don’t see them for the time being. Continue to talk to your mother about your concerns for her safety and tell her how much you love her and don’t want anything to happen to her.
Try the same approach with your sister. Remind yourself that, if you peek below the surface of your anger and frustration at your mother and sister’s family, it comes from an incredible love for them and their safety. When you come from that place, conversations seem to go more smoothly. Best of luck to you and your family during this time, and stay safe.
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