Having tough conversations with our loved ones is never fun, but when it comes to deciding whether or not to travel during the holiday season, we'd rather just be upfront. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has made traveling for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holidays a challenging decision — especially if there's flying involved. Given the circumstances, some parents are opting to keep their crew home this year, which may warrant a few disappointing phone calls to family members who live far away. Scroll ahead to see how to keep your cool while breaking the news that you won't be able to be together this year.
How to Make It Clear You Are Concerned About COVID-19
Depending on where your family members live, there may be fewer cases of the coronavirus, however, that doesn't mean it should be taken any less seriously. "COVID is a serious infectious disease that, while rare, has the potential to cause death even in young, healthy individuals," Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told POPSUGAR. "Heading into the end of October, the number of daily new infections is rapidly increasing across the nation. We still have an opportunity to respond to the current crisis, but it will take a concerted effort and vigilant use of the precautions we know are effective. This virus can't travel on its own, but every time we do, we may be doing it a big favor and enabling its spread."
While your parents or other family members probably miss you and are willing to go to lengths to ensure your visit, your family's limitations are entirely up to you. "Acknowledge differing opinions and understanding. Be explicit that while your opinion may be different, you are not willing to accept what you perceive as an increased risk to your health and safety and that this is not something you are willing to compromise, nor be convinced otherwise," Dr. Gonsenhauser said. "Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but you are not willing to debate yours."
How to Set Firm Boundaries With Your Family
Although the conversation may be awkward, it's best to lay out your preferences from the get-go. "Keep it simple," Dr. Gonsenhauser said. "This is about your health and the health and safety of your family and friends. You have every reason to be concerned and even scared. Be specific with regards to what your perceived risks are and the precautions that you are committed to taking. Would you prefer a virtual gathering? Be clear about it."
"Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but you are not willing to debate yours."
If you choose to physically get together with family over the holidays, make sure you're clear on the expectations beforehand. "If you are gathering in person, do you expect guests to wear masks and social distance? Make sure any guests are willing to respect your safety precautions," he advised. "Be informed about the number [of COVID-19 cases] in your community as well as the communities that any guests may be traveling from. Make it clear that if you perceive the risk to be too high, you may cancel or have additional precautions. You should also make your sources of information known to the guests so that your approach is not considered arbitrary."
Dr. Gonsenhauser also wants to remind parents that they don't have to go anywhere they'll feel uncomfortable. "Your best bet is to set boundaries and expectations from the outset," he said. "If a gathering is intended, but ground rules are not accepted, it should not take place."
How to Address Family Who Won't Wear Masks
If you decide to see your family over the holidays, you can still make your limitations known. You should make it clear to guests beforehand that everyone should wear masks and practice social distancing, and there's nothing wrong with giving them a firm reminder. "First and foremost, don't be apologetic about your concerns or beliefs," Dr. Gonsenhauser advised. "Resist the urge to offer 'I'm sorry we don't agree' or 'I'm sorry that we are requiring masks.' Reaffirm that you made clear your expectations when originally extending an invitation."
Spreading COVID-19 isn't something you should feel the need to compromise on. "Offer a clean mask and a final opportunity to respect your safety precautions," he encouraged. "If this all fails, say that, 'It's unfortunate that my well-being is not a priority to you, but as a result, I am asking you to leave.' Find support from your other family or guests if necessary, and make it clear that you are not alone in your position. Feel confident and secure in the fact that you afforded every opportunity and that the fault is that of the individual who knew your preferences, agreed to them, and then failed to have the integrity to respect you and your wishes. I truly hope that this is not an experience any of you must endure."
How to Give Family Members a Hard "No"
In some cases, even if your family member is willing to do everything you ask, you may still feel uncomfortable. Just in case you need the reminder, "no" is actually a full sentence, and you don't necessarily need to get into an argument with whomever you're speaking with about your holiday plans. For families who aren't accepting of your decision or who want to see you but won't respect your limitations, Dr. Gonsenhauser offered up a script for parents to use: "Unfortunately, we have been unable to find common ground. My health and safety (and that of my family) are my number one priority, and your decisions are placing me (us) at risk. If you are not willing to make a small and temporary compromise in order to allow me to feel safe and at ease, the answer is no."