Updated: Dec 18, 2020
Christmas can be a difficult holiday for some of us in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. What are we to do when our ideas about what feels safe or appropriate are different than those of our family members? Today I give my tips on how you can cope with this tricky situation.
Clarify your position.
Clarifying your position involves being honest with yourself about what your boundaries are in any given situation. Take a minute to be completely truthful with yourself about what you are and are not okay with when it comes to COVID-19. Are you okay with outdoor gatherings only? In-person gatherings so long as everyone is wearing a mask? Get clear on this first before talking to your family members if possible so that you know where you can stand and can remain firm about your boundary during the conversation.
2. Have empathy.
If telling your family that you won't be joining them for Christmas is met with defensiveness or guilt-tripping, know that this is coming from a well-intentioned place. As difficult as it is to be on the receiving end of these emotions, the reason that your family is upset is that they love you and want to see you. At its core, that's a really beautiful thing—and something you can validate in the moment. Connect with the love and pain that is lingering beneath their frustration. Validating statements come in handy here, such as:
"I can totally understand why you're frustrated about not being able to see each other; I wish we were living in different circumstances."
"It makes sense why you're feeling that way; I'm disappointed, too."
"I know this is difficult; it's hard to have to change our plans this year when Christmas is normally such a special time for us."
3. Collaborate on other options.
If your family is upset that you won't be joining them for Christmas, demonstrate that you are willing to do other things that create a sense of connection while keeping everyone safe. Some ideas include:
Offering to postpone the Christmas festivities until the lockdown ends or offering to host a family gathering to "make up for lost time" in the new year.
Sending a video message to your family for them to watch on Christmas Day so they know you're thinking of them.
Doing a Zoom call with them on Christmas Day
Offering to do an activity together on Christmas Day that aligns with guidelines (i.e. going for a hike together and opening your Christmas gifts for each other outside)
4. Make COVID the problem, not your boundaries.
If someone comes at you with anger or guilt-tripping tactics, redirect their anger towards the virus itself rather than taking it personally. You might try saying things like: