My Family Has Different Opinions About COVID-19—And We May Be Forever Changed

April 12, 2021

According to the Pew Research Center last year, the United States was more politically divided regarding COVID-19 than any other developed country. I personally know people who adopted lines of thought and/or behaved in ways that do not align with how I’ve approached pandemic-life, so I kept my distance. And many people faced similar difficult choices the past year, resulting in smaller social circles and family gatherings. We made these choices based on science and ethics. And we made these choices to keep ourselves, our loved ones and everyone else as safe as possible.

So why are people angry, and taking the past year personally?

Last Thanksgiving, I attended a small gathering—including two siblings, a niece, my mother and her partner. Customarily, we have a much larger gathering and invite more family members. However, we came together as a family and agreed that the only way we could justify being together at all was to aggressively manage our guest list.

I felt especially bad knowing that certain folks in my family are retired and live alone. So a couple weeks prior to the holiday, I reached out through text and told them I was eager to be able to be around each other again. That I was sorry that the holidays looked so different this year and that I was thinking about them. “COVID-19 is just an excuse” and other obscenities flooded my phone in response.

Speechless.

I did not argue or try to change their minds. Rather, I just told them “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Admittedly, I also attributed the anger to the election results. (Yeah. I know.) All that to say, I genuinely thought they would get over it. But when Christmas time rolled around, they did not accept our gifts or acknowledge our request for a family Zoom visit.

This year has looked a bit better, having a vaccine and all. So my mom decided to host Easter and invite many of the (now inoculated) family members she hadn’t seen throughout the pandemic. While I did not attend due to a prior engagement, others simply refused to join. At the Easter gathering, my mother learned that we would not be invited to a family member’s wedding in October 2021. “Because of COVID, you know, like how you kept Thanksgiving small.”

As I gradually emerge from over a year of life informed by the coronavirus, I realize that some of my family ties may have been destroyed. I never imagined being here. And I am not alone. The pandemic created tension for many people’s relationships, casual and otherwise. Family is no exception.

Rejection is sour no matter how it is seasoned.

Obviously, there is a lot to unpack here and I’m sure the same can be said about most any relationship or family. But I can say, three central lines of thinking are helping me navigate this space:

Focus on helping others

My poor sweet Mama! I am consumed trying to support her and help her focus on the positive. The same family members that are angry with us currently were estranged from my mom for many years after my mom came out as a lesbian when I was a child. I consider the past and suddenly I am less concerned with my own hurt feelings and more focused on how the rest of my (presumably rejected) family is feeling. Sending brief thoughtful texts and making time for phone calls is helpful. I’m trying not to hesitate to ask what I can do to help.

Think realistically

Ask yourself, if someone loves you but they don’t respect your boundaries and ethics during a global pandemic, do they really love you? Is that the kind of love you want? I remind myself that we are righteous in our decision to keep our pre-vaccine COVID-era Thanksgiving gathering small. If others cannot see that, well, I hope that one day they do. In the interim, I’m still going to try my best to be happy. Because otherwise I give away all the power.

Love them anyway

This may be the hardest and most important line of thought I’m entertaining. When we’re hurt it is tempting to shut ourselves off and feel angry. Losing family is painful as we are losing relationships that have existed our entire lives. For me, it feels like a loss of being known. But anger doesn’t serve anyone. I am trying my best to remind myself that they are my family and I love them unconditionally, no matter what. No matter how absurd or childish their behavior may seem to me. I must keep loving. We all must.

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Photo: Tyler Nix via Unsplash

R. Coker
R. Coker is a legal professional and independent scholar. She enjoys spending time with her animal companions, reading, writing and exercising, especially yoga.

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