Mary Lundquist typically hosts her friends and family for Thanksgiving and Christmas at her home in the Pacific Northwest, but differing views on the COVID-19 vaccine have thrown a wrench in her plans.
“We do have friends that have decided not to vaccinate, and then my oldest son has decided not to, so those people are not included,” she explains. “And I am not a very aggressive person; I have opinions for sure, but it isn’t easy for me to do that because my feelings and my heart are involved.”
Lundquist, 75, is “very sad” her eldest son will not be with her for the holidays. She fears for his safety and is concerned he has been sucked in to “irrational” and “crazy” conspiracy theories about the vaccine.
Jean Pierre Sabourin’s holiday festivities have also been disrupted by conflicting views on the vaccine.
The 72-year-old from Ottawa, Canada, has a “very close family” that span five generations. But he recently realized not everyone shared the same opinion on vaccines when he invited the group to an in-person gathering and noted only vaccinated family members were welcome to attend.
“We were quite surprised to receive many negative responses about the need for vaccinations. Several stated it was a personal choice and we should not restrict family gatherings to only those vaccinated,” he explains. Each person gave a varied reason for their decision to remain unvaccinated.
“One responded that he had not completed his research. We were shocked and totally disappointed,” Sabourin says.
As a result of the opposing viewpoints, Sabourin and his wife have decided to forgo the festive season with family: Instead, they will travel to their vacation home in Florida early this year.
“As to the unvaccinated, we hope and pray they will come to the senses over time and get vaccinated, and during that time, they will remain COVID-free,” he adds.
Amy Morin, psychotherapist and editor-in-chief at VeryWell Mind, says she’s heard from many people who are struggling with the holidays.
“They’re thinking not just about themselves, but about kids maybe who can’t be vaccinated or more vulnerable people in the family,” she says, adding people are also concerned about the emotional and mental health ramifications of not seeing family for yet another holiday.
She says holiday plans can result in “a lot of disagreements,” some of which have lasting effects.
“I’m hearing from a lot of people who are saying our family is normally quite tight and yet we’re getting into these political discussions or we’re accusing one another of not caring,” she says. “I think that it could fracture families for a really long time if people aren’t careful.”
Sabourin has felt this division in his family.
“COVID has dismembered our family cohesion and may permanently damage it.”
Even though this holiday season presents unique challenges, Morin says there are ways to make navigating it a bit easier.
For starters, she suggests coming up with a plan based on your values.
“When you’re clear on what your values are and how you want to live those values out, it gets a little bit easier to tolerate other people who might not approve,” she says.
Language is important, Morin says. For example, you might use phrasing like: “Here’s what we’ve decided is best for our family right now.”
If you’re met with pushback, you can end the conversation.
“It’s OK to say, ‘I appreciate you have a different opinion, but this is what we’ve decided is best for our family,'” Morin says.
And remember it’s not your job to change anybody’s else’s stance, she advises.
“You can certainly listen to other people. I think listening goes so much further than lecturing or trying to change their minds,” she says.
Lastly, know that not everyone may agree, and be prepared for the emotions that come with that.
“Whatever you feel is OK. You might feel guilty even when you feel like you’re making the right choice or you might feel sad knowing that things can’t be the way that you want… Allow yourself space to be sad,” she explains. “Putting a name to those emotions takes a lot of the sting out of it… just acknowledging, ‘I’m anxious, I’m sad, I feel guilty right now,’ can help.”
Lundquist questioned her decision to exclude unvaccinated people from her plans, but she held steady because she based it on “very blunt and factual” information from her daughter-in-law, who is a nurse practitioner.
“I don’t think it’s something we should take a risk on because of our age,” she says.
Despite sharing her concerns with her son, including her worry that he could contract COVID-19 and die, she says he remains steadfast in his beliefs. She had hoped the reality of holiday plans would change his mind, but it has not made a difference yet.
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