This week’s story isn’t just any story – it’s my story!
I adore Thanksgiving. It may be my favorite holiday. It was my father’s holiday. With divorced parents, I loved traveling to Old Greenwich, Connecticut on Wednesdays after school to spend the fall weekend with my dad. He and his wife were the best feast-preparers, and we indulged in turkey, stuffing, and leftover sweet potatoes with extra marshmallows in little white ramekins all weekend long.
Ever since my dad died, I’ve continued to celebrate this special day with family and friends of choice. However, this year, despite invitations, I’ve struggled with the decision of what to do. My mother is aging (just a little) and I’ve had to take into consideration the risks, even if they are low, of being around other people. Who could live with themselves if their parent died as a result of going to Thanksgiving dinner despite warnings? At the same time, the burden of social isolation is weighing heavily on my mind and makes me wonder if the emotional boost my mother would likely get from attending Thanksgiving might not be worth the risk.
In therapy, we often play out scenarios and upcoming events in an attempt to anticipate realistic outcomes instead of hiding our heads in the sand or closing our eyes and hoping for the best.
What are you opting to do? Play ostrich or Tasmanian Devil?
This year, it’s easy to have a fixed mindset and focus on how things aren’t the way they’ve always been or how you believe they “should” be. It’s easy to have a sense of entitlement around what you believe you should be able to do or what you’d normally do. Unfortunately, this year the rules are a little different and the stakes are higher.
Around this time, we typically write about navigating complex family relationships. We know that is still a real challenge for many of you, especially if your family is pressuring you into doing something you aren’t comfortable with.
Like Peer Pressure
The other night while talking with my niece, I equated the choices around whether to physically/socially distance to being a teenager and trying to resist succumbing to peer pressure. When everyone is drinking, even though you’d decided beforehand you didn’t want to, you may buy into what they say and order a margarita.
In 2020, you might arrive at a social gathering wearing a mask and feeling committed to staying a distance apart from your friends and family. When you end up being the ONLY one wearing a mask and getting weird glances or snarky comments about being standoffish or afraid because others think COVID-19 isn’t a big deal, then we understand that it can be hard to do what you originally set out.
What You Can Do
In the same way that family members occupy a very wide berth of political positions, I’ve observed that, within close friend groups and families, the same is true for COVID-19. I’m guessing you know someone or are a person who really wants to be super safe and pays lip service to “being careful” while still attending unmasked indoor gatherings with others they deem to be safe. Maybe you know someone who simply believes the hype is insane and we’re all destined to get COVID-19.
Here are some helpful tips if you’re in this position:
- Being cautious occurs on a spectrum. What we assume others do isn’t always true. You can only bet on what you inspect, not what you expect. It’s close to impossible to completely mitigate risk from our lives, and everyone has a different level of tolerance for risk. The same goes for being cautious; everyone has their own definition of what it means. Understand rather than judge and be confident in your own choice to be cautious even when you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s judgment.
- It’s possible to gracefully decline an invitation. Ask for a rain check, find an alternate way to be together (virtually), cook together, plan a social distanced gathering, etc. Be sure to let the inviter know that, under different circumstances, you’d love to attend but are planning to stay home this year. You can’t control another person’s reaction, but you can plan how to communicate in a thoughtful and gracious way to minimize the chance of hurting their feelings.
- You can set very clear expectations and express what you’re comfortable with before choosing to attend. For example, perhaps you can ask who else will be attending, whether you’ll be eating inside or outside, if people will wear masks when not eating, etc. If you believe that you’ll be conducting yourself differently than other guests, then spend some time preparing yourself mentally beforehand so that you have a game plan.
Options to consider if you are still undecided:
- Use Zoom
- Find a different way of celebrating
- Eat outside
- Limit your gatherings
- Get tested at the end of this week and quarantine until Thursday
The holidays don’t have to be a write off because of COVID-19. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, try focusing on what you can to make this year’s holiday experience a positive one for your family. Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful. So, even though there are many things you can’t do, there are still other things to be grateful for. You can still focus on what’s going right in your life.
What I’m Doing
With lots of conversation, I’ve made the very hard decision to forgo my family celebrations scheduled for next weekend. I turned down two Thanksgiving invitations and one for stone crabs on Friday night (unheard of!), all with my nearest and dearest friends and family. When I did the very hard work of analyzing the level of risk posed by attending, I decided that the risk of my mother or myself getting sick, while most likely quite low, was simply too high.
I plan to pick up a turkey fryer this year! I usually make sweet potato casserole (no orange juice or pineapple in mine!), but last year I discovered that Wawa has the BEST sweet potatoes! So, my dinner may be “Wendy Fried Turkey,” Wawa sweet potatoes with my own marshmallows briefly under the broiler, and a Mike’s Apple Crisp pie. Wish you could join me!
Let’s Talk in Tampa
If you need a bit of guidance on deciding how you’ll spend this Thanksgiving holiday, then reach out to our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa today! We currently offer private, online sessions via telehealth as well as a limited number of telehealth and in-person evaluations for all ages.