It's been nine months since pandemic restrictions were put in place in many parts of the United States, and throughout the world. We are physically separated from our friends and family, and it is really, really hard. Many of us are lonely and frustrated. Many had to forgo Thanksgiving traditions, and now other holiday traditions will be skipped, or celebrated in a very modified fashion. As we all figure out new plans, I see again and again how much texting exacerbates family tensions and creates family drama.
Texting is an okay tool for adding items to a grocery list. "Please buy more milk and a loaf of bread," is a relatively clear text, although what type of milk, how much and what type of bread are all unknown. The person adding those general items to the list may want whole milk, not oat milk, and sliced wheat bread, not french bread, so even this relatively straightforward text may lead to frustration and conflict. I rarely send or receive a text about grocery items without having a phone call to clarify some item-- "How many apples, what type? If they are out of Granny Smith, do you want Gala?" Texting can be a useful tool, but it is best suited for conveying basic information. As a means of communicating emotions, it is seems to be most effective at causing confusion, or worse, anger and sadness.
As you think about the holidays and continue to make plans, that probably change daily based on infections rates, Covid restrictions and your own family's specific concerns, please remember texting is NOT a good way to communicate about how the family is going to approach the holidays. Just as the text about milk and bread leaves so much unanswered, texting a parent, sibling or friend "I think it's not safe to see you," will inevitably lead to conflict and confusion: "Why isn't it safe, is someone sick?", "Has someone been exposed, if so, when?", "Do you think I am being reckless?", "Who are you to judge?" A one sentence text can, and often does, lead to days of sadness and anxiety, often unearthing other family tensions. By the time someone eventually, hopefully, picks up the phone, emotions are running high and constructive conversation is unlikely. Decisions about changing long standing family traditions should be part of a larger conversation; a discussion that recognizes the emotions and interests of all parties, and focuses on a solution that at least attempts to address everyone's needs.
The most common scenario I am hearing about are conflicts between adult siblings in regards to visiting their parents. Reasonable adults can have different approaches to visiting during the pandemic. Some people would prefer to only visit virtually, while others want to visit in person. The specifics of each situation mean that there are any number of approaches that might make sense--- for example, the physical health of everyone involved; and, of course, mental health is also a key consideration. For each family there are many nuanced decisions that need to be made when determining when and how to visit- what testing has been done, what safety precautions will be taken? These nuanced decisions are best made in a conversation, and the stakes are very, very high, so it is well worth it to pick up the phone and call your parents and siblings. You may not agree on what to do, but at least you can talk it through and try to find a middle ground.
Divorced parents are also having to reconsider parenting agreements and create new holiday plans. Again, these are complicated decisions, impacting multiple generations and many households. Texting about changing holiday plans, or how to manage new Covid restrictions, is going to lead to fresh conflict. For many divorced couples is it is difficult to talk on the phone, but this is the time to think through possible options, and pick up the phone. I have been happy to see that many of my divorced clients have actually begun to communicate more clearly, and with less rancor, because the pandemic is so complicated, and requires them to coordinate more closely.
The pandemic will pass, but the feelings of betrayal and abandonment will persist unless they are addressed, so pick up the phone and ask your parents, siblings or children how they want to approach the holidays, talk about which traditions can be continued or shared remotely, make plans for celebrations in the future, acknowledge how difficult this ia, and allow other people to express their feelings. We may not be physically together, but if we can talk, we are not alone.