Lately, I find myself reflecting. Maybe it’s because it’s been two years since the coronavirus entered our airspace, shutting down the world (and our lives). Maybe it’s because I became a parent to two young girls during that time. Maybe it’s because parenting in a pandemic is really, really, stressful. Maybe it’s because, like many things impacted by the pandemic, my relationship with my family remains in ruins. I realize I am lucky to be writing this. Many are instead reflecting on the losses of loved ones, or the lasting physical symptoms brought by long COVID-19.
But the virus brought with it more than physical impacts. For some, like me, the impact was felt on an interpersonal level. One of the unexpected, lingering symptoms of the pandemic is the loss in friendships and relationships. Cuts to family ties held together by strings much thinner than anticipated. I am not talking about the distance created by suggested physical distancing. I am talking about the distance between my new, nuclear family, and my immediate family members caused by our fighting over COVID and vaccines—and ultimately, our differing opinions on the severity of COVID-19. As I look back and wonder how things got this bad, I wonder how I, and others, can pick up the pieces of our now fragmented lives.
When the pandemic hit, I was living in a different state from my immediate family. My first child was born a mere two weeks before we were confined to our apartment. The isolation my wife and I felt during those first months as new parents was intense. The juxtaposition between the horrors of the news and our new baby’s blissful state was stark. Questions swirled around in our minds: What is happening? What were we going to do?
So, we remained steadfast in our distancing. We essentially withdrew inwards within our apartment, within ourselves. If others lived differently that was ok—so long as we kept ourselves safe. Social media showed us that many did not take similar precautions. Those close to me expressed concern with the stay-at-home orders and their ostensibly abridged rights. I read about families being ripped apart by fighting over COVID and vaccines, but I dismissed the idea that it would happen to me. Besides, we had a baby, so our precautions were justifiable in their eyes. The geographic distance between us meant that our differing practices didn’t impact the others.
We yearned for more family contact. We feared it would be months before we saw family (and it was). They say it takes a village to raise a child; our village consisted of two terrified, exhausted new parents. Naturally, we erred on the side of caution. I ventured out for groceries alone. We masked up, even outside. We flew home once for a family member’s health scare, avoiding other passengers like gymnasts, struggling to keep our masks on while protecting our infant. The mental challenges brought by that trip, and any other close encounters in that pre-vaccine world, took a toll. Through it all we noticed the discontent among others that didn’t fear the virus the way we did. Call it new parenthood, or just straight up fear—we did not know what the virus could do to our newborn.
It should come as no surprise that our later decision to move closer to home did not turn out as anticipated. My family—a series of relationships I once thought impenetrable, and not like those dysfunctional families—now stands broken. Maybe not broken, considering only I am estranged. Long story kind of short: I disagreed with my family about COVID-19 and related safety measures. I asked about their whereabouts before visiting to determine whether they were a high risk. I asked that they distance and wear a mask in public. I asked for grace, perhaps for the first time in my adult life. It was met with irascible dissent, temporarily placated only by the fact that they wanted to see their grandchild. They wanted to live normally, without regard to the virus, and eat their proverbial cake, too.
Of course, one argument led to another and unrelated, invisible wounds opened. Horrible things were said. My wife grew pregnant with our second. More disagreements followed. Days of silence between us lengthened to weeks. My family members contracted COVID-19 the week my second daughter was born. Before then we had decided to move back to the state where we lived before the virus changed everything. Our move overlapped with their recovery period.
It is now late March of 2022. My eldest just turned two years old; my family hasn’t seen her since last April. My second child is eight months old; my family has never met her. There is no communication. There is no end in sight. It takes two to tango, and yes, my phone works as well as theirs do. Recently I decided that living without expectations of their involvement was for the best. And that worked for so long. But then I see my cousins and friends with their grandparents and siblings, and I wonder: was it worth it? Should I have sucked up my concern with the virus? Should I have let my guard down? Should I make a call now that, for the time being, things seem safer?
And then I think of the calls I did make. The attempts to convince them to meet my second child. I think of Christmas and birthdays where my innocent child unknowingly only communicates with her mother’s family. I think of the fears and anxiety from the year 2020, and I don’t feel the need to justify my decisions. I wonder about others enduring similar rifts, especially new parents encountering boundless isolation. I say the following perhaps because I need to hear it most: you are not alone. Your decisions are the best for you and your children. It’s easy to look back and say what you would’ve done differently. It’s not easy to sift through the realities—both past and present—and accept the things as they are. Picking up the pieces doesn’t mean you need to be the hero; it just means you need to keep moving forward.
Did you became a parent during the pandemic? Did you battle family over vaccines, mandates, and masks? Have you lost relationships when fighting family over COVID and vaccines? Let me know in the comments.