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Dear Care and Feeding,
I got engaged to my fiancé shortly before the pandemic started. I happily moved from my hometown to his, which is a medium-sized town outside a major city. We’ve weathered the pandemic fairly well, though our area didn’t have a mask mandate when I thought we should. While we have worked hard to try and reduce our exposure to COVID-19 (going out for essentials just once a week, always wearing a mask, only doing social activities outside with appropriate distancing), my partner’s parents have not been as cautious. They’ve been gracious about accommodating our new rules for visiting them—only outside—even when it’s been hot, but I’ve got some concerns about their response to the pandemic as it relates to our future children.
My fiancé and I both have extremely flexible schedules and work primarily from home. His parents have enthusiastically discussed watching any future grandchildren for about 20 hours a week, which is really all we need. But I’ve recently realized that I wouldn’t be comfortable sending my kids over to my future in-laws’ house at a time like this—they’re somewhat old-fashioned and not very concerned about hygienic stuff as I’d like them to be. When we first spoke about the precautions that needed to be taken to avoid COVID-19, they acted like we were ridiculous. They became more cautious over time, but they still frequently gripe that they’d be doing certain activities if only their friends were willing to do so.
I don’t really trust that they would limit their interactions with the outside world if we asked them to do so while babysitting for us and I basically told him I didn’t want our children to go over and see his parents at all during a pandemic because I didn’t think they would be able to fight the urge to touch them. My fiancé thinks I am overreacting, but I don’t want to take any risks with my children. I’d do the same thing with my mother, who is actually concerned about social distancing but is not very diligent. I think these qualities matter more in who we interact with than whether we are related. I know a lot of families are still meeting up with their parents who aren’t being careful. Am I ridiculous? I’m a bit of a hypochondriac, but I know how I want to live with a family in a pandemic. Am I asking too much?
—Frantic Future Mom
You aren’t asking too much at all. While arguing about hypotheticals often feels like a waste of time, this pandemic has shown that unforeseen situations can arise and uproot all expectations and plans. It’s better to get these difficult conversations started early than at the most stressful possible moment: when you’re actually faced with a child care–during-a-pandemic dilemma. And what COVID-19 has taught us thus far, among other things, is how incredibly reckless and cavalier many seemingly responsible people can be in the face of a epidemic that has become deeply politicized and mythologized to the point where some don’t even believe it truly exists and others don’t care because they simply don’t think it will affect them or anyone they care about protecting. Also, I think it’s fair to assume that our lives will forever be changed by what we are experiencing right now, and wise to make future plans with the possibility of subsequent periods of sheltering-in-place or other distancing safeguards in mind.
You are expressing your intention to take precautions to protect your future children based on what health experts have determined helps limit the risk of exposure to a dangerous virus. This is reasonable. If you and your fiancé have a vastly different set of opinions on how to approach such a situation if it were to arise in the future, you’re going to have to agree to some terms that all parties can live with. And while compromise is an important part of all parenting relationships, there are times in which you may have to be unwavering in your stances in order to adequately care for your kids.
Do not be made to feel like you’re being sensitive, overly concerned, or unreasonable because you wouldn’t feel comfortable sending your little ones to spend time with loved ones who weren’t practicing social distancing during a time in which it is necessary. Closeness by blood or by love means nothing to this virus, nor will it to others like it that we may be up against in the future. Use the time that you have now, before the kids are born, to help your new family understand why you feel as you do and that these are serious matters that you all want to adequately prepare for.