Care and Feeding

My Sister Is Appalled I Won’t Meet My Newborn Niece During the Pandemic

She and the rest of my family refuse to take COVID-19 as seriously as I do.

A young woman cradling a newborn baby.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

Earlier this year, my sister had her first child. Because she lives elsewhere and I’m in school, I was unable to meet my niece right away and had planned to visit them during spring break. Then of course, COVID-19 came along and out-of-state travel was out of the question.

My sister and I aren’t very close; communication has been strained between us for many years. She and the rest of my family refuse to take COVID as seriously as I do. My sister and mother are now planning to fly out of their home state to visit our grandmother (who lives near me). I am torn between seeing my niece for the first time and the concerns I have regarding the virus.

I’ve been very diligent about not coming into contact with anyone and I don’t know how visiting my niece would work in this manner. I am scared of further alienating my niece and sister, but I’m also scared of COVID. My concerns about them traveling with the baby have been ignored, and I am being characterized as “paranoid” and “over the top.” I don’t know how to handle meeting my niece while also adhering to my values in a way that my family can accept. What would you do in this situation?

—Stranger Aunt

Dear SA,

I’m not trying to sound cold, but you could end up raising your niece if your family doesn’t start taking this pandemic seriously. Alas, while you should be able to say exactly that to them (and you have my blessing, for whatever it’s worth, if you choose to!), it probably won’t help to melt the frostiness between you and your sister.

Perhaps what may work is an honest letter to her about how you want for your relationship to be better and that you are very serious about being in her daughter’s life—however, you are also very serious about your health and finishing school as planned. So while you are anxious to see the little princess in person, you do not feel comfortable breaking your social distancing rules at this time. Let your sister know that you’d rather be too cautious than not enough, that a lot of people have died, and that you only want for you and your loved ones to be safe. While you’d prefer that she tabled her visit until COVID is under control, you ask that she can at least understand that your choice not to see her does not signal a lack of love for her and her daughter, but rather, an abundance of it.

No matter what you decide to say to your sister (and your mom and grandmother), just be sure not to waver on your commitment to rigorous social distancing. You are doing the right thing, especially considering that this convening is likely to include at least one elder as well as a tiny baby. Meet your niece later. Work on building your relationship with your sister to the point where you can chat with the two of them on Zoom. But do not, I repeat, do not go to this family meetup. Do not let keeping the peace be the reason you end up resting in peace (OK, that was too far … but at least 195,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. as of this week, and I can’t believe we’re talking about it like it’s something that we can just blow off since we don’t want to be bothered anymore).

—Jamilah