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Can’t Agree On How To Socialise In Phase 2? Here’s How To Avoid Conflict With Family & Friends

Caption: Photo by Nani Williams on Unsplash

Are you looking forward to Phase 2 of Singapore’s reopening, where social gatherings of up to five are allowed?

If you have diligently followed Singapore’s safe distancing guidelines, you’re probably eager for Phase 2 to begin, but possibly with a hint of trepidation too. During the lockdown, it was crystal clear what everyone had to do to stay safe. With society reopening, we’re back to weighing the risks, seeing what the experts recommend, and trying to make the best decisions for the safety of our families — which those around us may not agree with.

It can be exhausting running through the list of social conundrums that may arise: What if an elderly loved one shows up at your door coughing and sneezing? Should you attend gatherings involving individuals who don’t care for safe distancing practices? Are you comfortable meeting friends who have to travel for business?

There’s also another issue to consider: are you, your partner, and your kids on the same page when it comes to social distancing?

This may be an uncomfortable time for some of us, but it can lead to greater understanding between us and our loved ones. With or without Covid-19, there’s plenty that we can’t control, and it’s up to us to make the best of each situation, with honest conversations, compassion, and a willingness to compromise.

Here’s how to keep your cool while navigating the social world in Phase 2 and beyond.

“What if I still want to be careful, but my family members don’t?”

First, it’s vital that you and your partner are not approaching each other from opposing corners. Set a positive tone for discussions by affirming that you both want the same thing, which is for the family to remain healthy. Next, make efforts to understand each other’s needs. Perhaps it would make you more comfortable not to have guests in the home for another month or more, but are you willing to accept that your partner and teenage children may view reconnecting with extended family and friends as a priority?

To be truly understanding, you need to see that it is reasonable for each person in your family to hold the views that they do, before trying to reach a middle ground. If, for your sake, your family members are willing to forgo entertaining guests at home in the immediate future, you can find a way to manage your anxieties about having them resume their social lives away from home. Perhaps they could hold meet-ups outdoors, or do a check beforehand to make sure the people they’re meeting don’t have sick family members at home. Try to broker ground rules for social interactions, but be mindful that you can’t force compliance on anyone.

For those who’ve had open conversations with family members who’ve returned to the workplace and school, you might be aware that it’s not realistic to expect everyone — even adults — to observe safe distancing at all times. Have you ever found yourself bending your own rules while getting caught up in social situations? If so, you might be more forgiving of your kids and teens, who are likely to forgo good judgement in favour of maintaining their peer relationships.

What can you do about this? Offer empathy, says psychologist Lisa Damour, who writes a column on dealing with teens for the New York Times. To better connect with your teens in particular, try a response like: “I know this isn’t what you want, and I wish things were different too.” If your teens pull the “but my friends are allowed to…” card on you, say, “I understand that you feel this is unfair, however, this is too much of a stretch given our goal of trying to stay healthy during this time.” Work towards problem solving together, and provide choices to reach a negotiated solution.

“Is it safe to have playdates in Phase 2?” 

We can have small gatherings in Phase 2, but is it prudent to have them? If there is a vulnerable adult or child living at home with you, you may not feel comfortable socialising even if community Covid-19 infections are low. This is a decision that you will need to discuss with your family, while respecting each other’s opinions and risk tolerance levels.

For parents eager to resume playdates, think about the most appropriate venue — in someone’s home or outdoors — and activities. In Phase 2, sports and public facilities will be allowed to resume operations, with safe management measures such as capacity limits in place. It’s not clear how long the coronavirus can live on play structures, but then again, touching a surface before touching one’s mouth, nose, and eyes is not thought to be a primary transmission method for the virus. Wondering if swimming is a safe activity? It appears that it’s less about the water, and more about who is standing in proximity to you.

Other things to consider include the duration of the playdate, and preferences about masks and sharing food and drinks. If you are meeting outdoors, it’s good to find a meeting spot with access to a sink for handwashing. Or meet with those who live nearby, while making sure there’s enough hand sanitiser to go around. Some families abroad have taken to forming social “bubbles,” where they restrict meet-ups to a small circle of like-minded families, and this could be something that works for you too.

Whatever you decide, don’t hope to run a 100% foolproof playdate — as long as the adults involved are considerate and mindful of the risks, the focus should be on enjoying one another’s company and having fun together again.

“How can I decline an invite or cancel a gathering without hurting feelings?” 

If there is a gathering that you would rather not attend due to Covid-19 concerns, you can decline as you normally would, by saying you have something else planned, or that something has cropped up. Better still, simply state that you or someone in your family is feeling under the weather, and leave it as that. If it’s a celebration that you’ll be missing, you can still be there in spirit by sending a thoughtful card and gift.

However, if you are the host, and it has come to your attention that one of your guests might be unwell, you can send a reminder to the group to only attend if healthy, opt to cancel the activity entirely, or send a private note to the individual to ask him or her to stay home. You could say, “You mentioned earlier that you’re not feeling well. I would love to see you, but as the host of today’s gathering I prefer to err on the side of caution. Can I ask that you skip out, and we’ll arrange to meet again when you’re better?”

Choose the option that is the least awkward for you, and refrain from preaching, reacting emotionally, or sharing articles as proof that you’re doing the right thing. If all of this is too much for you, you may want to avoid hosting activities altogether, and limit socialising to gatherings outside your home that you can walk away from, e.g. if a small-group gathering turns into a party of 20, or if someone is clearly unwell but still choosing to be out and about.

Should you find yourself repeatedly clashing with a friend over safe distancing, this could indicate underlying problems with your relationship. According to psychologist and “friendship expert” Miriam Kirmayer, two questions that you can ask yourself are: “First, does this difficulty reflect a larger pattern or ongoing issue, or is it specific to social distancing guidelines? Next, have you actually tried to share your discomfort and struggles with your friend? Have you opened up about why it bothers you?”

If your differences are limited to the area of social distancing, you may want to stick with texts and video calls for now. The coronavirus has already given us plenty of losses to mourn, and we shouldn’t let it kill our friendships too.

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