Sibling Rivalry

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Dear Jenny: My Brother, The Favorite, Is Hosting Christmas Despite Our Agreement

He's winning major points with this move!

Dear Jenny,

My older brother is the darling of our family. He's the high achiever, the high earner, and my parents' home is full of pictures of him: in his college cap and gown, in front of his nice house with his wife, and with his colleagues — people they haven't even met! — at a company function. I'm the big disappointment: the actor, the writer, the one who eloped, the one who got divorced, and the one who — still! — has a part-time job waitressing.

My family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas. Because of the pandemic, I thought we were all on board with not getting together (my parents are in their late sixties, and my dad has COPD).

But yesterday, my brother and sister-in-law sent us an invitation to their home — a huge colonial fifteen minutes from my parents — to celebrate Christmas.

Normally, my parents host Christmas. It's a lot of work for them. I bring food, but I'm a single mom with two kids under 5, so I can never host, especially since we live in a tiny apartment.

My brother is winning major points with this move. My parents are delighted and have agreed to come. However, I feel this gathering is COMPLETELY ENDANGERING THEIR LIVES HELLO CORONAVIRUS.

I know we shouldn't go. BUT, I have some big news: Last week, I got hired for a commercial. It's the biggest contract I've ever had, and I'll be on television, a measure of my parents' success. I'm dying to tell them in person, just to bask in their respect and adoration for once, to feel some of that praise normally reserved for my brother and his many achievements. Also, surely if we all wear our masks, and somehow I keep my kids from hugging their grandparents, and we open the doors and windows every once in a while, we'll be OK … ? Right … ?

Signed,

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Dear SISOSIG,

Please don't go to your brother's house for Christmas.

Your parents, and your dad especially, are at a high risk of dying if they contract COVID-19. They're in their 60s (the CDC reports that 8 out of 10 U.S. COVID deaths have been in people over age 65), and your dad has a lung condition. Because of the wide range of symptoms associated with COVID-19 — including a simple cough, or only a loss of taste — you or your children could have COVID-19 without knowing it, or could contract it in the coming days, and any of the three of you could pass it to either of your parents, or both, or to your brother or sister-in-law, or both, who could pass it along to either of your parents, or both.

As someone who has not seen another family member since January, I empathize with the desire to get together. We all have COVID fatigue. It hurts not to see people. It hurts that my son, who was 2 when the pandemic started and now is 3, will spend more than a year of his early childhood not being embraced by his grandparents, uncle, or aunts.

Still, I don't believe that the risk of anyone's sickness or death is worth, well, anything. And how we sit with our hurt, especially in the coming weeks and months, may mean the difference between life and death.

We have to remember: Other than some critical improvements in diagnosis and treatment, NOTHING HAS CHANGED SINCE MARCH. Yes, vaccinations in the U.S. have begun. But the rollout will take time, and also, the vaccine is not a magic bullet; and also, the virus is killing Americans at the highest daily rate so far; and also, there's a new, possibly more easily transmissible strain; and also, small gatherings (hello, Thanksgiving) are what have led us to the current spike in new cases and deaths.

But you know all this. Your issue is that you're still torn, because the need for unconditional love, respect, and acceptance from our parents is so strong we will consider taking a potentially fatal risk to get it.

First of all, congratulations on your success. You're obviously hardworking and talented, and these are two things that belong to you. I hope that these qualities — whether or not they result in more success — bring you a sense of satisfaction and pride.

Of course you want your parents to be proud of you, for them to be delighted by your success, and supportive of your choices. It's an inherent need. No one will ever be able to counsel you out of it. Nor should they try.

But here's the thing: You're chasing after something you may not ever get. Your parents' feelings about you, or their expression of feelings toward you, are not about you. They're a reflection of themselves and how they feel about themselves. They can change, thus changing their outlook, but you can't change them, with anything you do or don't do.

It's possible that, after sharing your news — for a few minutes, for an hour, even for days or weeks — you'll get some of the love and respect you so desperately want from them. But it's also possible that they'll do what they've always done: find cracks in your success, or a way to elevate your brother above you. Maybe they'll respond with surprise and disbelief, and maybe this will hurt your feelings. Maybe they'll express the admiration you're hoping for, but they won't do it for very long and, after a while, their attention will turn elsewhere. You have no guarantee of getting the outcome you want, and you're risking a lot for the chance at it.

You can't control your interactions with your parents. But once you get to the point of accepting that they may not be capable of giving you what you want — at least consistently, in a way you can rely on — you can make choices accordingly. You will never be perfect at it. We are not robots, led by algorithms and logic. But you can practice making choices that protect your heart, and in that way you can get better at making those choices.

In this case (back to your question), the answer really is clear: Stay home with your kids and keep everyone safe.

At the same time, you can celebrate your success in a way that's more reliable, that doesn't hinge upon anyone else's approval. Do something nice for yourself (with or without your kids), something unusual or surprising, or known and comforting. Mark the occasion. Call someone who is reliable for a no-holds-barred, positive response.

And when you do tell your parents (over video-chat), be strategic about caring for yourself. For example, have something planned for directly afterward, something that always makes you feel good — a walk, a call with someone more reliable, something active and engaged — just in case things don't go the way you hope, or to celebrate in case they do.

HOLIDAYS BRING UP A LOT. FOR MANY OF US THIS YEAR WILL BE ESPECIALLY CHALLENGING. FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: KEEP EACH OTHER SAFE. AVOID GATHERINGS, WEAR A MASK, AND PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING. PROTECT OTHERS—BUT ALSO PROTECT YOURSELF. DON'T ALLOW ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU, TO BE RECKLESS WITH YOUR HEART. YOU DESERVE TO GO INTO 2021 WITH ALL THE STRENGTH AND SELF-LOVE YOU'RE GOING TO NEED. PEACE OUT 2020. YOU GOT THIS. <3

<3 Jenny

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