Our special-projects editor, Ellen Cushing, talked with one expert:
I asked Susan Newman, a social psychologist specializing in families and the author ofThe Book of No, about how adult children can have this conversation. Her advice? Let them down easy, but be firm. Explain that this doesn’t mean you love them any less, but that you’re worried about spreading the virus. Underscore that this is a temporary reaction to unprecedented events, not a permanent change. And make a plan now to be together in some way: Set up a FaceTime or Zoom call, or promise you’ll come visit as soon as it’s safe to travel, whenever that is.
If your parents push back, she recommends focusing on your own feelings of anxiety or fear, rather than trying to change their minds by bombarding them with statistics or news coverage. “You can say, ‘I understand how you feel but I don't feel the same. I’m quite frightened by this and I don’t feel it’s worth it,’” she said.
Most of all, stand your ground. In situations like this, Newman said, “you, the adult child go back to being your 10-year-old self, and you believe that for your parents to love you and be happy with you, you need to acquiesce to everything they ask and want.” But you don’t, and doing so sets a perilous precedent: “You don't want to slide back to your parents being the parent and you being the child, because you’re not a child anymore.”