#parent | #kids | Are Friendships Breaking Up Over Social Distancing?

My own neighborhood groups are full of the same sorts of disagreements. Picking up a prescription at the pharmacy last week, I was terrified I’d become the subject of that day’s heated Nextdoor debate. As a consummate rule follower, I don’t just want to quarantine properly, I also want to be seen quarantining properly. During family walks, I massively over-pivot, swerving comically from anyone we pass. “Same family!” I want to call out, reassuringly. “Same germs!” Would it be overkill, I wonder, to insist on us wearing matching outfits?

For Lauren Rubenstein, a clinical specialist in the San Francisco Bay Area, venturing to the grocery store is particularly fraught. “I feel like I live in Gilead, where my every move is being monitored,” she said, referring to the city portrayed in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “People are constantly judging what others are doing and posting about it like they’re the shelter-in-place police.”

Andrea A. Thornton, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, said the phenomenon of social shaming “may be driven by anxiety, fear and an increased sense of vulnerability.” In stressful times, she explained, publicly admonishing others can be “a way of compensating for feeling out of control.” What happens, though, if it’s not you and a neighbor who aren’t on the same page, but you and your partner?

Rachel Kate Miller, a museum educator and after-school operations director in New York is eight months pregnant with her second child. Her husband, worried about the situation, wanted to move them temporarily to his parents’ house in Ohio. “We had a not insignificant disagreement about it,” said Miller. “I know it’s against C.D.C. guidelines to travel that far, my in-laws are in their 60s, and what if I need my doctor? It’s just an added risk for everyone.”

It’s crucial, said Dr. Thornton, to have a conversation where both parties can express their concerns without fear of reprisal or dismissiveness. “Try to consider the other person’s viewpoint with compassion,” she said. “Be curious about points of difference, rather than judgmental.”

With our lives turned upside down for the foreseeable future, it’s hardly a surprise that some of us aren’t seeing eye to eye. “We’re inherently social creatures who are being asked to alter long-standing patterns of human interaction and community formation,” said Dr. Thornton. “It can be difficult for folks to get their emotional needs met while also following the appropriate safety guidelines.”

Or to put it another way: This is really, really hard. And not just for parents.

“My 2-year-old asks to see her friends every day,” said Jasmine Ebott, an ob-gyn resident physician in Ann Arbor, Mich. “She cries as we pass their houses on our walks. It’s heartbreaking because she doesn’t fully grasp it, and sometimes I worry she thinks we’re punishing her.”


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