We know there’s a lot of uncertainty happening right now, and we want to help as much as we can. To this end, we compiled a list of FAQs from our community. Many of the questions were around setting boundaries amidst COVID-19 concerns. We reached out to a few experts to help you navigate some of the situations you may be facing. Please remember to continue checking reputable news sources for the latest information. Follow nationwide and local guidelines, as they may change.
Vickie Bhatia, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Whole30 Certified Coach. She works to help people overcome fear, manage emotions, and improve relationships. During this current situation, we turned to her to ask her a few questions we’ve been hearing.
I have a newborn or feel worried about exposing my child. Is it okay to restrict visits from local friends and family?
Absolutely, we should be restricting visits right now as part of our social distancing efforts to reduce the burden on our healthcare system. It’s important to remember that these recommendations are quickly changing. It’s also important to remember that these are uncertain times, and we’re all trying to make the best decisions we can with the uncertainty and limited information. Our individual situations are unique, so don’t compare yourself to what other people are doing. Do what is right for you and your family.
Sample scripts for setting boundaries
If you already have plans that you now want to postpone, get in touch with the other person sooner than later. Express your concern and emotions, validate theirs, and clearly establish your boundary/next step. You might say something like, “Hi Katie! I know we set up this playdate a few weeks ago, but with the current state of COVID-19, I’m no longer allowing visitors to the house right now and I’m not going to other people’s homes. I’m sad; I was looking forward to getting together! And I know our kids will be bummed, but I feel confident that this is the right decision for us as a family. Maybe we can set up a FaceTime date for that day. I still want to catch up and hear what is going on in your life!”
If you get pushback, you can selectively choose what to respond to, but continue to hold your boundary. For example, if the other person tells you that you’re overreacting or needlessly worrying, you could say something like, “I get that you think I’m overreacting, and maybe I am. This is what I’ve decided right now, and I’m going to stick with it. I’m doing the best I can right now. I want to reschedule, although I don’t know when that will be right now.”
If you continue to get pushback, you can say something like, “There’s really nothing that will change my mind right now, so we’ll just have to accept that we don’t see eye-to-eye on this. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know, but let’s talk about something else right now.”
How do I tactfully have conversations with out-of-town family members to refrain from traveling to meet my new baby?
Clearly communicate boundaries
This is a tough situation, and your approach will differ based on your relationship with the family member. If it is your partner’s family, have him/her take the lead, or at the very least, be involved in the conversation. Discuss with your partner beforehand to get on the same page about your boundaries. Calmly explain your concerns, perhaps about their health or the collective health of the community as well as your own and your baby’s health. Validate their disappointment or sadness at missing out on this milestone with you and the baby.
If there are differences in how these boundaries are applied to family members, be clear on your reasons so it doesn’t feel like one person/family is being singled out. Make your concerns and boundaries known as soon as you can to give people time to adjust plans. You may not be sure when you’ll be ready for visitors and that may depend on a number of factors. Be upfront that you don’t know and that you’ll let them know when you feel comfortable. Express your sadness, concern, and disappointment, and let them express theirs, but stay strong on your boundaries. Cite your doctor’s recommendations or local restrictions if needed. Also, be careful with your language – you are postponing their visit, not canceling it. It will still happen, but on a different timeline from what you all expected.
Creative ways to connect
Having a newborn can already be an isolating and difficult time. Although you may be limiting physical contact, you don’t need to be psychologically isolated. Try to find ways that family can still be involved. Lean on video chatting or sending daily photos/videos. At times like this, work to enhance communication and be more direct since it’s easy to miss out on a lot of non-verbal cues via phone/video.
Initiate contact or set up times to talk, since they may not want to intrude on your day. Keep family and friends updated on how you and the baby are doing. You can still ask for help, even if this temporarily looks different. For example, they could have pre-made meals delivered to you or occupy older kids through online games or books they can read together or video chat to give you some alone time with your little one. Perhaps grandparents can read good-night books to little ones or have a scheduled daily time to talk about their day. Even if you aren’t physically together, these small steps can help with bonding and support.
Dr. Vickie Bhatia is a licensed clinical psychologist in Chicago, IL working with adults and couples. As a first-generation American, she grew up in a tightly-knit immigrant community where there was considerable stigma around mental health and therapy. It wasn’t until college at Northwestern University that she became interested in psychological health and pursuing a career as a psychologist. Her passion is helping others live a fulfilling life based on their individual values and goals and reducing the negative association around mental health.
She has received extensive training in evidence-based treatments for a range of disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, and relationship dissatisfaction. She has specialized training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is certified in Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT). Furthermore, she is an active member of the academic community. Learn more about Vickie on her website.