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Resisting blame & shame: Tips for talking COVID, vaccination with family ahead of holiday gatherings

In the end, your family will still be your family after the holiday. And who knows? Maybe what you fear could be just that: a fear that never becomes reality.

MINNEAPOLIS — With two weeks until Thanksgiving — and just over half of Americans vaccinated — things could get tense at your table if there are placemats for family members on either side of that data.

Let us begin this uncomfortable topic with an inconvenient truth from Dr. Vaile Wright, who works for the American Psychological Association.

"Oftentimes, these interviews can come across as if this is easy, and I want to dispel that myth. I actually don't think these conversations are easy, in fact, I recently got into an argument with a family member about vaccination status, so even so-called experts can sometimes get this wrong," Wright said.

It's a baseline truth to say that discussing whether or not to gather during COVID — and how to do so with everyone being heard with empathy and respect about vaccination status — is basically like threading a needle in the dark.

"I think a lot of people are trying to approach this as if there is a 'right' way and a 'wrong' way; that it's a black-and-white situation. And the reality is, there is no 'right' way or 'wrong' way to approach this objectively," Wright said.

So, how do we do it?

Remember: We all have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and it's better to start this conversation now than to wait.

"Because as you get closer, and maybe are wishy-washy and on the fence, then it can be easier to let those emotions want to take over," Wright said. "I think it's harder to have these conversations than to not have them. I get that, so I think that starting small, early, not so high stakes yet — I think will be helpful."

And when you start the conversation, use "I" statements, like "I care about you and what is best for me right now is"...fill in the blank.

"It's your decision based on what is right for you, and it's not about what the other person has or hasn't done," Wright said. "I think that will help keep people from being defensive and keeps the focus on you and your family and what's right for you."

Some things you really shouldn't do are blame and shame, or judge and grudge.

"I think that is what has been tripping us up this whole time. You hear a lot in social media — and media in general — about people judging each other's decisions, and I think we need to take that off the table because it's not effective, and not going to help anybody," Wright said.

In the end, your family will still be your family after the holiday. And who knows? Maybe what you fear could be just that: a fear that never becomes reality.

"I am hopeful that all this anticipation is just that. Anxious anticipation of  conflict when in reality when we have these conversations this year people will be more understanding than maybe we're giving them credit for," Wright said.

A final bit of advice if you go ahead and have this talk: Actually talk, the doc says. No texting.