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Taking the Kids: Pandemic family dynamics and safety concerns upend family gatherings

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Like a lot of other kids, the four Beatty kids were excited about getting together with their cousins for a theme park vacation complete with a hotel stay this summer. Then their dad pulled the plug.

“It wasn’t the right time,” said Dr. Norman Beatty, whose kids range in age from five to 13. “The family was disappointed, but they understood.”

Perhaps better than most kids as Dr. Beatty is on the front lines daily in the fight against COVID-19 as an infectious disease expert treating COVID patients in Florida and as a professor at the University of Florida medical school.

He acknowledges, when it comes to big multi-generational families like his, not everyone is on the same page about what they should do to protect themselves and others, wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands frequently.

“We have had some intense conversations,” Dr. Beatty said. “Some are less inclined to want to adhere to the guidelines. At times it is hard not to bend the rules. Everyone is so exhausted by these guidelines. It’s tough.”

That makes the decision whether to get together with family, even just the grandparents, even harder. Could anyone in your family unwittingly expose someone at risk? Could other family members who haven’t practiced social distancing expose you? Can the kids play with their cousins? Hug their grandparents? Fly to visit a divorced parent?


“It is a constant risk assessment over and over,” says Dr. Vaile Wright, a spokesman and senior director of health care innovation for the American Psychological Association. She suggests many of us are suffering from Decision Fatigue. “There are so many decisions that have to be made that have real consequences,” she said. “It is about finding the balance that you are comfortable with and asking yourself what is in the best interest of your family.”

It also means explaining to the kids honestly and in an age-appropriate way why you have made the decisions you have, Dr. Wright adds.

“The overwhelming fact is we live in a country where virus is running like wildfire, more out of control than most other places. It is a very scary time,” says Dr. Arthur Lavin, an Ohio pediatrician and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics on psychosocial aspects of child and family health.

On our 2,800-mile road trip across the West earlier this summer, we met far fewer multi-generational groups than would be typical in the summer. And those we did meet were determinedly social distancing from other vacationers, staying in campers, RVs and cabins, spending their time outdoors, picnicking for lunches and barbecuing for dinner but unwilling to give up on precious time together. “We do this same trip every year,” one Nevada mom traveling with her extended family explained.


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