Dear Kiki: I can’t convince my partner or his kids to wear masks

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Illustration by Jav Ducker

Dear Kiki,

I coexist in a divorced step-family and we have different approaches to coronavirus. There’s nothing I can do to convince either my S.O. or their ex to make their kids wear masks in situations where they might be exposed or expose others. (I know this because I’ve been trying for years to get them to wear helmets and have been utterly defeated by the kids and parents alike.) I am “fairly strict” myself — I have conversations, even lengthy ones, at a distance with friends and neighbors, and only really leave my house for walks and essentials.

I’m in a scenario where I have no control over whether or not I’m exposed, though, but I’d like to be one of those people who can “open up” with a friend or two, and allow my own child to do the same. There are so many variables out of my control, and I also feel I’m overreacting in comparison to the two other parents in my life.

I don’t know if I am looking for an answer or a place to vent, but I’m interested in what you have to say about it all.


Dear Coexisting,

First off, you’re not overreacting. You’re just reacting. Each of us has a different comfort level, and it’s informed by a whole slew of different things, including our history with disease, our understanding of the situation, etc. I know you know this, but I’m harping on it because an accusation of overreacting can be a tactic of dismissal, and I hate to see you preemptively doing that to yourself.

It’s telling that our culture condemns “overreacting” to situations more than “underreacting.” The onus always seems to fall on the careful to ease up or be more laid back. And it should be obvious to us all at this point that that approach, taken to the extreme, simply does not work as a pandemic response (cough Sweden cough).

The trickiest thing about existing in a pandemic is that we have no control over the actions of others. But it’s important to discuss with your partner what, exactly, you’re comfortable with in your own home. You do have some control there. If your partner isn’t willing to enforce mask use with their children, perhaps they will compromise by, say, requiring that the kiddos shower immediately every time they come in from being exposed (similar to if they had a job outside the home).

As for opening up with other families, the best I can offer is that you be completely upfront with all parties about your risk factors. You’re likely to find folks willing to welcome you and/or your son into their circle, but the challenge is that anyone willing to accept your risk likely has a higher risk tolerance in general, and more open to others than you’d prefer.

We’re in a situation where very few people are able to manage their risk in a personally satisfying way. People who would rather be out are constrained at home; people who would rather be hunkering are required to work. The important thing to remember is that your view is valid and reasonable, and while you might not be able to come to a place where you feel safe, the other adults in the situation do have a responsibility to negotiate with you.

Be safe, and be patient — with yourself and with those around you.

xoxo, Kiki

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