“First, there was COVID. Then, there was quarantine. But now that stay-at-home orders are lifting and things like playgrounds are opening up, I have a number of friends that are much more open—if not totally on board—with playdates, socially distanced or not. What's the best way to express that I'm not there yet without sounding judgy about their own choices? I can make up a fake excuse once, but not every time. Help!”
This is such a common (and excellent) question right now, as all of us are struggling to deal not just with the physical realities of COVID, but the psychological and social ones as well. That said, I’ve got a name for what we’re dealing with in these uncertain times: It’s called ‘COVID polite.’
It might help to frame this in terms of something familiar. Take roller coasters, for example. For some families it’s a no-brainer—they’re super fun and there's no reason not to go on them! For other families it’s just as easy—they’re super dangerous and X number of people die on them per year, which means there’s zero reason to take that risk. Most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Deciding your kids can’t go on the big rides doesn’t mean you're judging other families, it just means you’ve decided this is the best choice for yours.
Roller coasters aren't new, though, so we have lots of examples of how to let other parents know our decision. We might make a joke in the moment as we take our kids to a different ride. We might decide not to go to the park at all or stay out of the area that has the big rides. With COVID, though, we don't have any previous experience to draw on, not from our parents or friends or even books and movies. No one has done this before.