Social Q’s: No Vaccine? Then No Grandkids


My mom married a man 10 years ago and became a different person. She is still loving to us, but her politics changed drastically. Among other things, she is now adamantly opposed to vaccines. When my son was born a few years ago, it was a fight to have her get a flu shot before flying to visit us. Her husband refused and skipped our son’s bris. Now we’re arguing about the Covid vaccine. She wants to visit, but she and her husband refuse to take the vaccine. I told her until she does, she is not welcome to stay with us. She can’t believe I’m keeping her grandchildren from her. Where do I go from here? I want my kids to have more than a FaceTime relationship with her.


For starters, stop blaming your stepfather for your mother’s decisions. She is an adult and responsible for her own choices. If she’s aware of your low opinion of her husband, that won’t help; she loves him. Plus, you can hardly pin the ascendancy of political tribalism and conspiracy theories on one man who married into your family.

I would recast your ultimatum — you’re not welcome here unless you’re vaccinated — into a statement of concern: “I want the kids safe, and I want you safe. Until we or you are vaccinated, let’s follow the advice of the C.D.C. and keep up masking and social distancing.” This gives her an option. Maybe she stays at a hotel nearby and meets you at the park?

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I get that it’s maddening to hear your mother spout misinformation about a lifesaving vaccine. You can pull together a package of data from a wide range of sources for her. You may make some inroads. Be gentle, but don’t relent. Your main job is to keep yourself and your family safe.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

Like many women, I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we married. Still, four years into our marriage, his family refers to me by his name. This makes me angry! I’ve asked my husband to correct them. He always agrees but has yet to do it. Now, we’re expecting a baby, and we plan to give our child my last name. I’m worried that his family will soon refer to me and our child by my husband’s name. Will a birth announcement clear this up?


Your anger is misdirected. We all deserve to be called by the right name. But if no one ever corrected your in-laws about yours, how were they to know? (Some people would ask whether you were keeping your name; others may not.) By promising to handle this and never doing it, though, your husband let you down.

Time to take matters into your own hands. This may be easier for you than for him. A birth announcement including the baby’s surname is a good start. But you will probably still have to correct your in-laws. Do it nicely in calls or notes about baby showers and gifts: “I should have told you ages ago that I decided to keep my name, and our baby will use it too.” (It’s also time for a talk with your husband about idle promises.)

My girlfriend and I just moved in together. (I relocated to her town.) We’re very happy, but I have a problem: The walls in our apartment are thin. And I often hear her use the bathroom without washing her hands afterward. This grosses me out! Can I raise this issue without making her feel bad?


If you can’t figure out how to discuss awkward issues with your girlfriend, your relationship is probably doomed. I like the direct approach (with a safety net of kindness). One day, when you’re both at home and feeling relaxed, say: “I’m so happy I moved here to be with you.” Let her feel loved.

Then say: “There’s an issue that bothers me, though. After you use the bathroom, can you remember to wash your hands? It’s important to me.” (This year more than ever, perhaps.) She may feel embarrassed or defensive at first. But making sure she feels safe before saying something critical of her increases the odds that your talk will go well.

My pet peeve has survived the pandemic! Some friends and relatives have been vaccinated against Covid-19, so I was able to host a small birthday dinner. I set the table with cloth napkins, but many guests didn’t use them. When the table was cleared, I found them untouched. Do they think I prefer them to wipe their hands on their socks? I think it’s rude not to use what I’ve offered. You?


Who knows why guests do what they do? Maybe they want to save your cloth napkins from tomato sauce — or spare you the extra work of laundering and ironing them (though you probably do that anyway).

I know something more important, though: Making people feel comfortable in our homes, by overlooking small gaffes, is a mark of great hosts and the best table manners around.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.


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