Is It Safe To Visit Your Mom On Mother’s Day?

As a physician, mother, daughter and socially responsible person, I find Mother’s Day this year complicated for me, as it is for millions of others. The question of whether and how to see my adult children and my own aging mother raises medical and ethical dilemmas. As an associate professor of family medicine with a focus on wellness, I would like to share my thoughts on this with you as Mother’s Day approaches with some tools to help you discern.

Wouldn’t it be nice if choosing to spend time with your parents or offspring was once an easy decision to make? However, the answer is rarely so simple. This year, in the midst of a global epidemic and the need for continued social distancing, the decision is more complicated than usual.

I present a Mother’s Day matrix to help you decide how to celebrate safely in a fact-based way. This matrix weighs many factors to consider, especially those related to epidemics.

Personal risk
Assessing your personal risk is one aspect of the matrix. Are you or your mother in a high-risk group? The presence of a chronic disease or being over the age of 65 are two major risks. You can check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s link for more specific details.

In addition to specific personal risks, do either of you have repeated contact with the public through your work?

Do you have symptoms?

Have you been in contact with a carrier? Are there young children in the picture who may be asymptomatic carriers?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it would certainly be wise to abandon any idea of being there in person. If all of the answers are no, you may proceed to the next part of the matrix.

Where you live matters.
Are you in an area with a high prevalence of coronavirus, such as New York City? If you’re in a sparsely populated area with low regional prevalence, it makes more sense to consider an in-person visit than if you (or she) live in midtown Manhattan. Check your local prevalence rates here.

If neither of you are at high risk and you are not in an extremely high prevalence area, the next question is: can you meet in person without violating any orders? Below is a list of restrictions by state.

Keep in mind that the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico are closed and non-essential domestic travel is strongly discouraged. Obviously, any situation that requires travel must go into the matrix calculation.

Finally, can your in-person visit follow the recommendations for social distance? Can you be six feet apart – preferably outdoors – and wash your hands often enough to avoid physical contact? Keep in mind that it can be hard not to hug, especially if you do decide to bring up a child.

If that’s the case, in the end, you need to check your own and your mother’s risk tolerance. If either of you are very anxious, insist on virtual contact.

Love and gratitude, while best communicated in person, can still be expressed virtually or over the phone. You can openly acknowledge that the greater act of love for each other and for your community is to stay home.

These days, we are being asked to re-examine what “normal” looks like in many ways. Perhaps the more reflective opportunities this pandemic offers, and the limitations it imposes, will teach us to honor our loved ones in the many small ways we do this year. The gift of concern – by phone, email or snail mail – is always possible.

And remember, Father’s Day is June 21, and it’s a good idea to consider the same questions then.