• Noah & Emma are family as a result of their children marrying.
  • Noah - Grandfather set in his ways and beliefs. Has strong influence over who can attend family gatherings.
  • Emma - Grandmother who lets people do their own thing even if she doesn't agree. Has weak influence over who can attend family gatherings. Lives alone and hugely values visiting her children & grandchildren.

Emma is unvaccinated for COVID by choice and will never become vaccinated. Noah is strongly against this. Other family members are weakly opposed to but ultimately ok with this and have recently been happily interacting in person.

Recently, Noah had a talk with Emma that made Emma upset to the point of tears. His talk included hurtful, nasty, and false messages, themes uncharacteristic of our 25 year history together. The talk included:

  • Accusation that Emma would give their children COVID and destroy the children's business (I strongly suspect the contraction of COVID would not destroy the decades long business of two healthy vaccinated adults)
  • Accusation that Emma's son is angry at her for not getting vaccinated (I am the son's brother, in regular happy contact and have detected no indication of any anger)
  • Accusation that Emma is a danger to Noah's health as his health is generally poor. (Noah socializes with other unvaccinated people, attends indoor public gatherings, and flies recreationally.)
  • Accusation that Emma is splitting the family apart
  • Information that it is her civic duty to get vaccinated

IMHO Noah assumes that others have the same values and political opinions as he does. After 25 years he has now realized that Emma has alternate opinions and is lashing out at her for not conforming to his beliefs. I share this information as I am not sure how to reconcile Noah's and Emma's strong contrary positions to restore family harmony. I don't believe Noah would be receptive to dialog that contradicts his messages above.

In person, there is obvious strong tension coming from Noah toward Emma and Emma is already being pushed out of family gatherings by Noah.

What can be done to improve the situation so that Emma can attend family gatherings without animosity? (Note: Emma will never choose to receive the COVID vaccine.)

  • The simplest solution would be to have some gatherings with Emma and without Noah, maybe doing different things (e.g. if you normally entertain at home go out somewhere). But it depends on what sort of gatherings they are (you can't really have two Christmasses or Thanksgivings), and there may be other reasons why this isn't possible - how many people are invited, etc. People like Noah, who're used to their word being the law, are highly unlikely to change.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 21, 2022 at 9:42

1 Answer 1


There are a few ways to deal with disputes in a family. Even with those though, you are depended to an extent upon Noah and Emma for them to work. There's not a one-shot solution that you can undertake, that will solve everything.

The first, and often easiest solution, is to apply a 'don't talk politics or religion at the dinner table' like-rule. For you, that will mean inviting both Emma and Noah, and making it clear that Emma's vaccination status and their previous conversation about it are topics to be avoided: It's not to be mentioned, discussed, or alluded to. While I personally really dislike this kind of 'let's act like nothing happened' attitude, I have to admit it sort of works if I really have to be in the same room as some of my family members. It helps if you or other family members can help uphold the rule too: If Noah or Emma seems to be trying to pick a fight, jump in with a distraction, a topic switch, or just a clear reminder of the rules if the fight has already started. My mom for example has a habit of asking me to the kitchen to help out with something, to 'rescue' me, and my dad doesn't hesitate to tell his brother that he should knock it off, that I made it clear I wasn't going to have that conversation with him. Note that this will of course put Noah on the spot to choose between meeting Emma and not coming at all.

Another thing you could attempt is to understand why Noah thinks Emma will endanger his health, yet why he is willing to meet with other unvaccinated people. Perhaps there are differences in circumstances, and maybe you can attempt to make them match. Maybe he feels safer when meeting outside, or still keeping 1,5 meters apart, or the unvaccinated people he hangs out with have tested themselves before... If you can propose some rules to Emma to keep Noah safe (and Emma would be willing to keep those), this may also smooth things over. My family certainly hasn't always been "consistent" during the pandemic, but usually, a further inquiry into circumstances brought to light some differences that could be taken into account.

Finally, you can set ultimatums. You state that Noah has a strong influence over who can attend family gatherings, but if he's not the one organizing the gathering himself, he should have exactly no say over who can attend or not. So you invite both Noah, and Emma, and tell Noah to play nice or not come at all. And if Noah doesn't play nice, he isn't invited to the next family gathering. You can still meet with him, but always on occasions separate from those where you meet Emma. Maybe after a while, he will give in, make an honest promise to do better and can be allowed to come/try again. It's also possible he will stay forever mad... but just because Noah is family doesn't mean he gets to control what you do with your life. A solution like this, however, requires all other family members to be on board with this decision as well. In my experience, it can work, but people often don't react well to it and it's far from the ideal solution, as it doesn't remove the animosity, it only removes it from being the main theme at family gatherings as long as everybody supports the decision.

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