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20-40-60 Etiquette: Holding family gathering when one is sick

QUESTION: During the holidays, one of our relatives was diagnosed with hand-foot-and-mouth disease. This was two days before the family get-together with lots of young children coming. My mother-in-law was having chili so she froze the food for another day and rescheduled. Should she have gone ahead with the party and gift exchange without the family that was affected (there were people coming from out of town), or told them to go ahead and come, (they did not think the child was contagious), or do what she did — reschedule the entire event?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious for other young children. It also can be contagious to adults. She could have still had the party without the contagious person, but this was up to her. Hope that poor baby got better soon. HFM is yucky!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: This is a tough call. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is contagious and most prevalent among children, but complications, especially for adults, are rare. But that’s not the issue here — it applies to any type of illness. Usually, a sick person stays home as the party goes on, especially with out-of-town guests. However, it was your mother-in-law’s call. If it worked out to have it at another time, then that was the right answer for her. Hopefully everyone was able to make it, including both the sick person and those who had to travel.

HELEN’S ANSWER: We are all watching out for germs these days, so it was probably better for the sick child to stay home. If the hostess cancelled, that was her call, as she didn’t want to get sick either.

One of the parents could have stayed home with the child, especially if people were in from out-of-town, and rescheduling was not an option. And whatever happened to hiring someone to stay with the child while the others attended the holiday event? Do people hire babysitters anymore? I think this party was not on the actual holiday, so maybe a sitter could have made it easier for everyone.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker: I don't have a clear etiquette answer for this. I do think it is the hostess' call if a family should get together or cancel due to illness.

There are many times we have gone ahead and gotten together with our family when we were sick. There are all sorts of thoughts about different illnesses being contagious and those prognoses seem to be constantly changing. Pink eye is an example I can think of. When I was young, you didn't go anywhere for days when you had pink eye, and you certainly didn't go to school! Nowadays, a child gets pink eye, you go to the doctor and get some drops and are back at school immediately and no one seems to blink an eye.

My understanding about hand-foot-and-mouth is that it is highly contagious. I have a friend who is a high school teacher and he gets the symptoms every single year. Concerning etiquette, it is certainly rude to take your sick child to a large gathering, but then again, what constitutes "sick" — a cold? Certainly the flu. Another thought I have for your mother-in-law's predicament is to poll everyone coming to see how they feel. That isn't personally my style. I like to make a decision and stick with it. I would let everyone make decisions if they want to join the party and potentially be exposed. The most important matter is that family and friends get together and spend time with each other. Holidays are a wonderful time because of that!

Since 2009 Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth, 40-plus and Helen, 60-plus and then some. To ask an etiquette question, email