The following post is written by Celia Behar and originally ran on The Lil Mamas blog.
Here’s something I’ve learned from co-running a mom website and forum: There’s no pleasing everyone. Scratch that- that’s true in life overall, not just in a mom website. There will always be things people don’t see eye-to-eye on, and, no matter how valid your point or how you approach certain topics, there will always be those who think you could have done more or said less. That’s just how it goes.
This week, my website partner and I decided to address the latest elephant in the room -vaccinations – in our weekly webcast, Talk Tuesday. We saw that a lot of similar forums are starting to ban the entire topic due to the conversations devolving into full-on dirty fights. Considering we pride ourselves on maintaining our forum as an inclusive, non-judgmental, safe, and open environment, banning a topic that moms are clearly thinking about is the last thing we would consider doing. On the other hand, neither of us ever want to see any of our 3000 members be subjected to derision, trolling, or simply unproductive arguments which, rather than enlightening anyone, only alienate those who are seeking advice or answers. As we monitored our Facebook group, we saw vaccine-related posts which began with legitimate questions frequently escalate into threads filled with offensive personal attacks, and realized we had to step in. So step in – and in it – we did. We outed ourselves as parents who believe in vaccinating our children, however we also tried to express those beliefs as neutrally as possible to maintain the integrity of our group’s mission. We were certainly prepared to take flack from people who oppose our views but, what I didn’t anticipate was getting personally called out for being “too neutral” or “too nice”. So now, I guess I’ll address that.
First off, I am NOT neutral on vaccinating kids, I think everyone (who doesn’t have a legitimate medical exception) should vaccinate their kids. I also believe that the only way to effectively educate people on why this is important is through discussion grounded in logic and reason, and without resorting to anger or fear-based personal attacks. I conclude this because, while protecting your kid’s health is, of course, “personal”, I think the ways in which we do it need to be rational, ethical, and respectful. My hope in keeping the conversation going is to enable the exchange of information freely enough to potentially encourage, or convince someone on the fence about vaccinating to choose to do so. Believe me- I’m not neutral (nor am I typically characterized as overly “nice”), but I just don’t think name-calling or verbal abuse is ever the way to make yourself heard. In my experience, the fastest way to get someone to stop listening is to put them on the defensive.
Now, I realize that not everyone likes to have an in-depth conversation with someone they categorically don’t agree with, and in MANY cases, I support that decision because no one wants to waste their time or energy talking to someone they feel sure will never truly ‘hear’ them. To me, however, this just shouldn’t be one of those topics. I keep hearing people say that they aren’t interested in being inclusive in this discussion- that they don’t care if they alienate people on the opposing side – but they SHOULD care. We all need to care because this is a community issue. It’s one thing to say that parenting choices are “personal” and specific to how we want to raise our kids, but it’s quite another when those choices can adversely affect the health of other kids (and immunocompromised adults as well)! This is a global issue and we need to treat it as such.
Here’s the part where I could rattle off all the proven research supporting the importance of vaccines. I could link you to thousands of reputable sources that support my stance, but if you’ve chosen not to vaccinate or you’re confused or on the fence about the issue, chances are you already feel bombarded with all the information out there. All of which means a whole lot of nothing to you when you stare into your child’s face and wonder how in the world you’re supposed to keep him or her safe from just about everything that could harm them. The cold hard truth is, you can’t. You can’t keep your child safe from everything. No amount of research, studying, holistic medicine, carseat safety awareness, or organic food will keep our kids safe from everything. So, would you consider the possibility that it’s not really the vaccines you’re afraid of, but rather the prospect of parenting in general? Remember that first car ride home from the hospital? Those moments after they handed you your first born and said “Good luck” and sent you out the door? I think we can all agree that was the scariest f**king ride of your life. Because, the reality is, anything – literally anything – could hurt your child no matter how hard you try to protect them and suddenly, as of that moment, it was all in your hands… but you still had to make that drive, and so you did. If this rings true to you, I want you to know that — as a fellow passenger on this parent trip — I feel you, but what I’ve found is that you have to own your fears and not let them get in the way of your “Spock” brain (Mr., not Dr.) and especially in cases like this, you must let logic reign over fear.
Star Trek references aside, I’ll say it again: I unequivocally support vaccinating our children. I also support having a community where parents can safely express their fears and discuss their choices, even if I don’t personally agree them. If we shut down dialogue on one topic because it’s just “too hot” to touch, where does it end? Being a parent can be isolating enough. There will always be issues that divide us, but the bottom line is we are ALL just trying to do right by our kids. Ultimately, I think one of the best ways we can do that is by sharing our knowledge and experiences, and by validating how scary the decisions we make can be. Vilifying each other is counterproductive in that it rarely gets you the desired outcome.
I also wholeheartedly believe it’s necessary for there to be continued research on vaccines and other drugs to further decrease potentially damaging side effects (while acknowledging that this is already happening today). I would also like to see increasingly improved oversight of big Pharma from the global and national health and safety organizations. Perhaps we would be better served using our collective energy to push that agenda forward rather than attacking one another.
As a mom I would just implore those parents who are questioning vaccinations to consider taking the following steps: Ask questions, talk to trusted health professionals and seek out information from vetted, reliable sources. If, at that point, you’re still unsure that vaccinating your children is the best thing you can do for both their health and the health of your community, consider examining what it is you are truly afraid of, own it, and then strap in your kid, get in the car, and just drive.