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How NOT to Talk to Others About the Vaccination Debate

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I’ve been trying hard to stay out of the vaccination fray, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately that has prompted me to speak up.

Before I get into details, I should share my position on vaccinations with you. My daughters, ages 6 and 4.5, are fully vaccinated. They have received all of their immunizations on schedule, as recommended by our pediatrician, and they will continue to do so.

I believe that every child who can be vaccinated should be.

In the wake of the recent measles outbreak, my social media pages have been flooded with status updates, tweets, posts, and articles critiquing and criticizing parents who haven’t vaccinated their children.

“Negligent.”

“Crazy.”

“Stupid.”

“Idiots.”

Herein lays my problem with this conversation: As I much as I disagree with these parents, I do not think they are negligent, crazy, stupid, or idiots. I think they are mothers and fathers just like those of us who do vaccinate. I think they love their children beyond all reason or measure, and I think they are also parenting in an atmosphere of anxiety that can be nothing short of suffocating.

I worry every single day that something terrible may happen to one of my daughters. I am making every choice I possibly can to prevent that from happening. I believe that all parents–those who vaccinate and those who don’t–feel similarly. This intense fear and corresponding desire to protect our children leads some of us to vaccinate, others not to, and all of us to throw up our guards and judge each other harshly.

(To be clear, I do not think vaccinating and not vaccinating are both reasonable responses to this fear. One of them protects our children and the other puts them, and other members of the community, at great risk. But I do think we all share a common desire to keep our children as safe as possible.)

If our goal in writing articles and Facebook posts about the dangers of not immunizing our children is to increase the rate of vaccinations, then we are going about it the wrong way. I don’t know about you, but when people call me crazy or stupid, I’m not terribly likely to spend much time considering the validity of their perspective. My defenses go up, my heels dig in, and I stand my ground.

Change and growth only happen in the context of acceptance and kindness.

So let’s share our stories and perspectives. Let’s read the studies and understand the science. Let’s do our best to get as many children vaccinated as possible. And let’s do it all with the respect and kindness that every parent deserves, no matter what.

No matter what.

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