If anything is perfectly clear about today’s vaccination topic, it’s that shame culture in the parenting world is alive, thriving and doing more than well.
Before I get started, let me get off my soapbox and share a little secret with you. Did I vaccinate my kids? Yes. Have I been filled with anger for anti-vaxxers when I thought my child was at risk? Yes!
I remember taking my child to the emergency room (doctor told me to go to check out a concerning lump), where I tried to keep my son from touching everything. I tirelessly chased him and tried to keep his little hands sanitized. When I looked over, I remember seeing a very sick little boy, whom I stereotypically looked at his parents and assumed the child was not vaccinated. 10 days later, my son had broken out in a fever, a cough, runny nose and a rash that covered his entire body. I was so scared. So angry. I thought of that family and their child who was in the waiting room. I rushed to the doctor, and told them before hand I thought my son might have the measles. I was scared, thinking irrationally. Then my doctor said, listen, he’s been vaccinated. Your child does not have the measles. It is a virus causing the rash. My fears, exacerbated by the news, were making me nasty. My ignorance was bleeding through and my ignorance was becoming the lens though which my judgment was made. My whole “episode” was totally fabricated by my beliefs – and I sent nasty vibes to a family who probably didn’t deserve it.
This isn’t the type of parent I am. And it’s not the type of parent I want to be.
So, by scraping off the layer of fear, here’s what we know: There’s a big debate going on in the parenting community, the medical community and public services community over whether people should have the right to choose vaccination.
- The dilemma: people who do vaccinate their kids feel like anti-vaxxers are putting others at risk by their rejection of modern medicine. Anti-vaxxers don’t feel it’s the government’s role or right to have control over their bodies or their children’s bodies.
- Defunct knowledge is being spread about the why’s, the who’s and the how’s. For example, it’s assumed that all parents who don’t vaccinate their kids are doing so because they read Jenny McCarthy’s book, or because it is assumed that anti-vaxx parents believe vaccinations cause autism – in reality, every single person has their own reasons for making their own choices. (I recently read a post on Facebook where a “friend” shared her story of shame about vaccination. Her son went blue and was starved of oxygen after receiving a vaccination. An allergy insisted that vaccinating her child wasn’t safe or in his best interest. She invited anyone to delete her for her comments and her truth.)
- It is not only my belief, but the belief of many, that many parents do what they believe is in the best interest of their children.
Between the seemingly never-ending debate, here’s what we can gather by reading between the lines:
- People are getting nasty and parents are being shamed for their choices
- Anti-vaxxers are being treated like they are the diseases we vaccinate against
- Anti-vaxxers are being questioned about their qualifications for parenthood, and not only that, but there’s an ongoing belief that people who don’t vaccinate their kids should not be a part of our society – they should not attend school
- Stereotypes of who done it are also becoming our way of categorizing who is “safe” and who isn’t
When does it become OK to talk to parents like this? Shaming makes the best of us feel like we want to curl up into a ball and hide from the rest of society. Plus, when we act like this, what are we teaching our kids? I want my kids to be human first, and not put fear first.
Does shaming do the trick?
- How likely are parents who are adamantly against vaccination going to vaccinate their children because society is yelling at them?
- How likely is it that someone whose kid has an allergy to some of the ingredients in vaccinations will go get their kids vaccinated because society is calling them a bad parent?
- How likely are parents who don’t vaccinate going to tell you they don’t do it?
- How likely is it that anti-vaxx children will just hide their truths or feel like outcasts?
- Shame is fear. Parents who are doing the shaming are fearful and feel out of control. Lashing out is not an approach that warrants good results.
This is a serious topic! Let’s not pretend we can “utopia” our way out of this. Let’s also not pretend shaming is a go-to method for alleviating societies biggest dilemmas. There’s a lot at play here. But, in my opinion, knowledge based on facts and not “fear cloaked in knowledge,” is always the answer to our society’s wellbeing.
What do I mean? Let’s say there’s an outbreak. Like a measles outbreak. Would it be healthier for us to accept the fact there are people who don’t or can’t vaccinate their kids, and maybe take other precautions against the spread of the disease? Maybe it would be idealistic to have an “outbreak” protocol where parents of both vaccinated and unvaccinated kids could follow a guide to prevent further spread. Perhaps this entails keeping kids home (without social, educational penalties), until the outbreak shows signs of weakness. Social policies and protocols are effective in bridging the gap of social problems. Let’s think about how social protocols can protect our families, our communities, and preserve our connection with humanity, and not base our existence on fear.
It’s time to put the shaming to rest and start thinking about what we can do to promote safer communities. What is in our power? Our own behaviour. I’ll tell you what’s not in our power: forcing other people to do things they don’t want to to their own bodies (nor should it be in our power).