Care and Feeding

Our In-Home Therapists Are Refusing Vaccination. What Should We Do?

I understand their reasons, but our family is high-risk.

Gloved hands pulling a dose of a vaccine from a bottle with a needle.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mr. Ilkin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our family has had to be super COVID safe due to a higher potential for adverse outcomes. It’s meant we’ve taken it a lot on the chin: canceling needed therapies for the kids; Mom not working so that she can implement those therapies (poorly) via telehealth; virtual school; very small safe pod; no family visits or respite, etc. We recently decided to open up to some in-home therapies after extensive safety planning. At some point, the loss of ability is a bigger problem than exposure, but we’re trying to be as safe as we can.

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We have been holding out hope that the adults who interact with our kids would be vaccinated.  Our therapists are all Black women, and we just learned they’ve decided not to get the vaccine when it’s offered by their employer. Their reasons are completely valid; they don’t trust the vaccine. I am aware of the generational trauma of procedures performed on POC without their consent, and I am aware of ongoing and justified mistrust of the medical profession. I’m also a mom who is trying to minimize risk for my higher risk kids as much as I can. I don’t want to add to the difficulties these women are experiencing by insisting they be vaccinated, which could jeopardize their employment. But I also need to keep my kids as safe as possible. I’d appreciate any guidance in navigating what feels to me like an ethical dilemma mixed with Mama Bear safety planning. I have a feeling we’ll be encountering this situation in more settings than just this one, given the low rates of vaccination in various health care settings.

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—Don’t Wanna Be Vaccine Karen

Dear D.W.B.V.K.,

While your compassion is admirable, your safety concerns are valid, too. You can require masks and try to maintain social distance during these visits (depending on the therapies involved), and perhaps even conduct some of them outdoors when the weather permits. If that feels safe enough, then that’s probably your best option. Otherwise, I think you need to respect both these women’s wishes not to be vaccinated and your own qualms about having unvaccinated persons in your home. Let them know that you understand their feelings but that your serious concerns about exposing your children to COVID make it so that you strongly wish to have only vaccinated persons working with them. It’s likely that these therapists have given some serious thought as to what it means to reject the vaccine, so I doubt your feelings will surprise them. Talk to them and your children’s doctors, and let your commitment to keeping them safe guide your final decision. Wishing you all the best!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

When each of my three kids was born, my dad opened mutual funds for them with the thought they would be used for college. Years later, my oldest is now a few years away from graduating high school. She is gifted and driven and, of my children, she has the greatest chance of receiving academic scholarships; her account also has the most money, by far. Conversely, my youngest child has a lot of challenges ahead in school as he has several different learning disabilities and has to work more than twice as hard as either of his siblings to earn passing grades. I am considering transferring some of his sister’s money into his account to try for some equity. He will need the money more than she does, and I feel like he has earned it with all the extra time and work he puts into his therapies and schoolwork. Maybe this idea is not fair, but is it equitable? For the record, none of the kids even know these accounts exist, so it’s not as if the oldest would even know what she lost.

—Equity or Theft?

Dear Equity,

I would imagine that part of the thinking behind gifting your children college funds was that helping them to pay for school would also help you, and I’d also expect that your father would trust you to make decisions on behalf of your children that serve the family’s collective needs. With the caveat that it would be wise to consult a financial adviser regarding all of the implications, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong about moving some of the money around.

That said, before doing so, I’d first want to be confident that cost will definitely not be an issue that prevents your daughter from attending the school of her choice, with all the attendant fees and other, often surprising costs beyond tuition. If it seems that she’d be able to pay most college fees from scholarships and even a reduced amount in this account, then great. If, however, dividing the pie put her in a situation where, say, she’d need a loan that might not otherwise been necessary, then you may want to take that into consideration.

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I am certain that other people may feel otherwise, but it sounds like having an equitable share of the overall pot could make a tremendous difference for your son’s future and may even save you from having to take out loans on his behalf. If you can do so without taking away anything from your daughter, I say go for it.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Three years ago, when my daughter was 10, we were taking the bus back from a day out when an elderly white homeless man who was clearly struggling with some mental illness got on and started screaming incoherently at us about “dirty Indians” while waving a (closed) Swiss Army Knife at us. The driver immediately made him leave, and while I was just shaken, it left my daughter with a fear of homeless people, as well as taking the bus. No matter how many times I explain to her that the man was mentally ill, that not every homeless person she sees is like that, that people can end up homeless for many reasons, and that in all of the years I’ve taken the bus, incidents like that have happened twice, she still doesn’t get it. She has pulled me across the street to avoid a sleeping homeless man and refused to ride the bus to a summer program at the local university because she doesn’t feel comfortable even traveling on them in a group with her friends. Even though she probably won’t be taking the bus anytime soon, I’d still like her to feel comfortable going on it alone, and I really want to change her attitude towards homeless people. Is there anything more I can do besides continuing to explain to her about how things like that rarely happen, or should I try therapy, assuming it isn’t too late?

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—Afraid of Buses in Berkley

Dear A.B.B.,

Your daughter and you were witness to a racially motivated episode, one that involved a weapon. It’s unfortunate that she’s taken on such fearful attitudes, but it’s not terribly surprising considering the ways that the impoverished are treated in media and the fact that she had this really, really traumatic experience. You must get her into therapy; her current anxieties are not going to allow her to move around the world with much ease and that could be absolutely devastating. Seeing unhoused people as inherently bad or dangerous could have many possible ramifications for her own life as well as the lives of unhoused people that she comes across in her day-to-day travels. This is not good for her mental health, nor for how she treats other human beings. Therapy NOW, please.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Lately, my 14-year-old daughter has become obsessed with the Beetlejuice musical on Broadway. This is all she talks or sings about. Anything coming out of her mouth is related to Beetlejuice, the afterlife, or being recently deceased. I decided that she should watch the movie, as she is a fanatic of the musical, and, unsurprisingly, she loved it. Now, she quotes it left and right. At first, I didn’t have a problem with this, but now I think it’s going too far. I just learned she considered attempting suicide. I thought she was happy (she lives a very comfortable life), but I guess she’s been having suicidal thoughts. This obsession with the afterlife and death, as well as suicidal thoughts, is not stacking up in her favor. I’m considering putting a ban on the musical and the movie in this house if it keeps my daughter alive. Am I being rational?

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—Blaming the Ghost With the Most

Dear B.G.M.,

Is there necessarily a connection between your daughter’s interest in Beetlejuice and her suicidal ideation? That’s hard for me to say. Perhaps whatever challenges she is dealing with led her to obsess over death, and there’s a through line between the interest in this story and what she did. Perhaps not. Regardless, the best way to sort this out would be in therapy. You need to find out as much as you can about what is driving your child these days: why this show/film, why death and, most urgently, why might she have considered ending her own life.

Withdrawing her favorite movie and show may cause her some additional upset that works against your goal of getting her to feel better about living, but, if you find that her engagement with Beetlejuice is powering fixation with death in a dangerous way, then you must exercise your discretion to limit or eliminate it from her life. No matter what, your child has admitted to considering suicide, and therapy is an absolute must going forward—ASAP. Wishing you all lots of luck.

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—Jamilah

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My brother-in-law taught his children to call my husband “Uncle Ditz” when they started to talk, and now at ages 9 and 11, they call him “Ditzy.” I am sure this was initially a playful insult to my scatterbrained husband. I’ve always found “Ditzy” disrespectful, given that the kids are now old enough to easily say his actual name and can understand the meaning of ditzy. My parents taught us to call adults by their title—uncle, auntie, Mr., Miss, or Mrs.—and I’ve explained my discomfort to my husband based on the values I was taught. He refuses to address this with his brother. I understand it’s endearing to have a special name from your family, but I still can’t help but cringe when I hear a child call an adult “Ditzy.” I do not want our child (due this spring) to hear this name. How do I approach this?

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