Care and Feeding

Can I Ban Unvaccinated Family Members From My Baby Shower?

We could do it outside, but I really don’t want to!

People touch a pregnant woman's stomach at a baby shower.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by LightFieldStudios/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,

I’m currently pregnant with my first baby and due at the end of October. My husband and I are very excited, and our families could not be more thrilled. We’re both vaccinated and lucky to live in a county that has an incredible vaccination rate. All of our friends, co-workers, and family we interact with on a regular basis are also vaccinated.

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Several months ago, when vaccinations were opened up to all eligible adults, we found out that my husband’s oldest sister, “Carrie,” and her husband “Brad” decided not to get vaccinated. While Brad has always had some anti-government/libertarian views and Carrie seems to have adopted many of the same opinions, until now it has not really been a major issue or source of tension in the family. They have a 9-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, and we have always had a good relationship and enjoyed spending time with their family (they live about two hours driving distance from us). When we found out they were choosing not to get vaccinated, we were all very upset. Though not a total shock given their views, we are still pretty troubled by this decision—particularly my husband’s parents, who have been extremely cautious during the entire pandemic because my husband’s 91-year-old grandmother is high-risk. We’re all really frustrated with their decision and now questioning all of their possible viewpoints on health and safety—do they have other friends who are unvaccinated? Do they not vaccinate their kids? Do they follow businesses’ requests for unvaccinated people to continue to wear masks? etc.

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My mother and mother-in-law have started to plan a baby shower for us in mid-September. When I found out that Carrie and Brad were not getting vaccinated, I knew that I would not feel comfortable interacting with them while pregnant, and especially after the baby is born. It’s been such a difficult topic for my in-laws to talk about, so we haven’t sat down to discuss how we want to proceed. I’m pretty confident that my in-laws will absolutely understand my apprehension about being around Carrie and Brad and support me in deciding not to have them there, but I know it is going to cause a lot of hurt feelings. Carrie was SO excited when we told her we were pregnant, and her daughter is thrilled to have a baby cousin. I know my feelings stem from a combination of health and safety for myself/baby/family and frustration and anger towards them and their decision, but I really want to stick firm to my decision (which my husband supports and agrees with 100 percent).

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How should we go about planning this baby shower? We’ve talked about having it outside at a park with a pavilion, which I know would be a safer environment COVID-wise. If we did this, do I have less of an excuse not to invite them? We only want to invite those we know have been vaccinated, and I would never want to mislead any of my friends or family who have been very cautious about COVID safety by knowingly having two unvaccinated people there.
It really concerns me knowing that their entire household is unvaccinated and therefore unprotected, due to choice and their children being too young to be age-eligible. This whole situation has made me feel so sad, guilty, and anxious. I don’t want to punish my niece and nephew for a decision their parents have made, but ultimately, I just do not feel comfortable having them there. Any advice you have on how to deal with this painful mess (and implications it will have for the future of our relationship with them and our newborn) would be greatly appreciated.

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— Showered in COVID Anxiety

Dear S.C.A.,

If you want to invite Carrie and Brad and their kids despite their unvaccinated status, having the baby shower outdoors would make it that much safer for all, as cases of outdoor transmission are rare. If you go this route, unvaccinated people (including those ineligible due to age, like your niece and nephew) should wear masks to minimize risk, and you can inform your other guests that not everyone present will be vaccinated—that way they can mask up if they want to be extra careful. This is what I’d do if I were having an outdoor get-together and wanted some unvaccinated people to attend. From your letter, though, I’m gathering that you don’t really feel comfortable with anyone who’s unvaccinated attending, even if they are masked and it’s an outdoor party. I’m also guessing that Carrie and Brad are probably anti-mask, so telling them they can only attend masked might be tantamount to not inviting them at all.

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Regardless of where the shower is held, you can certainly choose not to invite anyone who’s unvaccinated. You and your husband have every right to decide what level of risk is acceptable to you, now and after your baby is born. It might not be the same level of risk everyone would accept, which is okay—the point is, it’s your call to make. You’d hardly be the only people determining a party guestlist partly based on vaccination status.

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I’m not sure what to suggest about the hurt feelings, as you can’t really prevent people from feeling the way they feel. But you can do your best to explain to Brad and Carrie that it’s not personal; it’s simply a matter of safety and doing your utmost to guard people’s health—yours as well as your other guests’. You can let them know that you really do want to be able to see and spend time with them, and that your relationship with them is important to you, but you don’t feel you have any good choices right now and you want to err on the side of protecting your other guests. It might be worth acknowledging that this will continue to be an issue, especially when it gets colder and gatherings move back indoors. Ultimately, it was their choice not to get vaccinated and put you and the rest of your family in this no-win situation. If they don’t want to possibly miss out on your baby shower—and future family events as well—there is an easy solution available to them.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Who came up with the playdate? I hate it. Other parents are always saying, “Let’s get together for a playdate.” I don’t want to interact with them. I don’t want to entertain other people’s children. What happened to neighborhood children getting together to play by just knocking on the door and asking can so-and-so play? No big production, just free play.

I don’t allow my kids to play in my house. They play outdoors, weather permitting. My children have the same rules I had as a child: 1. Don’t go in anyone’s house, even if invited. 2. If parents are not home, you cannot play (older siblings don’t count). 3. Don’t leave the neighborhood. 4. Be respectful. If children are playing in my yard or nearby with my children, I give them something cool to drink or a snack when I provide them for my children. That’s the only involvement I have with them. Let kids be kids! Am I being too old-fashioned?

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— Old School Mom

Dear Old School,

Your kids can’t play in your house at all? I’m just curious what they do when it’s raining! I think playing outside with other kids in the neighborhood is still super common, though your mileage may vary; it depends how many kids close in age to yours live nearby, and who your child wants to play with, and the comfort of other parents. Of course, it’s reasonable to encourage kids to play outdoors as much as possible. I do think it would be kind of a bummer for my kids if I said they could only hang out with friends in the neighborhood—a lot of their closest friends don’t live within easy walking distance.

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Some parents are overprotective, or overly involved in their kids’ social lives, and it’s tempting to roll your eyes at this; but keep in mind that some kids might really need a little more support or oversight or structure in social situations. I’m not sure how old your children are, but I tend to associate the parent-included playdate with little kids of a toddling age, whom you don’t necessarily want running around totally unsupervised indoors or outdoors. These were always social activities for me, too: I got to hang out with friends who happened to have children around the same age as my child. With older kids, I’ve never found that playdates/hangouts require much effort (or entertainment) on my part; I also don’t expect other parents to entertain my children.

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It’s fine to feel the way you do about playdates—you don’t have to agree to participate. I don’t think you can do much to keep all the other parents from suggesting it, though, unless you are very frank with them about being anti-playdate. These requests will naturally thin out a lot as your kids get older, no doubt, and start planning more and more of their social time on their own.

· If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-year-old son was recently diagnosed with autism. My husband and I are curious as to how we address this diagnosis with the other children in the family (there are two, and they are teenagers). We think it would make a lot of sense to the other children why “Ralph” behaves the way he does and why we’re having to adopt new strategies, but we don’t want Ralph to feel badly that we shared this personal information with others.

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— New Diagnosis Dynamics

Dear New Diagnosis,

I assume you’ve talked with Ralph about his autism, but if not, that’s priority number one. He may still be figuring out what he thinks and how he feels about it. Try to listen to and honor his wishes about who he wants to tell, and how—if he’s unsure, it’s okay to give him some time to figure out what he wants. If he doesn’t mind who you tell, then use your best judgment—in that case, I’d start by letting close family know, siblings included. Above all, Ralph needs to know that it’s okay to be autistic, that it’s part of who he is, and that you love and are proud of him. (Knowing this, in turn, could make it easier for him to share his autism with others.)

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From your letter, I can’t tell if the two teenagers in question are Ralph’s siblings or cousins, but either way, if they spend a lot of time with him, they likely already know a lot about who he is. A diagnosis can be very important, but in another sense it doesn’t always tell you all that much about someone, because every autistic person is different. I think whether or not you and Ralph share news of his diagnosis right away, what may actually be more helpful and relevant to your individual family situation is to just focus on Ralph, specifically—and the fact that he, like everyone, has particular behaviors and strengths and needs, and it’s important for all his family members to respect and affirm those. Obviously, you want to avoid any situation in which Ralph may feel pressured to actively hide or mask his autism in the company of others—he shouldn’t have to do that with anyone, least of all his family. Home should be a place (hopefully, one of many) where he can always just be himself.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have 2 children, aged 8 and 5. In the years since we had them, the paper has accumulated to infinity. We have boxes of drawings, schoolwork, report cards, etc. I love that my children enjoy creating, and I love that their daycares/schools encourage their creativity, but how many hand prints and pictures of fairies do we really need? There are four hands between them, and I have dozens of hand print pictures! I would like to choose a few to keep and throw the rest out. Does that make me terrible? What if my kids find out? Can you please give me permission to unload this paper?

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— Paper Loaded in Pascagoula

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Dear Paper Loaded,

You really don’t need anyone’s permission here, but sure, I’ll grant it. Sift through and decide what’s most important to you. (I can practically guarantee that your kids won’t care much either way—at least not in the long term.) Allow yourself one good-sized box of child crafts/keepsakes per kid. Take pictures if you want to remember the rest, and then get to recycling.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I’m an eighth grader with a very clear plan for high school, and I could see myself maybe getting into a top college. My parents make more than the financial aid threshold at colleges I’ve looked at, but they never started a college savings account or even thought about paying for college someday. When I asked them why they didn’t save for college, they got defensive and got mad at me. They said that we could barely afford the house we are living in (they also own two rental houses) and that our cars (all paid off) are too expensive. They’ve now banned talking about paying for college from our house. What do I do?

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