Care and Feeding

Is It Really Worth Losing Family Over a Vaccination Fight?

I don’t want to put my baby at risk, but is cutting off Mom worth it?

A mother and baby sit together wearing masks.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Growing up, my mother and her parents were my closest family. They were loving and supportive, and even though my mom was gone half of every year, I was convinced she was the best mom ever. However, this has been changing slowly over the last 10 or so years. I’m writing this now because I need to create some boundaries and now I have a 1-year-old son to consider.

I don’t recognize either of my parents anymore. They have been divorced for about 20 years now and looking back, neither were super involved with raising my brother and me. Many of their beliefs are very hateful and prejudiced, and some I would consider downright harmful, and I really don’t want my son around that. But, I’ve always considered my loving family to be just about the only thing I could give my child. My husband’s family is a whole other can of worms.

Most recently I had an argument with my mother about getting vaccinated. I 100 percent believe in getting vaccinated and doing my part to keep others in my community safe, especially those who cannot get vaccinated. She has a different opinion. She mentioned she wants to visit in a few months. Before my son, I would see her for about three hours one day a year (this includes events like my graduations and my wedding). Now that I have a baby, it’s more like four times a year—still not a lot, but a drastic change from the past decade. Anyway, I asked her if she was vaccinated, or going to get vaccinated, and of course the answer was no. I told her simply that we would have to hold off on any visits then. She escalated and accused me of blackmailing her and warning that I was going to deprive him of his family because her parents don’t believe in vaccination either. I told her that I wasn’t planning on cutting her off, but if I had to build my own family around him I sure as heck will.

She apologized for her outburst, then ended the conversation by stating that she hopes my grandparents (her parents) don’t die before I get to see them again over this ridiculous agenda about a “jab.” I haven’t talked to her since. Her parents helped raise me, and while we have argued before, she has never intentionally hurt me like that. Now all I can think about is never getting to see them again, and therefore my little one not even getting the chance to make memories with them. I need to know I’m not being ridiculous by being cautious about my son’s and community’s health. Is it really worth losing my loved ones? Even if I hardly recognize them anymore? As an aside my father is also against getting vaccinated. Ironically I am close with his parents now that I am older, and they are currently the only family we have that we talk to regularly. Husband’s family are mostly out of the picture too.

— Forfeiting Family

Dear Forfeiting,

I’m of the firm belief that family doesn’t mean all that much if the people you’re related to are bigoted and ignorant. I get that they’re “family,” but why would you want to expose your son to those beliefs? Not to mention, the clear and present danger to a young child that is exposure to unvaccinated people.

You absolutely are not being ridiculous here. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Americans cared about the health of their families and communities as much as you do, we wouldn’t find our COVID numbers surging as much as they are.

I think the best plan is to love your family from a distance. In doing so, you can still use video calls to connect with them, but I would firmly state that the in-person visits are not happening unless they’re vaccinated. They may push back and say they’ll wear a mask and keep six feet apart, but you and I know that won’t happen. Chances are they won’t even offer to do so.

I have a family friend in a similar situation, and she invited her unvaccinated in-laws to visit after being pressured to do so. They didn’t wear masks and gave her 6-year-old son many hugs and kisses—and as we fast-forward to today, the boy now has COVID and may need to be hospitalized. She is going through an emotional hell because she knew the risks and she should’ve said no. I’m telling you right now that you do not want to be in her shoes.

You need to protect your son, because he cannot yet be protected with a vaccine, and that means no in-person visits from unvaccinated friends or relatives. In the meantime, focus on the friends in your community who don’t have prejudiced beliefs, and trust science.

— Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I have an 8-year-old in third grade, and I found out yesterday that they are reading the Adventures of Rush Revere series in class. I know they are children’s books and don’t contain the kind of vitriol Limbaugh is known for, but I am still concerned about the subtle messages he may be receiving about Native Americans and black people and their place in American history. Am I overreacting here? Should I talk to his teacher about my concerns? I’d like to take a thoughtful approach rather than one of outrage.