By Annaliese Griffin
If you’ve dipped even a toe into the kiddie pool of modern parenting politics, then you’re probably aware that it’s actually a shark tank. Confess your love for the convenience of school lunches and expect a pitying smile. A far more withering gaze will meet any mention of a Happy Meal or a decision to stop breastfeeding. Making choices for our children often feels like a high-stakes game show in which there is only one right answer and everyone is shouting their own version of it at you.
I have two children in elementary school, and I fully expect a frenzy of playground whispers and social media recriminations over who is and who isn’t going to vaccinate their kids when the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 becomes available. (Public health officials have said that could happen as early as this fall.) In my southern Vermont community, the whispers have already started.
Many parents, even those who are vaccinated themselves, are spooked by vaccines when it comes to their children. A September Gallup poll taken just before Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they would seek emergency authorization to administer the vaccine to younger children found that 45 percent of parents would not be willing to get their child under 12 vaccinated — including 18 percent of parents who were vaccinated.
There’s an opportunity here, to show our children that anxiety and anger don’t have to go hand in hand — and perhaps to more productively process our own worries, even if there are no children watching. Most important, it’s a chance to model empathy.
No matter how certain you are of the efficacy and safety of vaccines, putting a new vaccine in your child’s arm is a hard decision. As adults, we can show children that life is full of hard decisions and demonstrate how we have learned to approach them. We can teach them that it’s our responsibility to care for others, even when it costs us something. We can show them how we deal with anxiety.