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The New Mommy Wars, Vaccines and White Privilege

The last week and a half I’ve seen a new conversation, a mommy war of different nuance playing out, that of the mom who has her children vaccinated vs. the mom who does not. In other parenting debates of working vs. non outside the home, schooling choices and discipline styles, I’ve been pretty neutral. I have my preferences of course, but in general how you to choose to parent doesn’t directly impact me. You know the whole, “It’s a free country” thing.

In general mommy wars exist because we as moms are passionate about our kids. We parent out of our values and the stronger we hold to a given value, the more we want to defend the decisions that stem from it. I’ve tried my best to understand this underlying motivator as I’ve watched other moms make different decisions than I have and certainly have grown in my ability to let others do their thing without taking it personally. But this new debate coming up prompted by the Disneyland measles outbreak has a different nuance than debates I’ve listened to in the past because what you do or don’t do on either side of the vaccination decision might impact another child in a significant way.

I write this from the perspective of a fully vaccinated adult who has easy access to affordable vaccinations and I choose to vaccinate my children on the schedule their pediatrician recommends. I live in a community where it’s common for parents to “opt-out”, delay or spread out vaccination schedules (giving children one shot per doctor’s appointment rather than four for example). In fact my home state of Colorado has the highest non-vaccination rate for MMR in the country at 18% according to the CDC. So no surprise, in the little neighborhood online group I’m part of, a “discussion” has sprung up about this very topic. Why wait? And do you have the right to make that decision for your child if it could impact mine? And does your opting out truly put my child at risk?

When I read through post after post on this topic what it comes down to for many people is trust. I trust that the talented and bright men and women who have dedicated their lives to research on children’s behalf, on doctors who give their entire careers to serving children’s health, have my children’s best interest in mind and have the most accurate, up to date information. Sure there are a few outliers who can be quoted otherwise, but in general terms the medical profession recommends a best practice vaccination schedule, so I tend to trust it. I’ve had no reason not to up to this point. I recognize my experience shapes my bias.

Another seemingly unrelated debate has sprung up in my community this week. A teenage girl was shot by a Denver police officer a week ago. In a nation where police and communities of color are trying to figure out best practices, an incident like this feeds the firestorm of mistrust. Because this girl was Hispanic, race is part of the discussion, but the black-white conversation is not totally relevant. Read here about how that is playing out here in Denver. This is so layered with history and policy and personal experiences. I get it only as much as a white girl can. Again issues of trust around the established systems.

I also write this from the perspective of a white woman who, though I’m not always aware of it, fully benefits from the systems that create white privilege. When the water you swim in was designed with you in mind, it’s often difficult to even notice that it’s water if that makes sense. The last few months I’ve worked on being aware, simply aware, of where I’m placing trust and why I’m placing it there. Of how the systems are working in my favor and how I benefit from them. I read an article this fall that has helped me think and rethink my understanding of white privilege. Please read it here. It gave me a new framework to see how systems are built with me the white person in mind. I am learning how my personal experience shapes my bias to trust the legal system.

I may be making crazy connections here, but in my mind these debates overlap. So back to vaccines and the mommy wars. In both of these cases the question of greater good comes up. Who gets to decide what the greater good is and how to best implement it? And both issues are so personal. Our health. Our race. We are embodied souls. We walk around in bodies. Jesus did the same.

Just as in the mommy wars of recent years, these issues are heated because they get to the core of who we are, embodied image-bearers. People created in God’s image, uniquely reflecting him. Unlike the cloth vs. disposable debate, I hold dearly to this belief that we all are made by The Creator for His purpose. Our souls matter. And our bodies matter. Whether we verbalize it this way or not, I believe we have that knowledge written in our spirits and it’s this reason why these two topics are so core to us. Mix that up with some mistrust of the system and it’s no surprise there is debate.

I have no answers, here. I could write a million more posts on this (and might) and must stop this one at some point. So I will end with this: treat each other well. In these debates and discussions and protests remember the person on the other side of the computer screen or megaphone is also made in God’s image. Treat each other well. We will likely not reach full agreement on these topics, or any, but in the process treat each other well.

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