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What do you do with well-intentioned anti-vaxxers?

Natural parenting goes hand in hand with caring about health, breaking away from the mainstream, and a lot of abstention. That could be abstaining from spanking, eating meat, using disposable products, sleep training, but one area it does not have to include is modern medical care, especially vaccination. But in the natural parenting community that isn’t always the case. So all those well-known voices in the natural parenting or attachment parenting world who are also in the anti science world, what on earth do we do with them?!

Whether the topic is babywearing or breastfeeding, behaviour or bed-sharing, a lot of voices in the natural parenting world are pretty dire when it comes to science, even people who are well-educaated in science! Where does that leave us when some of what they say is really helpful? How can we talk about attachment parenting and cite these people without losing credibility?

One who comes to mind is Mayim Bialik. She’s written loads about attachment parenting and has brought awareness about breastfeeding and co-sleeping visible to the general public. Great! She’s also a raging anti-vaxxer. Her words contribute at least a small part to the outbreaks of almost totally preventable diseases in the US- diseases that are not just unpleasant but also ones that can kill or permanently disable children.

The Dr Sears/Dr Sears duo are popularly referred to as a single person, but Dr Bill is the father of attachment parenting and Dr Bob who profits from seeding doubt and selling his own “alternative” vaccination schedule, cooked up by himself and with no support from research. In the States he’s the best friend of non-vaccinating parents.

A smaller character but an active one nonetheless is Charlotte Young of the popular blog Analytical Armadillo. Her website claims 2.5 million page views in four years and her Facebook page has over 16,000 followers – nothing to be sniffed at. Yet the links she shares are nearly exclusively anti-vaccination links “just for discussion” and writes blog posts that totally miss the point and drip feed unfounded doubts into the minds of questioning, uncertain parents. She may claim that she is “just questioning” but she is at least understood to be an anti-vaccination voice. On the other hand, her breastfeeding support has helped many, many women and she is clearly an authority on the topic when what we need are people to speak up about the topic.

There are more examples than we can count. Some people say well, nobody’s perfect, you can’t dismiss what a person says just because they say one thing you don’t like. Other say that referring to someone who can be so wrong on one topic invalidates what they say on any other topic. I know that when I try to stick up for gentle parenting or attachment parenting, if I mention “Dr Sears” I’ve immediately lost the other person because they hear “woo monger” and harmful maker-upper-of-stuff. If I refer to a helpful source on breastfeeding and mention the Analytical Armadillo blog, the other person stops listening. How can I be a voice for natural parenting without a) propagating the nonsense from these people and b) losing the interest in the person I’m talking to? There’s no point being absolutist and there’s no point talking if I lose credibility the second we cite some of the best discussion sources! I’ll never forget when someone was attacking attachment parenting and I quoted Dr Sears and the person replied that anyone who quotes Dr Sears is an antivax woonatic and should just be ignored. Well that was disappointing! I looked like a fool and the other person just carried right on with their prejudices. I’ve been terrified to quote Dr Sears or anyone else borderline ever since.

This is what I think. I think that if I want to be a parent who keeps a cool head and takes a balanced approach, I need to be open about what I’m talking about and open about sources of thought being complicated. I can clarify which Dr Sears I’m talking about. I can share Mayim Bialik writings with a big huge disclaimer. I think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater (pardon the expression!) and use these voices for what they’re good for, but challenge people who use their sources for bad (and pardon the superhero language!) and share them with a context. Shutting off the good that they do isn’t productive and I’m not ashamed to be a parent who can discriminate between the good and bad that a person says and keep some perspective. I’m actually proud of it.

What do you think? Do a parenting writer’s statements & opinions in one area stop you from listening to them in another area?

2 Responses to “What do you do with well-intentioned anti-vaxxers?”

  1. Anna-Louise Ellis says:

    Mayim Bialik: “I would like to dispel the rumors about my stance on vaccines. I am not anti-vaccine. my children are vaccinated. There has been so much hysteria and anger about this issue and I hope this clears things up as far as my part.” (Press release). Subject’s Facebook page. 10 February 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2015.

    • nature nurture parenting says:

      Yes she’s since posted that, which is great! But it’s a bit strange though, because she’s repeatedly on the record saying the opposite. It’s good that she said this publicly but I’m so curious as to where it came from and what the real story is.

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