Note: This blog is based on a 2011 Quora post I did in response to the subject of false rumors re childhood vaccines. I actually forgot about my Quora response until I was reminded of it recently due to a conversation I had with a co-worker (a soon-to-be first time mom) who was full of worry. Unfortunately there are many people like her who have allowed fears regarding their child(ren) drown out their parental happiness. So I decided to re-post my response (with some changes) here.
Many would chalk the susceptibility of the ‘childhood vaccines cause autism’ rumor to the lack of scientific and/or biological knowledge, when it’s primarily a result of parental fear.
When you become a parent you want the best for your child. The fear of anything bad happening to him/her is always in the back of your mind (i.e., being hit by a car, disease, major fall, severe injury, etc.) – like some kind of worse case scenario. I have a young son and I still experience s a sense of queasiness whenever I think about him being harmed in any way or when I’m watching him do something that could potentially cause injury.
However for some parents this fear, almost paranoia, is with them at a high level every day. Of course some would say not without good reason. This culture of parental fear surrounding having autistic children, children with birth defects, etc. most likely started in the late 1950s. Physicians at that time were prescribing expectant moms with Thalidomide, a sedative used to cure morning sickness. Unfortunately, this same medicine caused thousands of birth defects such as missing, malformed or underdeveloped limbs. There have been a host of other medical tragedies since then that have made it into mainstream news – who is also a culprit in helping to produce our fear culture. We’ve seen lots of news stories about horrible medical accidents that have happened to children, which can create the atmosphere of a medical epidemic instead of the tragedy being an isolated incident. All of these actions have confirmed many parents’ fears about drugs/vaccines being harmful to children, experts be damned.
It is these type of parents who turn medical rumors into fact and spread this faulty knowledge to others. I’m not denying that some medicines and/or preventative measures can be harmful to children. As a parent you have to be alert to what can harm or heal your child. But if a parent allows their medical fears to overwhelm them then they can end up doing harm to their child(ren) whom they’re trying to protect. Yet some do fear – fear a lot – hence the vaccines = child autism rumor that won’t go away.
Parents shouldn’t act worry-free or as if they have no fears about their child. Denying your parental fears is not going to make them go away. You have to acknowledge them without letting them take over. If you let your fears take over you will continue to find more to fear which will put you in a vicious cycle that will never end. Staying informed without imagining the worse can be hard for the most worrisome of parents, but in the end it will make you a better parent and your child a stronger person.
Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday which is always a trying time for me. Trying in the fact that I always have trouble finding the right card for my mother. It’s not that I don’t love my mother or we have had a difficult relationship. We have had our moments of anger and hurt, but nothing that has severely affected my feelings toward her. I love my mother very, very much.
Yet whenever I have to start shopping for a Mother’s Day card it makes me realize that my relationship with my mom is not as ideal as I would like it to be. I’ll see phrases such as ‘You are my best friend’ or “I can tell you anything” or “You have been there for me like no one else” or “You have been a great sounding board.” My mother has been none of these things.
It’s not all her fault since I have always been pretty reticent about sharing my thoughts and hurts with anyone until I met my husband. However my mom has always been a cautious person. As a result whenever I have to make a major decision she has always told me that she knows that I will make the right call without ever telling me what she thinks on the matter. There have been many occasions that her silence has left my sister and I floundering over what to do during our teen years at a time when we really needed to hear her voice. Oftentimes when she does decide to speak up its when she really should have kept her thoughts to herself. This usually happens because she had to “get it off her chest” as she likes to say. I’ve told her that she may feel better getting it off her chest but she never thinks about the impact of what she has said on the other person. Sometimes she gets it, but most of the time she doesn’t.
What is so strange about my mother is that she can be very forthright if not downright ornery when she decides to step up and spout her opinion. No one can ‘tell her differently’ meaning that she can’t be dissuaded even when her opinion is idiotic. Sometimes her arguments and responses are so petulant that I’m amazed that it’s coming from someone who is in their seventies. At the same time she is practically helpless when it comes to making a decision and needs her hand to be held or for someone to make the decision for her. I have often wondered how such two such distinct personality traits; bossiness and helplessness can co-exist in the same person, but my mother is living proof.
Once in a while it makes me sad and irritable that my mother is not like the Hallmark card moms. I try to make excuses for her, to try to explain away the disappointment. Maybe its’ because she was the youngest sibling amongst her brothers and sisters. Maybe it’s because she’s a lot older than the mothers of some of my friends. Maybe it’s because she lived with my aunt for such a long period of time who took care of everything. But there are no excuses, she is who she is and nothing is going to change that.
So as I browse the rows of multi-colored cards expressing feelings of love for mothers everywhere. I know that I will find the right card. It will say that I love my mother. It will say that she has supported me through thick and thin. That she helped me to become the person that I am today. All of which is true. It’s about emotional degrees really when looking for a Mother’s Day card and finding the one that best fits or describes your relationship. I usually stick with the “love you very much” and “hope that you have a wonderful day” pronouncements. I wish that my cards were gushing with mushy sentiments but that simply doesn’t describe our relationship. My mom knows that there is this quiet barrier in our relationship but she has learned to ignore it or maybe by now she has forgotten it ever existed. Luckily for me Hallmark and a nice gift helps me forget as well. Until next year.