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Relationships My brother’s kids are not vaccinated and I don't want my newborn exposed. What should I do?

The question

My wife is due to deliver our first child soon. My brother and his wife have not vaccinated any of their children (which my wife and I disagree with). We definitely do not intend to be "bubble wrap" parents but, that being said, I am not sure I want my newborn to be in contact with unvaccinated potential carriers of illnesses, such as the mumps. What would you suggest we do?

The answer

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I'm definitely not a "bubble wrap" parent, either.

Quite the opposite. I tell people: "My kids were raised in an atmosphere of benign neglect, and I only throw in the word benign to make it sound good."

Three boys. Me a kind of anti-Sherlock Holmes of cluelessness when it comes to parenting. The whole enterprise has been an ad-hoc, seat-of-the-pants, benign-neglect affair from the get-go.

At the park, unchanged diapers have been heavy as bricks. "Da-a-a-a-d, I'm hungry and thirsty," my boys have said.

My answer, having forgotten to bring snacks or drinks, included urging them in the direction of one of the ultra-organized mommies unpacking their "park kits," to panhandle some juice or animal crackers or carrot sticks with hummus dip.

But I always tried to protect them from harm and illness. Figuring: "If they can be largely free from serious harm and illness as children, I'll at least have that going for me."

They're in their teens now and the only time we had to rush to the hospital was when one of them fell off the roof of a toy house and landed on his head. (And that was not on my watch.)

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What I'm trying to say is I'm not a "helicopter parent" but I am a real safety-first type. Which is why I have to say: No, I don't think you should expose your baby to your brother and sister-in-law's unvaccinated kids – at least not until he/she has been vaccinated him/herself.

Does that make me seem too "precious?" So be it. To me, not vaccinating your kids is the "precious" thing.

Where I live, kids can't even go to school unless they have been vaccinated (for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease, whooping cough, and chicken pox), without applying for an exemption on grounds of religion or your conscience.

But why would you want to do that? Remember polio? A terrifying, highly contagious disease that paralyzes people and sometimes kills and for which there is no known cure?

There used to be terrible outbreaks of it, but now in North America we've been "polio-free" for decades, thanks to vaccination. (It still exists in other parts of the world.)

But measles can kill too. (My wife almost died of it as a kid.) None of the diseases kids are vaccinated for these days are a picnic, so why would someone choose not to do it?

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Are your brother and his wife anti-vaxxers? In other words, part of the movement sparked by former Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy who has called herself an "indigo mom" ("indigo children" is a New-Age term for kids so special as to be almost supernatural/paranormal) whose "crystal child," she believed, based on completely discredited research, contracted autism from being vaccinated?

Or are they just lazy? Either way, I feel you should invite your brother and sister-in-law over (without kids). Explain to them they should get their kids vaccinated post-haste – for all kinds of reasons.

For themselves, for the community at large, but above all for their own children: What if one of their kids contracted some disease that they could've been vaccinated for?

Drop science on them. Give them facts. Tell them there are people around the world who would weep for joy for access to the vaccines we take for granted. Why won't they use them?

Tell them you are saying this out of concern for them. "Tough love," I guess.

If they still refuse, for whatever reason, I would stand your ground. No play dates, for now. Sure, it could lead to some family friction: brutal brunches, frosty froideurs, horrible holidays, conspicuous absences and silences. And the kids' relationship will be collateral damage: "Why can't we play with our cousins?"

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All of that is unfortunate. But it is, quite simply, the right, sane thing to do.

Your brother and sister-in-law are putting everyone at risk for no good reason – classmates, family members, friends, the community at large – and therefore I think you have as much cause to be mad at them as they have to be mad at you.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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