How Separated Parents Can Deal With Differing Vaccine Opinions

Teens watch parents argue

Key Takeaways

  • Uncertainty about children's COVID-19 vaccination is common since all vaccine options have not yet gained approval.
  • If parents disagree, a third person's input can be helpful.
  • Teens may also have their own opinions that should be considered.

With the release of the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and over, parents around the country are lining up for their teens to be vaccinated. But what if parents disagree on vaccination? 

A recent survey by Parents Together found that only 58% of parents will probably or definitely have their child vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven't already done so. That leaves 42% of parents either undecided or opting not to vaccinate their child at this time.

These figures suggest that the chance of parental disagreement is high. Separated parents, in particular, may find making joint decisions about their child's vaccination challenging.

Family law and divorce lawyer Theresa A. Lyons says that all families have the option of attending family court to settle a vaccination dispute. However, there are some simpler steps you can take before you reach that point. 

Talk It Out

“The first and best step is for the parents to talk things out, to seek to understand and to legitimately explore why the other parent is taking his/her position,” advises Lyons. “Ninety percent of the time, parents can then usually come to a consensus decision.”

The key to this discussion is to try to understand the other person’s point of view whilst keeping your child the main focus. Listen with an open mind, ask genuine open-ended questions, and keep the focus on the topic rather than on each other.

Marriage and family therapist Rachel D. Miller, LMFT, reminds parents that this conversation is not about changing anybody’s mind. It’s about reaching an agreement on your child’s vaccination. 

Theresa Lyons, family law attorney

Even if parents disagree on the issue, do not put your child in the middle of the dispute or ask your child to choose one parent’s view over the other.

— Theresa Lyons, family law attorney

For some separated parents, a polite conversation is not realistic. In these circumstances, Miller recommends parents use email to discuss vaccination because it allows parents to express their reasoning without interruption.

“Crafting an email gives some time and space to slow the conversation down hopefully keeping it focused on the issue at hand.” She says, “Email provides a record of the discussion should it need to go to court or to court professionals. Utilizing email can also reduce the children’s exposure to their parents’ disagreement.”

Involve Another Person

If you can’t reach an agreement between yourselves, you may need to both sit down with another person to help make a decision. “When [talking it out] fails, parents can themselves designate an outside third party to make the call,” says Lyons.

Your child’s pediatrician is one option. They can answer your questions about the vaccination and explain the risks of COVID-19 illness versus the risks of the vaccine with your child’s personal circumstances in mind.

Miller recommends that if there is any history of domestic violence, coercion, or emotional manipulation in the relationship, it is best to seek professional assistance to manage the conversation. “Utilizing attorneys, mediators, or if there is a family therapist involved in the case who is equipped to facilitate this type of conversation,” she says, “involving them is highly recommended.”

“Some...families have parenting coordinators, guardians ad litem, or other court professionals they are required to involve in any type of disagreement or dispute. If that is the case, use those professionals,” adds Miller.

What This Means for You

Disagreements about your child's welfare can be extremely distressing for both parents and children. Talking about your concerns with a trusted professional can be helpful to work through your stressors.

The Parenting Stress Helpline offers free and confidential counseling for any parent-related questions or concerns, 24 hours a day.

The National Parent Helpline also offers free emotional support and information about specialized community support in your state.

Does Your Child Have a Say in the Decision? 

Depending on the age and maturity of your child, they may have their own opinions on receiving the vaccine. Many teens may have done their own research and hold strong views on the topic. As a parent, listening to these opinions and considering them in your final decision is important.

"As a parent, be open to hearing what a kid’s friends are doing and why," says Miller. "They care a great deal about their friends. For example, they might have a friend with an immunocompromised parent or sibling, so getting vaccinated is about maintaining access to a friend. Maybe they don’t want to get it because a friend had some negative side effects."

Regardless of what your teen's views are, Miller reminds parents that teens often want to be included. "Being heard and feeling understood is almost as important to a teen as whatever the final decision is. They want a voice and to be included in the discussion. Hear what they are telling you. Give it weight in your decision."

If you dismiss your teen's point of view, they may choose to go against their parent's wishes when it comes to their health care and be legally able to do so.

Rachel D. Miller, LMFT

Being heard and feeling understood is almost as important to a teen as whatever the final decision is.

— Rachel D. Miller, LMFT

Each state differs in its vaccine consent laws. Some states don’t require parental consent for a minor to receive the vaccine, whilst others do. This means that in some states under the “mature minor doctrine,” even if you don’t agree to your teen receiving the vaccine, they can go to a doctor and request it without your permission.

Lyons outlines what a family court (and most medical professionals) would look at when assessing a child's maturity to make their own medical decisions: 

  • Is the child closer to 13 or closer to 17 (older teenagers’ opinions are more likely to be respected by a court)?
  • How mature is the child?
  • Does the child have the intellectual capacity to understand the weight of the decision at play?
  • What are the child’s expressed and particular reasons for his/her decision?

As a parent, you can consider these points if you choose to include them in the conversation.

Family Court

If you’ve tried to talk it out, spoken to another person, and considered your child’s opinions, but still can’t reach an agreement, you can consider attending a local family court.

“Legally if parents cannot agree on vaccinations, or any other major issue impacting their child’s health, safety, or welfare, each parent has the right to file an application in the local family court to seek guidance from a judge,” explains Lyons. “The judge will then carefully consider each parent’s position and make a decision in line with that child’s particular best interests.”

Remember Your Child

In all disagreements, remember to keep your focus on the well-being of your child, both physically and emotionally. “Even if parents disagree on the issue,” says Lyons, “do not put your child in the middle of the dispute or ask your child to choose one parent’s view over the other.”

“If a child is old enough, logical non-accusatory discussions among the parents and child are appropriate,” she continues. “But no child should ever feel torn between his/her parents, and children need and deserve to feel that their parents are on the same page when it comes to their health, safety, and welfare.”

Although you as the parent will often make the ultimate decision, remember that this is about your child. "To protect them emotionally, decenter yourself. This is about them. Listen to them. Talk with them. Be age-appropriately honest with them about your thoughts and concerns. Be open to hearing theirs," Miller says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Parents Together. Early research on parental attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccination & children identifies gaps and suggests steps to decrease hesitancy.

  2. Massachusetts General Hospital, Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. The art of civil conversations: 9 parent strategies.

  3. VaxTeen. Minor consent laws by state.

  4. VaxTeen. Consent laws by state: Idaho.