My wife and I made a conscious decision to not vaccinate our children. I'm not sure how they found out about it, but it apparently is a cause of nervous tension between us and them and apparently, we discovered, they don't bring their young children around to family get-togethers because of us.

We homeschool our kids, don't send them to day care and our pediatricians are not pressuring us to vaccinate them (although they think it's a good idea). Also, we've never went out of our way to tell people that we don't vaccinate the kids. I'm not entirely sure how they found out (possibly via mother-in-law). We talk about natural medicine and home births and midwives, but we don't talk about not vaccinating.

This is my wife's family mainly so I'm just going along for the ride here, I'd rather not get too involved, but I'd like to ease the tensions. Or at least find out for sure if it is vaccines that are the existential threat in this case. There have been too many coincidences (instances where relatives go to one party, but not to another party where we are, or instances where they show up without their kids) to make it seem like it's just an assumption, but nobody wants to talk about it. The relatives who do avoid us are mainly work the medical field or schools and therefore are seemingly very in-the-know about the schedule for vaccinations. They don't like talking about Catholicism, homeschooling or natural medicine or midwifery much either, so maybe we don't have a ton in common, but it seems like vaccinations are used as a scapegoat for their absence.

I don't want to argue with people over the propriety of vaccinations and we're not staunchly against them. My assumption is, if our children are healthy, they can't get anyone sick, so why avoid us? How do I find out what their reasons are for avoiding us and ease those problems?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this still looks primarily like a request with phrasing an explanation. Requests for phrasing are considered off topic. If you edit this to focus less on how to explain and more on how to ease tensions, and provide us and explanation of what that means for you I think this could be turned into a good question. – sphennings Jun 6 '18 at 21:24
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    This isn't a question about interpersonal skills. Unfortunately, the decision was made by someone else on avoiding your children. That decision is simply not only out of your reach, but also none of your business. If your goal is to simply find out the real reason, what's wrong with asking them? I think this question is just asking how to argue with someone. Therefore, I'm voting to close. – Clay07g Jun 6 '18 at 21:38
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    @Clay07g knowing why a family member is avoiding his family is none of his business? – Catija Jun 6 '18 at 21:56
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    But that is an actual frame challenge answer to this question, @Clay07g ... not a reason to close it. – Catija Jun 6 '18 at 22:06
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    Or just delete it entirely... really, the whole comment is a micro frame challenge, @Clay07g It's important for people to recognize that "you can't do that" is a valid answer here - not a reason to close. – Catija Jun 6 '18 at 22:11

I absolutely will not pass judgement on any of your personal choices, but to discuss this properly I need to be frank - homeschooling, natural medicine and the anti-vax movement are controversial.

You are exercising your freedom to make your own choices, which in itself is very laudable. Your decisions differ from those of the majority, which also is no bad thing. I also believe that the desire to follow our peers can be a hindrance to our enjoyment of life as it teaches us to do what others expect us to do instead of what we actually would like to.

Still, you have to accept that going against the flow of the majority is difficult. It is comparable to swimming upstream, or walking alone through a crowd heading in the opposite direction.

The majority of people accept the weight of scientific evidence on conventional medicine. Many of that majority realise there are concerns such as industry interference, but still go along with whatever is currently recommended, including vaccinations. Likewise, a majority of people send their children to school with many accepting that it isn't a perfect system but still believing that any exposure to negative elements may in the long run be beneficial life experience for dealing with the negative aspects of adult life.

Some of the hostility and suspicion that you encounter along the way is because some people find it very hard to justify their own choices when they haven't thought them through properly. Hearing you talk about your decision and the thought you put into it challenges them because they haven't thought about it, and that makes them uncomfortable. Also, as I previously stated, there are others who have thought about these things but still just "go with the flow" despite minor doubts about the school or healthcare systems. Your choices also challenge them, perhaps invoking a degree of guilt in themselves for suppressing their own doubts.

You must know and accept this if you are going to follow any "alternative" life choices, because while these kind of choices are evidence that you are in control of your own family's life, you cannot control anybody else's life nor their feelings. So if others do take issue with them that is largely out of your control.

If you stopped reading at this point you could quite easily walk away with an inflated self-belief that you are right and everybody else is wrong. I don't feel that is the whole picture you should walk away with. You also need to think about how you present these choices to others - in fact, you should consider whether you should talk about them with others at all.

You said:

"[Our family] don't like talking about Catholicism, homeschooling or natural medicine or midwifery much either, so maybe we don't have a ton in common, but it seems like vaccinations are used as a scapegoat for their absence."

I would imagine that you have loads in common with them! First of all, you are family, and you have a ton of history together. Secondly, you have kids, and there are countless family activities that you could enjoy together. You could be making new memories with your extended family - things that you and your kids could be talking about for years! Instead it sounds like you want to talk to them about your decision to homeschool or your homeschooling experiences, your decisions on healthcare, and your faith - things that you know make you different from them! And then you declare that you have nothing in common.

Just as some people avoid talking about things that challenge their choices, others constantly talk about the decisions they have made because they have to continually convince themselves as much as others that they made the right decision. If you say that isn't the reason you talk about these things then fine - but not talking about them will be a demonstration of your confidence. File them alongside all the other personal, private choices that we make but don't need to discuss with everybody else.

In conclusion, my advice to move forward in your relationship with your extended family is to try and cut down or even eliminate talking about the things on which you don't agree and likely never will.

My advice to tackle your immediate question of "how to tell" if they are avoiding you over the vaccination issue, or anything else would be to contact them and invite them over. If they decline, then ask why.

If they don't directly give a reason but you still suspect it is the vaccination issue, say:

We can't help but feel you've been avoiding us recently, which makes us really sad. Our kids miss your kids! Please, if there is a reason why you might be avoiding contact we'd like to know so that we can try and fix things.

If they respond to this, or if they come right out and say from the start it is the vaccinations, say:

I won't go into the details behind our decision not to vaccinate our children, because I respect that you may have a different opinion. In short, we don't have confidence in vaccinations, but if you do have confidence in them then you must believe your vaccinated kids are safe, so there's really no reason why our kids shouldn't play together. Your kids can't catch anything from ours because you've immunised them, and our kids can't catch anything from yours for the same reason.

I think this is the best approach because (i) it does not compromise your own principles, (ii) it respects theirs, and (iii) to a degree it also tests both your beliefs.

You may be right in your beliefs, but nobody likes people who are insufferably smug. I'm not insulting you - I cannot believe that anyone who puts as much thought as you have into your children's welfare would not be a decent person. But perhaps your enthusiasm about these things has overcome your ability to see how others perceive that enthusiasm. If you want to make different life choices and still be liked and accepted by others, you need to keep a little back.

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