Rohit Kumar Rai and his wife have both lost family members in India to Covid-19, so they know how serious the disease can be. That’s why they have been living so carefully in Texas until their 4-year-old son can be vaccinated as well.
That means reining in playdates and school attendance when cases are higher, an inconsistency that can frustrate their son, he said.
“‘Sometimes you are saying it’s OK to go, and sometimes you are saying not,’” Rai said his son complains to him.
Vaccines against Covid-19 have meant many steps closer to normalcy for much for the United States, but not everyone has access yet.
This week, the US Food and Drug Administration is expected to review data on the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines for younger children. If the FDA gives authorization and the US Centers for Disease Control recommends them later in the week, Covid-19 vaccination shots may be administered to the youngest Americans as soon as June 21.
Parenting young children can be isolating as it is, said Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association. Add precautions to protect unvaccinated children, and it can be even harder to get support from the community. The research shows that parents of children under 18 have been reporting extremely high levels of stress over the pandemic, she said.
While some families hesitate or refuse to vaccinate their young children, for many, the news brings a huge sigh of relief.
“It’s not like I am expecting some miracle vaccine; like as soon as he gets it it is going to end,” Rai said. “He might get Covid, he might be affected, but the worst-case scenario wouldn’t happen. That’s my ultimate goal for my kid.”
Some families who felt left behind and are eagerly anticipating their children’s vaccinations shared what it was like to raise youngsters in the Covid-19 pandemic – and what they are most hopeful for in the future.
The world forgot about them
For Jennifer Reimers Gaydo, who lives in upstate New York, forgotten is the word that comes to mind when raising a young child during the Covid-19 era.
“Everybody else has moved on, and we have not,” she said. “In people’s desire to move on, it’s almost like they blocked (the fear of being unvaccinated) out.”
Reimers Gaydo’s husband is a doctor, so their family reduces risk to their 3-year-old son, Jim, wherever possible.
“My husband is a front-line worker so with Jim not vaccinated it’s like, ‘Is this coming for me in my own home?’” she added.
Precautions mean no more music and movement classes, limited playtime with kids his age, and his relationship with his grandparents reduced to a computer screen.
There was excitement and fanfare when adults got access to the vaccine, then when it was extended to teens, but the youngest members of our population have been spending all this time lonely and ignored, she said.
Am I keeping my kids from being themselves?
Along with fears about physical safety and concerns around social needs, parenting young children during the pandemic without an available vaccine means constant conversations between families about whether they are doing the right things for their kids, Jason Jackson in Michigan said.
One of Jackson’s three children is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, but until his youngest can be protected, his 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter also have to take precautions to protect their little brother, he said. None of them go to school in person, and none take indoor swimming lessons.
“My daughter, she is really extroverted. And so, I pulled up to the playground, and she said, ‘Yes, there’s a car here – that means I can meet a new friend. This is the best day of my life!’” Jackson recalled. “That was freaking depressing.”
“We were just like, ‘Oh my god, what are we keeping our kids from?’”
Getting a vaccine for their 3-year-old son would be a huge relief from the battle between physical and social health for their kids, he said.
“I honestly think everyone wants the same things. Everyone wants to get things back to normal. It’s just that we have a very, very different pathway of what we think is best to get us there,” Jackson said. “Our best pathway of getting back to normal is this vaccine.”
She knows she can get sick
Sometimes, even when she is playing outdoors, Sarah Enders’ 4-year-old daughter chooses to wear a mask.
She was diagnosed with leukemia about a year ago, and she knows that getting Covid-19 could make her really sick, Enders in Oregon said.
“She understands that there are things she doesn’t get to do because of the fact that she doesn’t have the shot,” she added.
Her diagnosis came as the rest of the US started to open back up from Covid-19, but Enders’ family had to clamp down even harder for her daughter’s safety.
“You go through the diagnosis of your child having cancer, and that’s when you really need to rely on the world around you and your community,” she said, “whether it’s emotional support or physical support, and we really couldn’t do that because we had to keep her protected.”
Her family is looking forward to everyone in the home having the vaccine in hopes they can send their children back to school.
“I struggle with people who are unwilling to get vaccinated, unwilling to wear masks and things like that because they feel it’s their right not to,” Enders said. “But our children who don’t have that option and that flexibility are the ones suffering from that.”
We have no choice
Gabriele Goulet and her family started both parenthood and the pandemic in a terrifying way.
On March 12, 2020, her first child was born early and couldn’t breathe on his own, so he needed to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. Shortly afterward, their state, Utah, shut down because of Covid-19.
Goulet and her husband drove down empty freeways every day to see their son at the hospital, entering the building where the National Guard was deployed to help with the demand from the virus, she said.
“Becoming a parent in that time has really shaped the type of parent that I am, and I’m probably overprotective,” Goulet said.
They locked down when their first son was born, and they stayed as isolated as possible as the years passed and they had their second child, she said.
But now that her second maternity leave is over, she and her husband need to go back to their offices, and their kids will need to go to day care after years of not even going inside grocery stores, she said.
Goulet and her husband worry about the transition out of isolation with two unvaccinated kids, she said. Now, she said she just hopes they can stave off infection until the kids are eligible for the vaccine.
“I do totally understand and respect other people’s perspectives like it does seem like these vaccines are coming out pretty quickly,” Goulet said, but she trusts her pediatrician’s advice to get the shots.
“I think we’re probably going to cry when we’re in the pediatrician’s office because it’s been over two years that we’ve been looking forward to this.”
Top image: Gabriele Goulet’s son spends time with his dad social distancing from his grandparents. (Courtesy Gabriele Goulet)
Sign up for CNN’s Stress, But Less newsletter. Our six-part mindfulness guide will inform and inspire you to reduce stress while learning how to harness it.