Another Covid summer, a whole new set of parenting questions

It’s a hopeful, confusing time to be a parent during a pandemic.

On one hand, the vaccine rollout is picking up pace and public health experts have given us every reason to believe that this summer will be a wonderful release from our Covid-19 strictures.

That doesn’t mean Covid will be gone or that losses won’t continue, but it means that in some of the key ways that matter most to us as human beings, life can start to get back to normal. Vaccinated grandparents can hug their unvaccinated grandchildren; small groups of vaccinated adults can have (indoor! unmasked!) gatherings. 

On the other hand, our kids will remain unvaccinated this summer, and school-age children may need to wait until 2022 to get their shots, as vaccine trials for children are still ongoing.

So what are parents who expect to be vaccinated themselves and desperately want to open up their lives a little bit to do?

When I imagine this summer, I think about taking a deep sigh. Life won’t change drastically, but we’ll spread out a little bit; we’ll relax. For my family, that will mean taking full advantage of parks and beaches, going on a Fourth of July camping trip and inviting (vaccinated) loved ones into our home. The elements of the Covid-19 restrictions that felt most unnatural — the stark separation from our families, friends and communities — can begin to ease. 

At the same time, with children unvaccinated, my family and so many others will have mixed-vaccination status for the foreseeable future. And I’ve been trying to understand what that will mean for us. 

Economist Emily Oster wrote a much-discussed piece in the Atlantic in March in which she argued that unvaccinated kids can be thought of as having the same risk as vaccinated seniors for the purposes of planning vacations, camps and playdates this summer. Meaning, go forth and take a vacation and don’t worry too much about it.

Her argument was widely criticized by public health professionals who felt she was drawing a false equivalence and omitting the risks posed by Covid variants, high-risk kids and adult populations that won’t be vaccinated yet — and she backtracked on some of her claims.

The bottom line is that we need our kids to be vaccinated, and until the deed is done we shouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t matter.

In my family, we’ll follow the CDC guidelines, which continue to maintain that unvaccinated people from different households shouldn’t socialize indoors. That means no indoor playdates for my children, and no indoor dining at restaurants. (I haven’t eaten at a restaurant, indoors or outdoors, for a year. Outdoor dining is something I’m definitely looking forward to once I’m vaccinated.)

My kids have been in school this entire school year, with masking and distancing precautions in place, and the evidence has shown this to be safe; the CDC even reduced its distancing requirement in classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet recently.

So the plan is for them to go to camp this summer; camps that can keep activities outdoors are even safer than schools. Last year, many camps were canceled, and the ones that did open struggled to find campers. This year, a lot of camps are opening up again, but there’s an even larger resurgence of interest from families; camp waiting lists may end up being quite long.

When it feels like the end is in sight, we become impatient. Even though we’ve come so far — a year of distancing, working and learning from home, wearing masks — it becomes harder to maintain our precautions when the finish line is in sight.

Of course, the finish line is a mirage. Covid isn’t going to disappear. It’s just going to be better controlled. If my kids playing with their friends outside rather than inside or going to the park rather than a bowling alley will help that effort, then I can hang in for a while longer.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.