Stop Snot-Shaming Other Moms

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It can be very tricky to decide when to take kids back out in public when they've been sick. Let's be kind to one another and not judge moms whose kids have coughs and runny noses. No more snot-shaming!

We just finished two weeks of sharing some kind of nasty bug, probably the flu. My husband was out of work for several days with a fever, chills, and whole-body aches. Many of the kids have had fevered nights as well. It’s definitely the pits. But could we please not add to the burden by shaming moms with difficult decisions to make?

It can be very tricky to decide when to take kids back out in public when they've been sick. Let's be kind to one another and not judge moms whose kids have coughs and runny noses. No more snot-shaming!


Right now my Facebook news feed is full of posts from mom friends that go something like this:

“I was at a public event this week and there were people there with coughs and runny noses. And now, guess what? We’re all sick. Thanks a lot, people. Please, if your kids are sick, just stay home.”

It’s hard to see your little ones suffering. Up all night, short on sleep, and maybe even sick herself isn’t a situation any mom relishes. I dread the cycle of sick just as much as the next mom.

But let’s think twice before we launch a social media campaign against other moms. Here’s why.

Moms Hate Germs

The teen-aged kid who bagged your groceries may not understand the problems he’s causing by coming to work with a cold. But let me assure you that all the moms you know totally get it. And the more kids a mom has, the greater the impact on her family when a virus starts the domino effect in her home.

Let’s go a little further down the train of logical thinking. If you believe your kid got this germ from another kid then that means this other mom just went through what you are going through now. Do you really think moms are making the choices they are making because they didn’t realize how germs work?

But What About the Exceptions?

I know; there is an exception to the rule. Maybe you actually know someone who is either accidentally or intentionally contagion oblivious. Maybe your sister-in-law habitually brings her kids to family gatherings, casually mentioning how they just barfed up breakfast a few hours ago. Ack!

It may be time to have a tactful discussion with dear sister-in-law, or get the inside scoop on her kid’s digestive history before the next gathering. But please don’t use social media to paint everyone whose kid sniffles with the same broad brush.

First, Sister Oblivious won’t think it applies to her and will continue on in her oblivion unless someone has the decency to talk to her kindly and directly. And second, the people who will be convicted by your PSA are the moms who are already struggling with tough decisions in the first place. 

Is My Kid Contagious?

Google for information about contagion of coughs, runny noses, etc. and there’s one phrase you’ll come across over and over again: “it depends”.

You can be contagious for a day or more before symptoms manifest. And a cough can often linger long after the actual infection is over.

Seriously, if someone invented a test for contagion, she would become an instant millionaire. Sneeze on the stick. Two lines, you’re contagious. One line, you can go to the birthday party.

Judgement Call without the Judgement

Deciding when to stay home and when to go out in the aftermath (or onset) of symptoms is quite a challenge. Since there are no guarantees, the only thing a mom can do is to use her best judgement.

Kid has a 101 fever? Probably time to skip the ladies’ Bible study. Kid has been fever free for 48 hours, but still has a mild cough and you’re the teacher at the ladies’ Bible study? Trickier.

I’ve had actual text conversations with moms in which we were trying to guess which would irritate people more: dropping out on something we’ve committed to do, or bringing a kid who may possibly appear to have some germs.

No Mom Wants This

Let’s just state the obvious. No one wants to get sick. And no one wants to be responsible for getting someone else’s kid sick.

And also, no one wants to drop out on something they’ve committed to do if it isn’t necessary. And most of all, no one wants to needlessly make their children miss special events just because they are afraid of judge-y stares from other moms.

Every mom has to do her best to make a judgement call. She has lots of things to consider, and not all the factors that go into the decision are obvious to the outside observer. Could we please trust that our fellow moms are doing the best they can with the information they have?

What about Church?

I’ve also read a fair amount of posts that specifically scold moms for bringing their kids to church when they are sick. In theory, it makes sense. Sick kids need to rest; tiny babies and elderly church members are particularly at risk. We need to love our neighbors.

But as we’ve discussed, “sick” isn’t a clearly defined state of being. And let’s not forget that “loving our neighbor” should extend to the children (and the mothers of children) with lingering coughs and runny noses.

If I were to stay home from church every time someone sniffles or coughs, I wouldn’t have much chance for fellowship from October to May. It can take a couple of weeks for germs to make their way through our family. If we waited until there were absolutely no symptoms, we’d be out until the next round of germs came to call.

I know you don’t want to get sick. And you don’t want your kids sick again, either. But the next time you see a mom a church with a runny-nose kid, take a moment to ask yourself why she’s there.

Let the Children (and Their Mamas) Come to Him

Instead of assuming that she doesn’t care about spreading germs, or that she’s just trying to be a self-righteous rule keeper, consider that she might just be lonely and in need of loving interaction with other grown-ups, or actually, you know, want to benefit from worship and the Lord’s supper.

Consider that she might have just spent the morning going back and forth with her husband or texting a friend trying to decide if she should stay home or go out.

Remember when families tried to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples turned them away? Jesus corrected the disciples. He said “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Somehow I can’t quite picture him adding, “But, eeew, gross, not that kid. I heard him coughing. I’ve got a busy ministry schedule coming up this week – can’t afford to get sick.”

What about you? How do you determine when the kids are too sick to go out? Do you and your spouse have different opinions on the matter?

  • An excellent article. I love your “judgement call without the judgement” line.

    The choices can indeed be very hard, especially if you find yourself deciding to keep a healthy child home from an activity because another child is sick. It would certainly be handy if there were an algorithm with variables you could plug in, like symptoms, duration, and the necessity level of the activity. I do try to take some of the emotions out of one-time activity scenarios by asking myself if I would take the kid somewhere more commonplace, like church or the library.

    It can be really frustrating when we see someone make a choice in public that may affect us negatively. But sickness tends to make us feel as not-in-control as we truly are. I mean, sometimes your 3-year-old licks the stall in the public bathroom before you can do anything about it, right? And you just have to shake your head in horror and chalk it up to strengthening the immune system.

    • “But sickness tends to make us feel as not-in-control as we truly are. I mean, sometimes your 3-year-old licks the stall in the public bathroom before you can do anything about it, right?”

      This made me laugh out loud, and also nod. So true. Both the not in control part and the kid licking the public bathroom stall part. Ahhh!

  • Love this, I totally agree.