'Isolation Shaming' Is The New Mom-Shaming

by Rhiannon Giles
Originally Published: 
Family walking with their dog in park and wearing mask
Scary Mommy and miljko/Getty

My kids have been begging for a trip through the fast-food drive-thru. It’s an after-therapy treat every other Wednesday evening for my ten-year-old daughter; her five-year-old brother benefits by proxy.

Here I feel the need to go off the rails and continue justifying the reasons I dare let the partially-hydrogenated oils touch the delicate lips of my precious flowers. I want to rationalize why I frequently sweep up, and then throw away, the possibly BPA-laden toys that served no purpose other than to become midnight foot injuries. I have reasons, I promise. Notice I made sure to specify that this is an “every other Wednesday” treat, lest you think we go weekly.

Some version of this likely sounds familiar to all the moms out there. Maybe your shame doesn’t come in a smiling box with chocolate milk — yes, sometimes I order the chocolate milk — maybe your shame comes from “too much” screen time or pre-breakfast candy.

“Sorry, kids. I’m pretty sure McDonald’s is closed.”

This time, however, I didn’t lie to my kids to save them from whatever horrors may befall children who eat Happy Meals. I lied because I am paralyzed not only by the fear of the novel coronavirus, but also by the fear of being called out for doing something wrong.

Isolation shaming is the new mom-shame. Those of you who don’t have kids and haven’t experienced the depths of this phenomenon are in for a wild ride on the shame-coaster. Buckle up.

These days, something as simple as eating take-out can make us both the hero and villain as we simultaneously support restaurants and put the lives of the employees at risk. Curbside pick-up is safer than delivery, except that delivery is safer than curbside pick-up.

I want to go for a walk with a neighborhood friend at a responsible distance, maybe even wearing a mask. Perhaps I could have a friend over for a beer from the opposite side of the yard? Some would applaud finding lower-risk ways to fulfill our basic human needs of connection; others will post memes equating waving from across the street to partying shoulder-to-shoulder while blowing in each other’s faces.

It all feels so familiar.

You should not nurse your baby in public. That’s what formula is for!

Also, formula is poison.

Mothers should not go back to work unless they want their children to grow up to become every bad guy from every Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie.


Staying home with your kids leads to misanthropic children who are probably still breastfeeding and co-sleeping at college graduation.

It seems everyone is seeing in black-and-white what are certainly many shades of grey.

We all think our version of isolation, as with motherhood, is the correct and the only way to do it; we are scared, and when we get scared, we funnel that energy into judgment. Righteousness feels like control, and control is noticeably socially-distancing itself these days.

As a mother with anxiety disorders, I can tell you that struggling to sway factors beyond your control will wear you down and make you an angry, terrified shell of a person. And we are all already angry, terrified shells right now. Grief does that. We all want to find places to channel that anger away from ourselves. It’s difficult to sit with hard feelings and understand that sometimes they just are. If we can just be 100% certain of our actions then we can alleviate some of our own anxiety, except that someone else is doing the same thing in the opposite direction — and, ultimately, everyone ends up both ashamed and indignant at the same time.

Isolation shaming and mom-shaming even cross paths these days as we try to navigate our professional lives where they slam into our kids’ education. At what point do the scales tip between crisis-schooling and mental health?

We are all determining what we feel is essential for us — and what is essential for one person is sometimes objectively different from what may be essential to someone else. We are all making trade-offs. Unless you are living off the grid and growing your own food from seeds you saved from previous seasons, you are making some sort of trade-off. For some, detailed schedules of our kids’ days may bring a sense of normalcy that we crave, while some of us know we would break down completely if we added the title of “teacher” to our day. Some have no choice but to go to work if they want to have fancy things like food, while others can float their finances without income for a little while.

I am not talking about the people who are willfully flaunting their disregard for human life. I am not referring to people who think they are invincible, or that this is all a big conspiracy by the Democrats or those storming government buildings with rifles. I am talking about those of us who are sincerely scared and desperate to do the best we can, but also feel like we can’t look in any direction without someone telling us we are doing things wrong. Without ever looking at the greyness of individual situations, we begin to lose our compassion … and compassion has never been as important as it is right now.

There are so many things we do not know about this virus. In an ideal world, we could do the exact right thing always, but in this world what is “right” is changing daily. Best practice would be for us to all stay in our houses regardless of the need for food or money. But this is not a world built for best practices. It is a world built for doing the best we can do with the knowledge and experience we have.

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