Marathoning and Mom Guilt

My friend Amanda sent me this cartoon about a year ago. It sat on my fridge until now, taunting me through the book writing process. I am always delighted to see references to binge-watching in popular culture, but I confess to feeling mom guilt when I look at this cartoon. It made me think: Am I missing key moments in my kids’ lives while I write about media marathoning?


Used for commentary purposes. Copyright Joe Dator.

For those unfamiliar with the term, mom guilt is this terrible feeling of not measuring up to some unwritten standard of motherliness. It can strike at any moment: when you get to day care and notice that your child’s hair isn’t perfectly plaited like the other girls’; when another parent tells you that the carrots you’re feeding your kid are on the lengthy list of toddler choking hazards; when a stranger in the grocery store parking lot looks at your kids and remarks, “someone forgot their mittens.”

Most powerfully, for me at least, mom guilt strikes when I am not with my kids: when I am, for example, doing my research.

Sheryl Sandberg inspired many conversations about how to be a mom who “has it all.” We need to lean in. We need to lean out. We need to shake it all about. My philosophy is that every woman needs to do what is fulfilling to her. Work more, work less, work in the home, work out of the home. Each person and each family has its own needs. I embrace that “do what fulfills you” philosophy, but I still have frequent battles with mom guilt.

I feel fortunate to have been able to write Media Marathoning without disappearing from my family for many long stretches of time–because I used the bandit style time management method that was the subject of a previous post. However, writing the book did reduce the time I spent with my family overall. It had to. And the tough part I wrestled with was not needing to write the book because of external pressure. I didn’t need it for tenure. I’m not going to earn much money from the book, so my family won’t benefit financially. The motivation was all internal: I was the one who wanted to write this book.

One of the few examples of me missing out on important family time happened last summer. I had to spend hours revising the book during our family vacation because of a tight publication deadline. We had lots of family time together every day, but the mom guilt was strong. My kids were at the pool without me, and my oldest was telling strangers that I was in the library “writing in a book.”

But I successfully used gender-neutral logic to drive out the mom guilt. My husband spent as much time away from the family as I did during the vacation: He was at the golf course instead of the library. I was okay with his golf and he was okay with my work, so I decided I should be okay with my work.

You usually see academic book acknowledgements that offer an apology to spouses along the lines of “Sorry I was crappy for a few years and didn’t see you much.” To the kids, the acknowledgements message is usually, “I missed out on time with you, but I hope my accomplishment inspires you to pursue your own goals.” My oldest child recently said, “Mom, thanks for writing the book for me. You know, the one with the Star Wars characters.” In a way this book is for her, to encourage her to do work she finds meaningful and fulfilling. Even more so, the book is for me. And that itself is enough.




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