Although I disagreed on certain points and emphases of Carla Barnhill’s book The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Rethinking the Spirituality of Women, overall I think she made some strong points that are often overlooked by Christian women.
I thought the strongest point in the book is Barnhill’s identification of the “shiny happy mommies” problem affecting the church. Because we feel like our worth or our faith are validated by having perfect families, it’s exceedingly difficult to be honest and vulnerable with other women, which keeps us from deep relationships and tempts us to make an idol of motherhood. Barnhill points out that a lot of Christian moms feel that “being a good mother means doing everything right, all the time, all alone. To ask for help, to admit to being worn down by motherhood and yearn for respite, to have prayed for God’s strength and wisdom and still feel inadequate, is the ultimate sign of failure.”
As a Christian mom, I could absolutely relate to that statement. Whether we impose it on ourselves or feel it imposed on us by our churches or other women, it’s there. You can tell by how often Christian moms (and probably other moms, but Christians take it to the next level by pinning our spirituality to it) feel like they have to apologize for their choices because they are, or are afraid of being, criticized. I’m not talking about actual sins, I’m talking about methods. In the past few months, I have personally made or heard apologies for decisions like working/not working, sending kids to public school, getting a babysitter so the couple can have a date night, why the mom let the kid eat a Happy Meal or watch TV, why the mom gets her hair highlighted or wears makeup, why she buys pre-made bread instead of baking her own, why she allows her daughter to paint her toenails…in other words, we are terrified that other people will think we are bad moms. Because honestly, they often do. And, if you blog, you get that feedback in writing via comments left on your blog by others who are supposedly Christians.
So yes, this book touched a nerve for me.
The book asserts that there is no perfect model for motherhood. It is a relationship not a job. As such, perfect children are not your success metric. Families are not an end in themselves. We should not look to motherhood to complete us or to validate who we are spiritually. Our families are a means of bringing about the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of us.
Another particular strength of the book is Barnhill’s exhortation to churches to really examine the ways they minister to women. Not all women are mothers, not all women are stay-at-home moms. Our “shiny happy mommy” facade does not attract people to Christ, and it makes it nearly impossible for us to minister to women who are in physical or emotional crisis. If you are involved in women’s ministry I think you would do well to think about those things, whether or not you read the book.
At times I thought the tone of the book was a little aggrieved, although I think perhaps it was necessary to offer the “snap out of it” effect. As I mentioned in the first sentence of this review, I don’t agree with the author on all of her points or emphases. However, I did find The Myth of the Perfect Mother helpful and thought-provoking, and I would recommend it.
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