Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thoughts on the Perfect Mother Myth by Carla Barnhill

One book in one week is a big accomplishment for me.  The book was The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Rethinking the Spirituality of Women.
I read this book in order to participate in the Open Discussion, hosted by my friend Linda of Mama Mia McMasters
After a day or two of reading, I wrote to Linda to tell her I didn't like the book.  I was about half way through & considered quitting.  But, I didn't.  I pressed on through. 
I am glad I did.  About midway through the book, I think I started to hear her message.

I think Carla's main goal with this book is to identify why so many Christian mothers struggle with serious depression.  I do appreciate that.  I knew it was a problem.  And, after reading this book, I see even more how much of a problem it is.  It's huge.  The book left me greatly convicted to reach out to the women in my life.  But, I didn't think the book gave very many answers to the problem. 

The author struggles with depression herself.  In that way, perhaps she is uniquely qualified to speak to the problem.  She really helped me see into the heart of the struggle. 
But, because she still struggles with depression, the book ends without a solution to the issues.

I thought her theological conclusions & historical references were often off the point, or incorrect. 
Though, I am no scholar myself. 
She blames the Evangelical church for creating this "Perfect Mother" portrait that is false & therefore creating guilt amongst women.  Through much of this discussion, I guess I felt a little picked on.  She seemed to find the idea of a big, happy, homeschool family to be pretend or something. I'm not sure. 

The style of the book is a bit disjointed & there is not a lot of clarity on a lot of the issues brought up.
In her conclusion, she admits to writing with a "crabby" voice.  I agree!  It did sound crabby.  And, I don't know if it helped to bring the message with a crabby voice.  Rants & reactions are not very easy to follow.

She talks a lot to the issue of motherhood not being the whole of a woman.  I really appreciated this.  Motherhood is not the ultimate.  It is great.  But, not the ultimate goal to reach for.  But, the church can often make women feel that way.  She addressed the fact that many woman in the church are somewhat cut off from using many of their God-given gifts.  If we make motherhood to be the greatest gift, what are we doing to all the women who can never have their own children?  They will never be able to serve God in the greatest way?  Are they just supposed to wait around, hoping?  No.  God has something great for them.  And it is not inferior to motherhood.

And for the woman who are mothers, is mothering really supposed to consume them completely?  Where does the Bible say that they can't or shouldn't use their gifts outside of the home?  Being the mother of toddlers doesn't mean that all you like to talk about is potty training & feeding picky eaters. 
I am a mother & I love being a mother.  But, there are many more parts to me.   
The author confesses to being turned off to the idea of "mom's groups" or "play groups".  I am so with her.  I always think, "I don't like to just talk about my kids all the time & hear everyone else talk about their kids all the time.  That would drive me mad." 
Maybe I should realize that all those other moms are more than moms.  Just like me.  Even if they feel completely buried in diapers & midnight feedings, I'll bet there is something underneath it all that they would love to talk about. 

Let's try to reach out to the women around us.  And get to know more about them.  Not just classify them as mother or not-yet-a-mother.  There is so much more to all those ladies. 
 The discussion on the book starts next week, May 10th.  If you want to grab the book & join in, go for it.  You still have time.  The first discussion will just be on the first chapter.


LindaFaye said...

I am glad to hear your perspective. I do agree that the crabbiness of her voice throughout the book seems harsh. But it's also part of what I like about it because she's being so real and raw about her feelings.

And I do think that there is some hurt that came from the church to her that I haven't experienced, but that is very real to her. Maybe some people associated with that hurt are the typical happy home school moms. She's not against home school, but against anyone feeling that it's their only option when they themselves don't really feel God asking them to do it.

Stef said...

I didn't care for the book at all, but I do know women who loved it and felt like the author was reaching into "their world" so to speak. Because they too had issues with past churches they had a lot of unbiblical pressure to be something God hadn't called them to be.

I understand that church pressure to be *very* real for so many, but I don't like the attitude of "blaming" the churches we were or are members at. I think a lot of it stems from us idolizing our Elders and other families at our churches, which places them in an unrealistic, yet full of power in our lives place. Its not their fault (necessarily) that this happens. We allow it, every time we put someone or something in place of God.

So I totally understood where she was coming from, but I didn't like the feeling of "blame" I kept getting from her and I was also turned off by her attitude toward genuinely godly, large or small, happy families. I'm actually getting sick of that attitude, quite frankly. But, misery loves company, so I guess its only natural.

I loved what you said about us needing to care for those who are hurting and to those who feel this trapped, depressed feeling. Jesus should be our highest example. No matter where a person is at in life, He shows them unconditional, genuine love. But I think the answer to her hurts and frustration is GOD and being focused on His gospel mission and not how she (or anyone else) measures up to other people's version of spirituality.

I feel like I read this book several years ago. Has it been out that long? I think Ethan was a baby when I read it. Maybe not... but I seem to remember it was then.

Stef said...

sorry to be leaving (another) comment.

I just wanted to say to you, Erin, I love the way you express yourself. I appreciate how clear your thoughts are and how you write. Its very easy, but deep reading, all at the same time. Thank you!

Daniel Rosbrugh said...

"The author confesses to being turned off to the idea of 'mom's groups' or 'play groups'. I am so with her. I always think, 'I don't like to just talk about my kids all the time & hear everyone else talk about their kids all the time. That would drive me mad.'"

Last Saturday, my daughter's play group had a trike-a-thon at the local park and raised $1k for St. Jude Children's Hospital. There's now talk of having regular charity events. Though I don't think Ellen will continue to organize all of them!

My point is that these groups are what you make of them. Both my kids have been involved in (different) groups and neither has been simply a bunch of people "talking about kids."

My $.02.

Erin said...

You are so right, Dan. The group is what you make it!
That is so cool about the Trike-a-thon. Being here in Macdoel, we have direct TV (& Nick Jr. is on way too much! Ah!). I saw the St Jude commercials about the Trike-a-thon idea. I am really interested in organizing something like that. I'll have to chat with Ellen!

Erin said...

Oh Stef - I agree with what you are saying about blaming. It is generally not fruitful. Thanks for your comments!

Erin said...

Linda, I am looking forward to the discussion!

Stef said...

The MOMS club I joined up here is always doing some sort of charity work, or crafts and field trips that help us get to know and serve our community better. Its been eye opening for me to see how amazing this is! And its not even a Christian MOMS club. Puts some Christian groups of women to shame, that's for sure.

LindaFaye said...

I love that this post, and this book stir up great conversation!! Agree, disagree, either way it really strikes a chord with so many and seems so produce some great discussion.