Read this book.
Can I be any clearer? Let me try.
Every woman in the United States of America should read this book.
Don't let the title fool you. THE MYTH OF THE PERFECT MOTHER isn't just for mothers. I'm a single, twentysomething without children and I'm buying copies for practically every woman I know. Author Carla Barnhill, former managing editor of Christian Parenting Today magazine, has important insight not only into being a mother, but also into how we women think about our purpose and potential as Christians. It's her belief that the current exultation of motherhood is a modern, sometimes unbiblical, and often unhealthy development.
"The cult of the family has left women stressed out, depressed, and stripped of the joy that motherhood can bring. It has left the church bereft of the gifts of countless women who have either been shuttled off to raise children in isolation or told to wait until they have children to enter into the real life of the church. It has left Christian women --- whether they are mothers or not --- swirling in a state of incompletion: Without children, they are not wholly who God wants them to be; with them, they are relegated to a supporting role where their sole function is to develop their children. Worst of all, the cult of the family has pulled our focus away from God's call that we live lives of compassion, mercy, justice, and love and put it squarely on the small universe that is the family."
By "cult of the family" Barnhill means that churches have elevated the family to a position that is out of sync with the call of the gospel. If that idea makes your hair stand up on end, it's okay. Barnhill knows that what she's saying is going to be met with some skepticism, if not outright hostility, from some. But read on anyway. One of Barnhill's biggest goals is to simply open up a dialogue about motherhood --- a place where Christian women can talk about, and even disagree about, topics related to being a mom and a woman.
"The cult of the family creates a culture in which women are not allowed to feel anything but good about motherhood because it is the best God has for them. We are not allowed to want something in our lives in addition to motherhood because this role should be enough. And we are not allowed to suggest that motherhood is anything but a blessing because to so do is to denigrate the most wondrous calling God can give a woman."
But Barnhill wants us to be more honest with one another.
"This book is about what happens when the reality of a woman's experience doesn't match up with the message we get about motherhood. It's about what happens when we discover that this role we've been told will be one of God's greatest blessings instead feels frustrating and defeating. It's about the real lives of Christian mothers and how they deal with the emotional and spiritual toll of motherhood."
Barnhill's goal isn't to bad-mouth motherhood or the church. She's an enthusiastic member of both clubs. Instead, she wants to open up a conversation about the expectations placed on Christian mothers and how those expectations keep women from finding out who God created them to be. Her hope is that women who read the book will begin to strip away the false expectation of Christian culture and reclaim their personhood in Christ. She wants to give women the freedom to parent their children without fear or guilt.
"I would die a happy woman if a group of mothers read this book and started really talking about their experiences as moms and finding ways to support each other as sisters in Christ, as women who want to know God, and as people just trying to find their way on the incredible journey of faith."
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on September 1, 2004