Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Myth of the Perfect Mother

I am reading a book right now and I am so excited about it I want to share it with you all. It is called “The Myth of the Perfect Mother” by Carla Barnhill. When I started reading this book, I couldn’t believe that it is no longer in print! I had to buy a used copy through Amazon.com. However, as I continue to read I can see why many people may be offended by what Carla writes; though I believe most of what she writes is so true.

I haven’t finished the book yet. Maybe when I do I’ll write an actual review of it. But I want to tell you this book has brought up some issues that I’ve wrestled with in my heart. It also affirms me as a woman, it comforts me as a mother, and it excites me as a minister.

* * *

Denver Seminary is a fairly conservative school. Sure there are pockets of “liberal” theology (emphasis on social ethics, profs who voted for Obama, etc.), but when it comes to women there are a few things that can be noted. First, in the MDiv program that I graduated from, women account for maybe 10% of the population. In some classes it is less. Second, based on my experience it is clear that most men at the school question whether women can serve in ministry in certain capacities. They are also uncomfortable relating to women socially. Third, some male students have no problem telling female students that they basically believe women should not be studying in the MDiv track. And they’re sly about it too. They don’t say “you shouldn’t” they say, “I don’t think women should preach…”

Carla affirms that women are gifted in ways other than being a mother or wife. Motherhood is a stage of life that ends at one point or another. Some women are gifted uniquely to be awesome “professional” mothers for their children. Others are not. For that matter, some women are physically unable to have children or are single and will never have children.. What is most important in God's eyes is the advancement of the gospel; the rearing of children is secondary. That makes me push on and pursue the ministry God is calling me to, as a woman.

* * *

As a mother, I question going to work and leaving my son in child care. Part of this is because I love him more than I thought possible. Part of this is because my mom was home with me and my sisters. And part of this is because of one of those conversations I had with a male classmate. It went something like this:

Me: I think I will have a hard time being home all the time.

Him: Women who say that are selfish.

So, though I don’t respect this man’s opinion and I feel bad for his wife who has nearly ten children and he wants more, I have this little voice in my head saying You’re selfish.

I relate to this paragraph Carla wrote:

I love being a mom and I’m thrilled God has given me the privilege of raising these two great kids. However, I don’t think he’s created me to be a ‘professional’ mom. I love being with my kids, watching them grow, helping them learn. But I find so much more satisfaction and fulfillment when I edit a manuscript than when I build a Lego house or dress (and redress) Barbie for her eighty-seventh wedding. This has little to do with my role as a mom, but more to do with the gifts and talents God has given to me personally.[1]

I have always hated babysitting. I get bored playing with kids. I love studying, writing, and teaching. While I am in awe of Jack and love spending time with him, I also love his nap time when I can read and write little “articles” like this. I hope to be able to work outside of the home doing the things I have been specially gifted to do sometime soon.

* * *

Finally, Carla calls out where the church has failed women and mothers. She discusses how most ministries for women assume they are married with children. She points out how mom’s groups and Bible studies occur during the day when working mothers cannot attend. She states that the church needs to be supporting women in their struggle to be the best moms and servants of God that they can be rather than pointing out where they need to improve. Carla writes, “Imagine if churches treated women as Christians rather than as mothers…” (That line sends a chill down my spine!)

Maybe the moms of the church will want to get together for mutual support and encouragement, but maybe they’d rather hang out with older women who can mentor them as Christians or with childless women who share a passion for music and art. The idea is for churches to open their understanding of “women’s ministry” to center on a women’s multifaceted spirituality rather than on her stage of life.[2]

My response is “Yes. Yes. YES!” Honestly, I have avoided mom’s groups because while I am a mom I do not primarily identify myself that way. At times I get tired of talking about sleeping, nursing, and teething. I don’t want every milestone in Jack’s life to be everything in my life. I am more refreshed when I meet with my friends who are not yet mothers than I do when I’m with other moms.

At the same time I feel God has called me to minister to other moms, especially new moms. I think becoming a mom is one of the most difficult transitions a woman can face in her life. It is vital that she is encouraged and heard at this time.

I appreciate Carla pointing out where the church has failed because as a minister I deeply desire to meet the needs of the women and mothers in my congregation. I have a feeling that one reason why her book is out of print is the way Carla repeatedly calls out the church’s failings. Her prophetic voice stirs the waters and no doubt makes people uncomfortable. It even makes me uncomfortable!

And yet, I appreciate it. Thank you for your book Carla.

[1] Carla Barnhill, The Myth of the Perfect Mother (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 126.

[2] Ibid., 35-36.

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