intensely trivial

Book review: _Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety_, by Judith Warner

I suppose officially I can’t write a book review without having finished the book, but I think about it a lot, so I’m going to respond to it at least.

Published in 2005, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety explores the feeling many of today’s mothers have, that feeling that we can do it all, perfectly. Not only that, but we’d better be perfect mothers, because if we’re not, then our children are going to be failures. And as hard as we’re trying to succeed at this, we are doing it at the cost of our sanity.

I can relate all too well, unfortunately. I have tried to mix the perfect cocktail of motherly gentleness, understanding, and discipline, and somehow the balance is never exactly, perfectly right. My husband has suffered from the consequences of living with the stressed-out me. I’ve looked at the balance of what I do outside the home and what I do inside the home. Can I do less doula work to give myself more peace? More doula work? Do I need to give up doula work altogether and focus myself on only my family? Maybe we should just move into a tiny house and not have any extra people living with us (we usually have an international college student living here as part of our family). Maybe I should homeschool. Maybe I should send my kids to public school. Maybe I should ascetically give up all the hobbies I have. Maybe I should stop trying to be kind to the earth so life is a little easier.

These are such hard things to wrestle with! I don’t do it with much grace (neither in the sense of giving grace to myself, nor in the sense of doing it with elegance and calm). The desperate neediness this dilemma evokes in me causes me to cling to. . . myself? Sometimes. I would like to say these desperate times drive me to the arms of the Father. I think they do that more and more, thank goodness.

I do want to tell you about Thursday, when this all seemed a little bit more manageable. It just so happens that I gave up trying to be a perfect mom that day. (Innovative, huh?) After I fed my kids a healthy breakfast, I let them pick what they wanted to do and eat the rest of the day. (Except for taking naps, which was non-negotiable, because this was a day off for me.) They watched a lot of movies, and they played outside, and they didn’t choose to eat as much junk food as I thought they would. They were kind to each other and kind to me. And while they happily watched VeggieTales, I happily sat on the couch and caught up on my email and news readng. I read books while they napped. I refused to feel guilty. We went out and bought pizza at Papa Murphy’s for supper. It was wonderful, for one day, to shrug off the crushing burden of perfect motherhood.

Please remind me of this. Please help me to remember that I am not Atlas holding up the heavens. Someday, I want to know I’ve done my best. But I also want to have lived at peace.


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