Mom Enough is a collection of articles, by various authors, that first appeared on Desiring God. You can get it as a free ebook. I got to it via Rachel Pieh Jones’ blog, and her contributions are the most consistently gospel focused. When mums feel inadequate, God calls us:
Chosen, Daughter, Righteous, Honored, Heir, Forgiven, Redeemed. Trusting in God, because of Christ, I will rise from the graveyard of mommy war victims, victorious and filled with resurrection power. Living in his perfect sufficiency, I will live to parent another day. Never mom enough, but filled with the One who is always enough. (Jones)
According to the editor’s preface, the aim of the book is “not to boost a mother’s self-sufficiency, but to build her fearlessness as she finds her sufficiency outside of herself.” Unfortunately, the framework of the book is one that is combative. Take this passage from the first chapter (‘the article that started it all’) on how ‘our culture’ views children and mothering:
Children are the last thing your should ever spend your time doing… When you are in public with them, you are standing with and defending the objects of cultural dislike… You represent everything that our culture hates. (Jankovic)
(Because no non-Christian would ever love her child or sacrifice for her?)
The book uses confused language when it refers to ‘mommy wars’. On one hand, it’s referring to the comparisons mothers make between themselves, and tortured topics such as breastfeeding vs bottle. Christian mums are not immune to this, and Mom Enough teaches the beautiful message that:
Because of the gospel, mommy wars have no place among believers. After all, at the heart of these wars are pride… competition… and self-condemnation… When we know God’s grace, we stop looking for validation from others for our methods and we are able to extend grace to others. (Hoover)
On the other hand, we’re told the real mommy war is not against other women but against Satan who wants to thwart the noble task of mothers, for his goal of seeing new generations turn from praising God (according to Carolyn McCulley). This is why raising Christian children is a spiritual battle that every Christian woman must enlist in regardless of whether she is a biological mother (no mention made of men here).
Unfortunately, this language of warfare is then applied to all other approaches to mothering. In a chapter entitled “Femininity: June Cleaver, Clair Huxtable, or the Valiant Woman” Trillia Newbell says:
With God’s help I can be a valiant woman who wields God’s word in the fight against feminism, against traditionalism, and against the cultural pressures every mother must face today.
Here is the language of warfare, this time pointed not at Satan but at approaches other women in ‘our culture’ take (possibly these are his tools?). While purporting to rise above and bring grace for women caught in the ‘mommy wars’, some of these chapters actually position the Christian woman as a participant in them, just playing for a different side. While she may not be ‘attachment parenting mommy’ or ‘feminist mommy’, she is instead a far superior species, ‘Christian mommy’.
All the contributors bar the unmarried one self-identify first as wife and mother and most of them are also SAHMs. I can’t help feeling that there’s an underlying agenda here, where ‘Christian mommy’ gets conflated with ‘conservative complementarian mommy’. Indeed, in the one chapter that even nods in the direction of the vaguest possibility that perhaps a Christian mother might consider maybe working, this is acceptable only if it is part-time and it is understood that “God calls women to pay close attention to their homes” (Newbell).
The grace on view from most of the contributors in Mom Enough is for the woman already committed to seeing her primary identity as ‘homemaker’. There’s an acknowledgement that it’s not her only identity (after all, you’re also a wife and a church member!) and there’s grace for you if you’re juggling inside the home — but very little if your juggling involves any other sphere of life. So, the ‘missional mother’ is one who is discipling her children, but I found myself wondering what this missional mother might have to say to the non-Christian mother in the playground, let alone the neighbour who works full-time. Jones’ chapters are the exception to this; her context is one of her family living among and sharing life with Muslims.
I was so frustrated with the oppositional tone Mom Enough because the parts that actually concentrated on the gospel rather than overwrought cultural exegesis have such potential to show how the gospel shapes our parenting. Take this passage by Rachel Jankovic:
Imagine yourself in your kitchen trying to make dinner for a group of little kids who are tired and should have eaten half an hour ago. Imagine that things are going wrong beyond that – maybe you are out of something you assumed you had, your children are fussing with one another, and your littlest is standing on your feet and pulling on your pants leg… You are hot, you are tired, and you are sick of it. This is no time for a gospel presentation. There isn’t time, there isn’t attention. … You’re still scrambling to make dinner. This isn’t a time for gospel presentation because it is a time for gospel application. This is a time to take the grace that God has extended to you, and feed your children with it. This is a time to apply what you believe about God’s mercy and kindness and longsuffering towards us, and pour it out to them – in a form they can believe in.
Surely that’s relevant to any Christian mother (or father). However, I feel that this book’s framing and many of its chapters end up alienating members of the Christian community when it could have offered grace, and relief from the mommy wars it seeks to transcend.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.