Book Review: Mothering From Scratch, by Melinda Means and Kathy Helgemo

When I was a new mother to my now-toddler, I was pretty insecure. I’m not sure how much of that came out to those around me (probably more than I realized), but one of the ways I tried to compensate for it was by finding some particular “cause” or belief to cling to. It’s an easy thing to do, and it usually involves something that is external and rather unlikely to truly make a big difference in the long run, at least compared to more important decisions, or the degree to which it would actually affect the child’s future character (for example: infant feeding choices).

I know I’ve learned and grown since then, but there is certainly more of that to do, and this book does a great job of hitting on the underlying threads of things that cause us to struggle as moms. It’s not that learning about the “externals” is necessarily wrong, but if such a pursuit is not firmly grounded in the truth, it can easily take us over. For Christian moms, this is a great and encouraging resource that I would definitely recommend reading before (or alongside) any other parenting books or “philosophies” you may peruse.

Melinda and Kathy are conversational and open about their own struggles and growth, and share various specifics and generalities of their experiences as they relate to different topics.

Some of the topics that are covered include:

“Mommy guilt”:
“Let’s cut to the chase: Mommy guilt is a liar. It tells us that if only we had made all the right choices and done everything perfectly, we would’ve been able to produce all the right outcomes. It tells us that if we’ll only try harder, the internal struggle will stop. Unfortunately, it’s a false, misleading trap… Mommy guilt stems from an illusion that we’re ultimately in control.” (pg 36)

Perfectionism is definitely a struggle of mine, and so I related quite a bit to this section. The authors encourage us to take realistic appraisal of our past regrets and current weaknesses, and then move forward, breaking free from condemnation and the false assumption that we are “in control.” This can be painful, because many of us use our desire for control as a crutch. But the authors continually point us to Jesus, and remind us of what we’ve been set free from.

We are encouraged to realize that none of us will ever be good at everything, and we don’t have to be – we only make it worse by pretending that we are, or striving for an impossible goal. We need to be honest about our strengths and weaknesses, to maximize the things we are good at, and develop the humility to ask for help and encouragement in the things we aren’t so good at.

Identity:
“How many times have we thought ‘I feel like I’ve lost myself in being a mom’? Isn’t it reassuring to know that’s not possible? We can’t lose our identity. It’s eternally secure in the hands of the Savior who died to purchase it. Rest assured, we may lose our keys, our kids’ soccer uniforms, and even our minds from time to time, but we can never lose who we are in Christ.
However, if we believe our identity is formed by us alone–our achievements, our circumstances, and our productivity and usefulness to others–we’re bound to feel unstable… If we look for our sense of self by pursuing the goals our culture tells us are valuable, we’ll never end our search. And we’ll never measure up. They use a different yardstick–one that’s always changing, by the way.” (pg 70-71)

The authors encourage a long-term perspective on mothering. It is so easy to get caught up in the details, both important and ultimately unimportant, and while they certainly do not minimize the sometimes agonizing choices we must make or situations that arise, the authors remind us to look at the big picture. Our identities are not found in the externals, and if we live as if they are, we will never be satisfied or secure, no matter how well we follow our own (or someone else’s) “rules.”

Working at home vs. outside the home:
Thankfully, the authors do not “take a position” on which is objectively “better.” Instead, they simply encourage mothers to maintain the home as their first priority, no matter what their employment status may be.

Connecting with other mothers:
Melinda and Kathy wisely caution mothers not to get too caught up in seeking the validation and encouragement we need primarily from the Internet. It can be tempting, and can offer what seems to be an unlimited forum for complaining, venting, and seeking validation for just about any choice we’ve made, but it is also incredibly fickle. They outline several qualities and character traits to look for in wise friends and fellow mothers.

Balancing self-care with our other responsibilities:
We are encouraged to take care of ourselves, and not to get so caught up in mothering that we neglect our own needs–especially spiritual ones. We are also encouraged to involve our children in the household duties, rather than enabling them by feeling that we must do everything ourselves–because in the long run, that’s not good for us or them.

There are also a few practical tips on how to balance household duties–cleaning, instructing, cooking, etc. But the last chapter is another admonition to depend on God’s power–and therefore to flee perfectionism and our desires to be “super moms”:

“When we primarily look to our husbands, our children, or our role as a mom to fill us up, we ultimately come up starving and empty. There’s a real danger of making false idols of our families. Our children’s accomplishments and opinions of us can become the focus of our worthiness. We burden them with the job of being our measure of effectiveness in the world. Yet nothing else will fill the God-shaped void in our souls. Not even the ones we love so dearly.” (pg 191)

I found this book encouraging, and it helped to really spell out and deconstruct some of the things I have struggled with. I appreciated the balanced advice and helpful tips, and the continual reminder of what’s most important in life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of life, and this book offered much-needed perspective.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Bethany House through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/wa….

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