by: Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira
Subtitled: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom
Ok, I have to admit, I almost turned down this book when Waterbrook offered to send it for review. After all, the back of the book asks, “Have you lost yourself in being a mom?” What kind of self-centered question is that? I was sure I’d be in for page after page of ‘self-affirmation’ and ‘self-esteem’ psychobabble mumbo-jumbo. Honestly, I thought I could write the review without reading the book. I know, I’m arrogant. This isn’t news to anyone.
However, while I was typing up a pleasant, “Well, the first book sounds interesting and the third one is great, I think I’ll skip the Fake I.D. book. It’s not my thing” it dawned on me how ludicrous I sounded. I’m the mother of nine. What do I mean “it’s not my thing?” Then it happened. My brain managed to kick in gear and override my arrogance and self-righteousness (and we all know I have a double portion of that!) and it occurred to me that the Lord might just want me to read the book. Oy.
So, I picked it up, reluctantly I might add, and started reading. To be honest, I had a hard time getting through the first couple of chapters. There were quite a few references to women and how hard we’ve worked to get to where we are as a gender in this day and age and all I could think of was that line from Miss Congeniality- “It’s like feminism never happened.” I remember screaming in my head, “You need to read Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers.” Guess what? She has. A chapter or two later, and she’s commenting on Mrs. Sayers’ excellent essay on how society has stripped women of their humanity by focusing so rigidly on their gender. (For more about her, check my category called Are Women Human? I’m working through that book on this blog.)
Frankly, I think Mrs- excuse me Ms. Rivadeneria falls into the same pit in the mom department that she deplores so much. She asks, later in the book, you to fill in the phrase, “I’m a mom who likes to_____” I wondered why she has to add the mom? If this book is about a personal identity crisis and how our society strips mothers of anything not relating to their maternal status, then why add that mom at all? I mean, seriously, if I was talking to someone I just met, I cannot imagine saying, “I’m a mom who-” I’d say, “Well, I enjoy this, or one of my hobbies is that” or, “When I’m not reminding the kids to pick out prepositions before looking for direct objects, I like to…” Why must we keep the mom in there in the first place especially if we’re hoping to be identified as a person rather than one facet of our personhood?
Now this makes it sound like I truly disliked the book and that is where I was wrong. I fully expected to hate it and was trying to figure out how I’d write a tactful review, not telling exactly what I thought of it, and still managing to be honest- before I ever picked up the book! I know… we discussed the arrogant thing. In light of the purpose of this book can we get past my arrogance so that I can be known as more than an arrogant mom? Thanks. While I do think there were times that the book was much too feministic for my taste and while I do think in our narcissistic society it’d be very easy to be come too self-obsessed if we spent vast amounts of time focusing on self and trying to discover “who we are”, I think the author has a very valid point.
God made us as individuals. He knit us each in our mothers’ wombs. Anyone who knows anything at all about knitting knows that the same person can knit the same exact item out of the same exact yarn at the same time and both will still manage to be unique! How much more so when each of us were knitted in unique wombs of unique women who had unique life experiences to pass on to their individual children. It seems to me that she has an excellent point in that if we were created individually rather than mass produced in a factory, perhaps we should know who we were created to be and be comfortable with that in order to best glorify the Lord in all that we do. What a novel idea. We’ve made so much of life a cookie cutter mold. If you’re a mom, you’re supposed to like baking cookies, cleaning house, reading books aloud to your children, and enjoy creating beautiful birthday parties. If you’re a Christian mom, add in teaching Sunday School and children’s songs like, “Father Abraham” (please just kill me now and put me out of my misery).
Now those who know me know that I have very “traditional” views on the roles of women. I believe God has made it very clear what our responsibilities not only in society but in the home are. That hasn’t changed. One thing I’ve always been frustrated by, however, is the concept that it all must look so identical to the next woman. I believe that wives are to be keepers of the home. I believe that they are to mother their children. These aren’t things I think are “cultural” or “optional”. I don’t believe they’re outdated or figurative. However, I also have never subscribed to the idea that two home keeping wives and mothers will EVER have two identical days. (And I find it strangely interesting that the words identity and identical obviously have the same root word. Curious.)
This is where this book shines. The author, after a slow and rocky start (in my opinion anyway) slowly builds a stronger and stronger argument until I actually found myself cheering for her. The odd thing was, I could see some of my own blog posts in things she said but on different topics. I wondered if she ever thought about things being “black and white” when God created a world of colors and everything isn’t black, white, or gray.
My initial argument, “We get our identity in Christ” is thoroughly addressed and honestly, my initial responses to my own “pat” retort weren’t all that favorable. Yes, we do get our identity in Christ but that would then mean we aren’t just moms and we’ve made her point for her. At this point, I have to share a little excerpt from Chapter 7.
“However, when the identity mantra is uttered in certain contexts, from certain people, I do get the sense that when I’m told to find my identity in Christ, I’m being told to do a better job of toeing the party line. I suspect what they actually want me to find is an identity that supports their approach to being a Christian- conforming to the rules and values and terminology of the group.
“There is a big difference between supporting the group and following Jesus. (Can I get a quiet “amen”?)”
No Ms. Rivadeneria, you cannot. You can have a rousing one! AMEN! I’ll shout that one from the roof tops. Where the group follows Jesus, I’ll support it 100%. (“Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” Paul admonished us after all.) However, the group isn’t who we answer to for our actions, our thoughts, and our desires. The group isn’t where we need to place that identity she’s talking about- we do get some… you can’t get around that. If you’re part of a group you are definitely identified with the group but that’s not what I want to be identified by. (forgive that dangled preposition. It needed to be there like that.) If I can have only one identity, by all means, make it be Jesus. However, we are all born with several. All of us are born as a son or daughter. Most of us are born as a sibling, niece, nephew, and all of us are grandchildren. We’re born in a country so we have a national identity. We go to a Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, or non-denominational church by which we are also identified.
So, by the time you get done reading this book, you have a very real reminder that you are more than ovaries, leaking breasts, cookies after school, diaper choices, and parenting dilemmas. You’re a very real human- not just woman- human. You are the individual that God created with all of your strengths, weaknesses, interests, follies, and the myriad of other things that make you who God wants you to be.
Ironically, I walked away from this book that really is quite ‘self-centered’ if you will, a very humbled person. First, I was wrong about the premise. Second, I was amazed at the number of women who truly struggle to be who they are around other moms and especially at church. That blew my mind. I’ve always been “me”. I don’t struggle with who “me” is because, well, mostly because it’s how I was raised. I don’t think about me much in the way she encourages but then I don’t think of me in terms of my maternal state. The fact that I’m a mom doesn’t dictate my interests, conversations, or how I relate to other people and because of that, I was amazed at how many people are affected by this labelling that we do.
Did she write anything earth-shattering? No. Most books aren’t. Let’s face it, Solomon was right when he wrote about there being nothing new under the sun. What make this book worth the time to read and ponder isn’t the vast amounts of startling new information that people the world-over need to know. No, this book is worth the investment of time and emotional energy because I think she’s hit upon something we so often forget. In our desire to have ‘less of self and more of Thee’ we often toss aside the gift of the self that God gave us. Ms. Rivadeneria reminds us that who we are, who God created us to be with all of the things that make us unique and precious to Him is something worth finding, preserving, and thanking Him for as the gift it was intended to be.
Oh, and it’s really nice to have your own thoughts validated from time to time. She and I, while very different in a lot of areas have a few glaring similarities. Neither of us make for perfect ‘storybook’ mothers and I don’t know about her but I’m fine with that…
Buy the book- or better yet, post a comment and be entered into a drawing for one. I have two copies to give away… if I can bring myself to let this go this quickly. I do think I want to reread parts of it.
Drawing ends Sunday May 10, 2009 at 9 p.m. PST